Law Report: Headstone words not permitted: Re Holy Trinity, Freckleton; Consistory Court of the Diocese of Blackburn (Chancellor Judge John Bullimore), 28 July 1994.

The decision of a Chancellor of a particular diocese refusing to permit an inscription on a memorial in a churchyard in the diocese provided a guideline for the churchyards in the diocese but would not bind Chancellors in other dioceses.

Judge John Bullimore dismissed a petition by Charles Peter Martin Brown and Wendy Brown for permission to erect a headstone in the churchyard of Holy Trinity, Freckleton, with an inscription including the words 'A devoted and much loved husband, dad and grandad'.

The incumbent, the Rev Stephen Brian refused to sanction the words 'dad' and 'grandad' as being unsuitable. He relied on the Chancellor's Regulations relating to churchyards, the Churchyards Handbook and his policy since 1991. The petitioners pointed to other memorials bearing similar words in the churchyard. They contended that the words had stood the test of time and were important to the family because they expressed close family relationships.

The parties were not represented; solicitors for the Dioceson Registrar were Roebucks, Blackburn.

CHANCELLOR JUDGE JOHN BULLIMORE said that Regulations for the placing of a memorial had been widespread for at least 30 years. The regulations were designed to encourage good policy and practice and defined what memorials the parish priest might himself authorise. If he declined to give his permission, the applicants could seek the Chancellor's permission.

The decision in this particular application could not have widespread impact. Its scope was limited. It bound the applicants and the incumbent. It provided a guideline for this churchyard and was some indication for other churchyards within the diocese. Other Chancellors dealt with applications in the other dioceses.

Any decision of the Chancellor about a particular memorial in any diocese had to be made on a judgement of all the relevant circumstances, including what had in fact been permitted previously by the incumbent or his predecessors. What was inappropriate in one location, for example highly polished black granite, could be allowed in one churchyard if over the years a considerable number had been introduced there.

The current third edition of the Churchyard's Handbook said that 'an epitaph is a public document and not a cosy one . . . Nicknames or pet names . . . would carry overtones . . . unsuitable for the resting place of Christian men and women.'

Mr Brian had sought to be faithful to the policy in the regulations and handbook. To go back on that would cause renewed upset with those families whose requests for similar wording had been refused, and would leave him in the position of not knowing if a line could be drawn.

It could not plausibly be argued that the use of 'father/grandfather' or similar expressions on a memorial were to be taken as any indication of cool or unaffectionate relationships within a family. It was not necessary to use the familiar terms in order to express familiar and customary feelings and affections.

If the argument was to use the word used in the family, it was impossible to allow dad/grandad or mum/grandma without equally allowing other words like 'mom', or 'mam' or 'da'. To allow 'dad/grandad' in this churchyard now would destroy the policy Mr Brian had followed for the last three years. Some exceptions had been allowed but only to avoid added incongruity on earlier memorials which had used the familiar terms.

The petition must be dismissed.

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