Why the oldest church in one town is ‘messier’ this time of year

The oldest church in one Merseyside town has explained the reasons for the state of its churchyard following concerns from residents.

Every spring, St Chad's Church in Kirkby boasts stunning wildflowers such as bluebells, snowdrops and daffodils that surround its most historic gravestones.

The oldest grave in the churchyard is dated 1698 and throughout time the burial site has welcomed heroic war veterans, the Sefton family and pillars of the Kirkby community.

But every year when summer approaches, residents voice their concerns and worries to the church that the ground is overgrown.

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St Chad's have since said there is a reason why parts of the grounds get "messier and messier" this time of year – and that they understand how important the upkeep of the church and churchyard is to residents.

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Rev. Philippa Lea, Team Vicar at St Chad’s, said: "We own the church and the churchyard but because the graveyard is full it’s managed by the council now.

"We always get comments in March and April saying how beautiful the churchyard looks but by this time of year we tend to get phone calls complaining that the churchyard looks messy.

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"Because it's a designated wildflower area it starts off looking lovely and gets messier and messier towards this time of year, but there are still flowers there so that’s why it’s left until this time of year.

"Once those flowers have died it will all be cut and it will go back to looking a bit tidier again.

"For biodiversity it’s really important that that area is left at this time of year."

This week, the ECHO visited St Chad's and Rev. Philippa and Rev. Jeremy Fagan showed us the ancient graves covered in lichens and moss, a range of wildflowers, different species on the grounds and shared historic facts about the Grade II listed church.

The overgrown sections of the grounds are due to be cut soon and for St Chad's, and it is important to protect the history and biodiversity in the area.

Rev. Jeremy, Team Rector of Kirkby, said: "The churchyard is older than the church.

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"At St Chad’s there’s some fabulous old graves and some really special space that means a huge amount to generations of people in Kirkby with family connections and all that happens in the church and the churchyard.

St Chad's Church in Kirkby and wildflowers on the grounds

"It’s quite a large, wild area and because it's so ancient it’s a really special space for biodiversity and all sorts of flowers and species.

"If you think, this might be the only place in Kirkby that for the last thousand years you can be confident has been used for the same thing."

A few weeks ago, a post on Facebook shared images of the overgrown grounds, which led to hundreds of comments of residents voicing their concerns.

As a result, a Friends of St Chad's Kirkby group has been formed, with members of the community who care about the church and grounds coming together to work with St Chad's and relevant authorities to maintain and care for the preservation and future of the church.

To visit St Chad's website click here.

St Chad's Church in Kirkby

Rev. Jeremy said: "It's such a special place so if we can get people here that’s great, but we have to do it properly."

A Knowsley Council spokesperson said: "Throughout the coronavirus pandemic we have continued with the usual maintenance regime for the grounds of St Chad’s Church, Kirkby.

"The areas that may appear to be overgrown have been left at the specific instruction of the church as part of a re-wilding scheme they are working on."

Working with the relevant bodies and the community, St Chad's want to come up with development plan to manage the grounds in the coming weeks and has also applied for funding from charity Caring for God's Acre, which support groups and individuals to investigate, care for, and enjoy burial grounds and graveyards.

An FAQs section is also being set up on St Chad's website and will offer more information to residents.

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