Ledgerstones are the flat stones placed over a grave inside a church, usually incised with the name and dates of the deceased. Most are late C17 & C18, made from locally or regionally sourced stone with high quality lettering. These were costly items and related to the wealthy local families.
In Harston’s church we have a number of ledgerstones on which the legibility of inscriptions varies. They are located in the chancel, the north aisle, the eastern end of the south aisle and possibly forming the steps to the chancel.
These stones are useful as they not only tell us the dates of death and sometimes age but frequently give parents or family relationships. At the eastern end of the north aisle we have three fully legible stones. Firstly ‘the body of Ann daughter of Allen Hurrill and Margaret his wife, who died Decem. ye 24th 1727’.
Next is ‘Anne ye daughter of Gregory Wale Gent 1702’. Ann was the sister of Margaret Hurrell nee Wale who is mentioned on several of the ledgerstones. This also shows the link by marriage of the two main landowning families in the village – the Wales owned the Manor and the Hurrells Harston House & estate.
Finally ‘Gregory the son of Allen Hurrell and Margaret his wife died March ye 21 1721’.
Within the chancel (which is the area of the church which underwent major restoration in the 1850s) is a legerstone at the entrance to the vestry but only the words ‘the body’ are legible. Next to this is a very large stone which records the deaths of several Hurrell family members. This is not a ledgerstone in the true sense of the word. It is highly unlikely that such a large, heavy stone would be ordered for the earliest burial and be lifted for at least 6 subsequent burials. Also the size, font and colour of the lettering on the stone is remarkably consistent given that there are at least 50 years between the first and last inscription. I conclude that this stone is a later day memorial to the Hurrells rather than a ledgerstone.
This conclusion is supported by two documents I recently discovered. Rev William Cole (1714–82), a Cambs academic, historian and cleric visited Harston on 11 April 1743. He recorded the stones of the two Anns in the same location as today but other Hurrell stones which cannot be found today. However the inscriptions he recorded are more or less the same as those on what I am calling a memorial stone above.
The second document I found in the archives of Jesus College. A letter from James Rattee dated 28 Sept 1853 which refers to moving slabs at Harston church a great many of which ‘came to pieces’ when being moved, some of these pieces were built into the walls to strengthen them. The letter goes on to state that Mr Long the Churchwarden proposed that a slab be placed in the chancel and cut with all the inscriptions which Mr Rattee had copied. This could explain why the inscriptions are not exactly as Rev Cole had recorded.
A ledgerstone was uncovered in 2021 in the north aisle when a new floor was being laid in the church. It has since been recovered. Unfortunately only a few letters were visible and, so far, it has proved impossible to determine whose grave this was. The stone at the eastern end of the south aisle now only shows a few chisel marks.