Exceptional opening of a closed churchyard: St Mary and St Eanswythe Folkestone

The churchyard of St Mary and St Eanswythe, Folkestone, was closed by Order in Council as long ago as in 1857 under the provisions of the Burial Act 1855, with only one exception made for a burial in 1898.

On 6 December a seven-year-old, William Brown, was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver when he was retrieving his football from the road outside his home. A Year Three pupil at the Church primary school, he had walked through the grounds every day and attended services at the church. His parents wanted to bury him in the churchyard, but although the Vicar of St Mary and St Eanswythe, the Revd John Walker, was willing to conduct the burial service, because the churchyard had been closed they needed an exceptional Order from the Privy Council for it to happen.

William’s mother, Laura, was told that it would take two meetings of the Privy Council to approve an application to bury him in the churchyard and that the Council was not due to meet until February, so she decided to make a personal plea to the King for the decision to be speeded up. On Christmas morning she drove three and a half hours to Sandringham to hand in a letter to the King’s security team in which she explained the situation and asked His Majesty whether there was any way in which the case could be resolved earlier.

His Majesty agreed and there was evidently an extraordinary meeting of the Council. A spokesman for the King said: “His Majesty was exceptionally moved by the family’s circumstances and pleased to be able to assist.” A spokesman for the Privy Council added: “We are pleased that His Majesty the King, on the advice of his Privy Council, has granted permission in order to support the family in these tragic circumstances. The Brown family and the local community in Folkestone are in our thoughts at this difficult time.”

Mrs Brown hopes that the decision will allow William’s schoolfriends to visit his grave on their way to and from school: “He spent a lot of time playing in there, collecting conkers and picking wild garlic for our dinner. He loved that place.”

The Privy Council Order has not yet been published. There is a full report in the Telegraph, here. The BBC reported that the funeral will now take place at 14:00 on 13 January.


Update: David Torrance subsequently sent me a helpful e-mail saying that, though I had assumed that an extraordinary meeting of the Privy Council must have taken place, “in fact it did not. And the reason that the Order in Council hasn’t been published is because it doesn’t exist – and won’t until February”.

So my assumption is that it must have been done by a (wholly admirable) fudge. After all, if HM says, “we’re going to do X”, it’s difficult to imagine the PC saying, “Oh no we aren’t, Your Maj, because we don’t have a meeting scheduled”. 

Further update: On 21 February 2021, His Majesty held a Privy Council in Buckingham Palace at which

“In the exercise of His powers under section 1 of the Burial Act 1855, by and with the advice of His Privy Council, is pleased to order as follows:-

Notwithstanding anything in the Orders in Council made under the Burial Acts 1853 and 1855 on 8th February 1855 and varied on 28th February 1855 directing the discontinuance of burials in the Churchyard of St Mary & St Eanswythe, Folkestone, Kent, an exception be added that the burial may be allowed of the late Master William Brown within the Churchyard”.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Exceptional opening of a closed churchyard: St Mary and St Eanswythe Folkestone" in Law & Religion UK, 31 December 2023, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2023/12/31/exceptional-opening-of-a-closed-churchyard-st-mary-and-st-eanswythe-folkestone/

8 thoughts on “Exceptional opening of a closed churchyard: St Mary and St Eanswythe Folkestone

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