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St Mary's Churchyard Action Group




The Churchyard stretches for 7.5 Acres

The CAG Volunteers work within the historic graveyard of St Mary the Virgin, in Prestwich, which is located 5 miles North of the City of Manchester in England. The church itself is Grade I listed and there are a further 25 Grade II and II* historic monuments, buildings and features within the churchyard, of both local, national and global importance.


The John Brooks Monument, Listed Grade II*



A Proposal for the setting up of a group to look after the Churchyard was submitted to the Parochial Church Council in 2001, and by 2003 events were taking place to recover the churchyard from nature.

In 2004, the first meeting minutes are recorded, and the following year, CWGC funding had been secured for the maintenance of the 48 CWGC burial plots of ex-service men and women located at St Mary's.

In 2006, another milestone was achieved with the commissioning of a memorial to the inmates of Prestwich Hospital.


Headstone to "forgotten" patients

2007 then saw the first of the National Lottery funding granted, for survey works across the churchyard, identifying graves, trees, natural habitats and other work needing attention. It was 7 more years before funding for the works was in place, and we saw railings reinstalled, walls & pathways repaired, and information signs installed.


The Original CAG members

Thanks go to Dave Dutton, one of the founding members of the group who was instrumental in the success of the grant applications, and also to the other members who helped reclaim the site, and also for uncovering the graves of influential locals such as that of William Sturgeon, and our only female CWGC burial Beatrice Slack.


Private Beatrice Slack

The newly reclaimed community space was then used for gatherings such as Bat Walks, and bird boxes were also installed.

The group now helps to clear and maintain access to the one section of the churchyard which is open for burials,however that represents a small section of their activities. The volunteers also maintain the 7.5 acres (2.5 football pitches) of historic churchyard, renovating damaged gravestones, undertaking practical restoration, and necessary seasonal and day to day maintenance, including litter picking and gardening. All this is performed whilst respecting the spiritual needs and access requirements of the bereaved, their families and the wider community.


CAG on the St Mary's Church Website

The large churchyard is estimated to contain the remains of over 50,000 burials, (the earliest remaining stone dates from 1641).The Group are also responsible for maintaining access to 48 CWGC burials from both World Wars, a further 73 ex-service personnel memorials and 17 ex-service burials, delivering over 130 poppies, provided by Prestwich Lions, every November).


CWGC Headstones at St Mary's

The group help with research enquiries, assisting relatives with the locating of long lost family graves, and also conduct guided tours explaining the history and background of the many people interred. [tours.prestwich.org.uk] These tours include burials from Jewish, Catholic and Greek faiths as well as Christian, whilst also covering important Scientific, Engineering, Political, Artistic, Religious and Botanical contributions that those interred have made. The general history of the churchyard’s location to it’s Anglo-Saxon origins, and the architectural features of the Church itself are also included, along with the 5,000+ pauper burials from the nearby Prestwich Hospital.


Watch a mini-doc featuring Alan
[with thanks to ]




The CAG provides anyone who attends, the opportunity and equipment to get involved with voluntary services at no cost, championing the local burial ground as an interesting and relaxing location to come and visit for any of our 35,000 local residents. Members of the group benefit from improved wellbeing, with varying levels of outdoor exercise and activities, as well social interactions, not only within the group but with visitors and other local groups. The CAG also promotes the Church’s open day events, and group members attend other local events to hand out leaflets about the churchyard.


Listen to an interview with Bill Cottam giving a tour of the churchyard
[credit to at maidstone.blog]...



St Mary's is a Gateway to Greenery - See some walks & tours



The volunteer group highlights the valuable resource that the Churchyard provides, both to local residents and those from further afield. The location has a relatively high footfall for a churchyard. Visitors range from local families going about their daily business, people out walking their dog, and those interested in local or family history, to organised school and walking groups as well as cyclists, visitors to the town and the nearby Prestwich Clough & Irwell Valley green spaces and Woodlands. We also attract national and international visitors.

The Group also adds to the local heritage and historical records, (prestwich.org.uk/history) uncovering & recording long forgotten graves, raising awareness, understanding and knowledge of the changes the community and it’s people have experienced living in the shadow of the heart of the Industrial and Social Revolutions of the 19th Century. We share our activities, knowledge and discoveries through social media, websites, via 360°photos , videos , interactive maps , and via other connected groups, such as :

Prestwich People & Places ,

The Friends of Heaton Park,

Prestwich Arts Festival

The Friends of St Mary's Park

The Friends of St Mary's Flower Park and Prestwich Clough

Prestwich Clough Day and

Prestwich & Whitefield Heritage Society.

Volunteers have also recently provided a self paced audio tour of the churchyard, accessible on mobile devices (via web or QR code).



The CAG is funded by a mix of donations (donate.prestwich.org.uk) and grants, and are very proud to have received a “Pride of Prestwich” award from the Local Labour Councillors in 2021.

For more information about the group contact Bill Cottam 0161 798 6489.


Cllr Black Presents a Pride of Prestwich Award to Bill



Some of the current targets for the group include:

- Replacement of weathered Information Panels
- Engaging with Stone Masons to repair vandalised Stones
- Interacting with Community Payback teams who help maintain the large churchyard.
- Obtaining quotes for the repair of the War Memorial Cross
- Ramped access from the West of the churchyard
- Repair of eroded & vandalised benches
- Repair of eroded pathways and walls
- Identifying more restorations of damaged monuments
- Improvement of biodiversity and creature habitats

St Mary's Churchyard tour:

The best thing to do is to book onto a guided tour


but dates are limited. If none are available on the above link, please get in touch via email or FBMessenger to register your interest.

If you have attended a Churchyard tour, please leave a review :


Tours are free in exchange for a donation,


Your kind donation will go towards tools, or employing professional stone masons to reinstate stonework damaged by time, trees, animals or humans ( and weather!)

Check the following links and you can always guide yourself...PLEASE TAKE CARE WHEN VISITING !


If you have a suitable mobile device you can take an audio tour along with you to St Mary's. Scan the QR code or go to Echoes.xyz, download the app & the tour.


Echoes.xyz



Click on the map below to start a churchyard tour via the website. The tour is split into 5 parts. Click on the orange play/play in browser button on each page to have it read out loud to you, or simply scroll and read.

You can click download against each individual audio file for listening off line if you wish to take it with you.


Click the map to start the tour

Alternatively you can listen to all 5 parts in one go here:



St Mary's Churchyard Art tour:

Learn about the more artistic side of the churchyard

A churchyard tour picking out some notable artists,architects,musicians and a poet.





Donate to the upkeep of the St Mary's Churchyard

Your kind donation will go towards tools, or employing professional stone masons to reinstate stonework damaged by time, trees, animals or humans.