St Mary's Church Whitton

The Heaven and Earth Show

When Longfellow wrote: *

“I like that ancient Saxon phrase which calls
The burial-ground God’s-Acre! It is just;
It consecrates each grave within its walls,
And breathes a benison o’er the sleeping dust.”

perhaps he had visited the churchyard of St Mary’s, Whitton. At any rate, BBC Television certainly did when they filmed several Shropshire churchyards within the Caring for God’s Acre scheme for an item which appeared in The Heaven and Earth Show on BBC One on 30th April 2006.

Churchyards are recognised as vital habitats for wild flora and fauna which are disappearing elsewhere, and since St Mary’s churchyard has always been managed as a conservation area (never having been sprayed even before it became part of the Caring for God’s Acre initiative), it is particularly rich in diversity and quantity.

The Caring for God’s Acre charity aims to encourage conservation within churchyards and the plan was for garden designer Andy Sturgeon to meet churchyard enthusiast Professor David Bellamy to discover what rarities were hiding between and on the gravestones.

On the day before filming, a BBC Producer met several of the parishioners on site to discuss the location of especially interesting flowers and plants. Mary Hislop-Winn and Tony Thompson were deputed to this task.

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Filming took place on 24th April. David Bellamy not surprisingly showed an encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject, and took time to thoroughly acquaint himself with the churchyard before the BBC team arrived. He particularly admired the richness of the plant diversity, commenting that there was the potential for a programme within the parameters of one grave alone.

The BBC crew consisted of a camera-man, sound man and two on the production side; filming took over two hours (inevitably reduced in the programme to about five minutes) while Andy Sturgeon and David Bellamy moved slowly around the churchyard discussing what they found in each area. At the end, they were happy to chat, sign autographs and sign the visitors’ book in the church.

It was interesting to see just which shots of Whitton they had selected for the broadcast programme from the many hours of filming, and indeed fun to try to tell them apart since sadly none of the churchyards featured was identified. It had been good however to get the feedback and enthusiasm from the two experts David Bellamy and Andy Sturgeon. After all:

“This is the field and Acre of our God,
This is the place where human harvests grow!”

* Extracts from God’s Acre by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882