Leyton & Leytonstone

Historical Society

The St Mary’s Leyton Churchyard Project

The churchyard of St Mary’s, Leyton’s first church, and its only one until the 18th century, became choked with shrubs and ivy.  The Friends of St Mary’s Churchyard set about the mammoth task of clearing this way, without using nasty chemicals.  Inscriptions on gravestones and tombs could be read again.  No plan of the Churchyard could be found.  The only known list of gravestones is not arranged in any discernible order.

A small number of members of Leyton & Leytonstone Historical Society transcribed the inscriptions on the gravestones and tombs which were still legible, and photographed them before they deteriorated further.  The approximate position of the graves was mapped and a location identification system devised.  The inscriptions were entered on a database (more correctly a spreadsheet), and copies given to the Church, the Local Studies Room at Vestry House Museum, and Waltham Forest Family History Society.

The Church has existed since the Middle Ages but the oldest gravestones are from the 18th century.  Its parish included Leytonstone.  In the second half of the 19th century Leyton was rapidly transformed from open fields to an extension of the London conurbation.  Although St John’s Church in Leytonstone had its own graveyard and large cemeteries were opened around Wanstead Flats, the churchyard was extended more than once.

For a local history society a list of names and dates of death was not sufficient.  Members wanted to know about those commemorated in St Mary’s Churchyard.  The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War was being remembered.  Research has therefore concentrated on those commemorated in the churchyard who died because of the First World War.  Members have wanted to put those lives into context : their homes and lives in Leyton, their social background, their military service, the loss to their families, and the efforts made to remember them.