The conservation works in St James’s Graveyard are undertaken through a number of phases. The first main phase of works includes the conservation of the grave monuments and boundary walls, and the clearing of the vegetation to ensure the environment is safe and pleasant for visitors.
The gravestones and monuments have been surveyed and reviewed, examining their current state and condition of their settings. Of all the gravestones and monuments in the graveyard, approximately 200 of them are in need of repair. These repairs are at various levels of complexity and require the conservation architect and engineer to devise solutions and a scope of works to ensure that the memorials are stable and protected from the effects of weather and encroaching vegetation.
Before the works to the gravestones and memorials commenced, a lot of the loose soil and debris that had built up over decades has been cleared under supervision of the archaeologist. There have been a lot of fragments of stone or metal found throughout the graveyard. Some have been identified as once belonging to a memorial and where possible, these fragments are reunited with their memorial.
Another prominent finding across the graveyard floor include conch shells beside many of the memorials. These shells could indicate a possible connection with St James’s scallop shell and the Pilgrimage of St James’s, the Camino de Santiago, however there is no record of this link.
The methods and materials used to conduct the repairs to the gravestones and memorials include traditional materials and techniques such as lime mortars, lime wash and putty and stone wedges. There are some more complex repairs in which stainless steel dowels or cramps are used to stitch the broken stones back together so that fragments do not become lost.
One of the main points of conservation philosophy from the team includes the approach of ‘touching the ground lightly’, and while undergoing the repairs of the monuments they devise solutions that enhance rather than detract from their settings, ensuring that the historic character of the ancient graveyard is not lost by over-restoration. It is only in some limited circumstances that new stone is carefully sourced to match closely the original stone where needed, reinstating the integrity of the monument.
Some of the timber crosses which are found in the graveyard will be treated for decay and re-set in a way that avoids further risk to them. Some of the metal memorials or tablets will also be conserved, but the majority of the memorials, where stable, are left as they are found.
Below are a selection of photographs taken from the works on site September - October 2018. Here you will see images of the team working on site, some of the fragments and conches found throughout the graveyard floor and the various different memorials such as the timber crosses, metal memorials, tablets, obelisks and other headstones undergoing conservation repairs.