The Times newspaper today carries a story by David Sanderson about the problem arising from the siting of the Waugh family graves. As noted in a previous post, the graves are situated in a ha-ha which stands between Waugh’s former house and Combe Florey churchyard. The ha-ha was designed to provide an unobstructed view of the church and village from the house. It uses a steep drop off in elevation from the house (at the top of a hill) to the churchyard (at the bottom) which is held back by a vertical wall. This keeps livestock from wandering from the estate into the churchyard without the need for an ugly fence that would interrupt the view. The family retained ownership of the burial plot at the top of the ha-ha when the house was sold seven years ago. But to access the plot, one must walk across the churchyard, pass through a gate and walk over private land. According to Sanderson:
The ha-ha, is deteriorating badly. Waugh’s family has offered to finance the reconstruction of its wall and the creation of steps in the ha-ha to allow access to the burial plot. They have been unable to act, however, because nobody knows who owns the ha-ha and therefore who should grant permission. “It is bureaucratic obtuseness,” Septimus Waugh, the novelist’s son said. “We want to set steps so that people can come and look at the grave.”
If the ha-ha is owned by the church, a “faculty” would be required from the Bishop of Bath and Wells for any alterations. If it belongs to the landowner, Lady Teresa, planning permission would be needed from Taunton council because it is part of the curtilage of a Grade I listed church. Planning officials have told Mr Waugh that the family may or may not need the council’s permission. Lady Teresa did try in 2008 to repair the wall, Mr Waugh said, but a church warden chased her builder off the grounds. One planning official told Mr Waugh that he did not think that the author would want to be part of the churchyard given that he was Catholic. “But most Catholics are buried in Anglican churchyards,” Mr Waugh said.
“One of the reasons it has become a problem is the degree that Evelyn Waugh scholars come across from the United States.” He said the home’s new owners were willing to let people walk through their land but “quite reasonably” objected to being abused for not tending to the land beyond the grave. Mr Waugh said that one reason the authorities had failed to work out who owns the ha-ha was the “popular perception that our father was a monster, [a point he refutes]. The church did not respond to requests for a comment.
Why not ask both the Bishop and the Council to grant permission “to the extent necessary” and get on with it? Thanks to our friends in Kilburn for sending a copy of the article.