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Shock as graves being moved in Rottingdean church build plan

Controversial plans to extend a village church would see headstones torn from the ground and graves dug up.

Plans will see 14 gravestones moved (Image: The Argus)

RAF pilot Sergeant Victor Delancey Calvert was killed mid-flight at Driffield in 1941 and the war hero’s name appears on his wife’s gravestone in St Margaret’s Church, Rottingdean, in his memory.

But if proposals for a two-storey extension to the 11th century church are given the green light, 14 graves will be dug up and moved elsewhere in the cemetery, including the memorial to Sgt Calvert

RAF pilot Sergeant Victor Delancey Calvert is remembered on the gravestone of his wife, Mary Calvert

(Image: The Argus)

Reverend Anthony Moore submitted a planning application to build a "modest" extension to the vestry on the north of the church, citing current accessibility issues and a need to adapt the church for the modern day.

But residents of quiet Rottingdean are up in arms.

"We're very upset about the large number of graves being removed to make way for this 'Grand Design' extension," said one person.

"We have a close relative buried in St Margaret's church and do not understand this violation of so many of the departed."

While another said: “This application must be turned down for the sake of posterity."

“There are other ways to attract new church attendees which don't involve a pathetic attempt to be 'relevant'.

“It is also an untruth to argue that accessibility is a problem which will be remedied by damaging this church. This project is not being requested or driven by the people of Rottingdean, but by the current vainglorious vicar alone.”

The proposed site is now overgrown making many graves inaccessible (Image: The Argus)

Residents are also keen to fight for the culture of the building as two of the church’s stained-glass window would be covered up by the extension.

“This overdevelopment, for a modern church extension, sets a very dangerous precedent for our conservation area and listed buildings,” reads another online objection.

“This graceless two-storey extension, with its black slab, tall modern windows and large footprint, chops into the significant double Burne Jones windows, damaging their light and beautiful setting, while internalising and darkening the other Burne Jones window.

“Simultaneously, this oversized extension, is subsuming almost two thirds of the 11th century north wall, ruining its view for the public.

“Why does the church need this disruptive extension containing a meeting room, a costly lift, a rebuilt repositioned staircase, a wet room, and a huge professional sized kitchen?”

But Rev Moore has hit back at claims the extension is unsuitable and even defended moving the graves.

View of the proposed extension site (Image: The Argus)

“The removal and relocation of human remains within churchyards is not an uncommon occurrence, but only takes place within the strict faculty regulations governing churchyards,” he said.

“Consultation has been taking place for some time, and the proposal is to relocate human remains, which cannot be accommodated under the extension, within part of the churchyard to the south east of the church, along with the memorials.”

The Argus asked Rev Moore about the memorial of Sgt Calvert specifically, but he did not respond directly to this point.

St Margaret's, Rottingdean (Image: The Argus)

He did however say that one family affected by the decision to move graves has written in support of the proposal, “fully understanding the reasons why such action needs to be undertaken”, and that the graves in question “will be in a much more beautiful and more easily accessible location within the body of the churchyard”.

Rev Moore also said that changes to the church have been made since it was first built, with the latest happening in the 1970s, while human remains were last moved during the 19th century.

“All historic churches are the product of constant change, and St Margaret’s Church is no exception,” he said.

Grave covered by large bush with orange traffic cone placed on top (Image: The Argus)

“Without fully accessible toilets, which the church is currently lacking, a kitchen and a good-sized meeting room which can be heated and lit independently of the large church interior, the viability of the building is very much at risk.”

“The current proposal which has been developed over three years with Historic England, Chichester Diocesan Advisory Committee, and Brighton and Hove City Council planning and conservation officers.

“It is critical for the longer-term sustainability and survival of St Margaret’s Church as a place of worship and centre within the community.”

The Argus visited the churchyard and found that while most of the churchyard is well cared for, the section to the north where the extension would be is overgrown with weeds making the gravestones inaccessible.

In fact, one grave in the build zone which lays beneath a large bush was found with an abandoned orange traffic cone placed over it.

Sgt Calvert died aged 24 and is buried in Hornsea Cemetery, Yorkshire.


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