With almost nine hundred years of history and human usage it is inevitable that our wonderful church buildings carry a veiled record of the passing population. A variety of human impulses result in marks and inscriptions being left on the fabric of the building: protection against evil, invocations to the saints, masons’ marks (used to prove work output), simple name recording, even doodles and many more all are – graffiti.
On Saturday April 22nd 2017, a group of North Wiltshire Young Archaeologists (YACs) with their supervisors visited St Andrew’s church to not only practice finding and recording mediaeval (and later) graffiti but also to pass on their skills to the Ogbourne St Andrew History Group. This exercise is part of a countrywide initiative to capture the various fascinating inscriptions and graffiti.
Tony Hack of the Wiltshire Medieval Graffiti Survey (WMGS) explained the techniques involved (light source and digital camera) and stressed the need for accurate and detailed recording. The YAC supervisors then split the youngsters into teams, which included the History Group members and each team covered a different part of the church. Given the time allowed a surprising number of marks were found, varying from "Pilgrim’s Crosses" to invocatory signs, probable masons’ marks and straightforward "I was here" type inscriptions. Of the latter, one in the Tower was dated 1694, and another 1873.
A more detailed survey has now (Aug 2018) been completed, but safety concerns have limited our access to the "priest's room" and bell chamber. However there were no apparent marks visible within the chambers. We found no marks in the chancel or sanctuary. We suspect that the Butterfield "reorganisation" in 1847/49 involved a quite severe scraping of the exposed stonework which has partially obliterated or removed many marks. It may well be that there are yet more items of interest under the wall plaster, but they will remain for future generations to discover.
A detailed report is being printed and is available here as a PDF file. The report is split into two sections: graffiti found on the stonework throughout the church and that found on the pews. Much of the latter is obviously the work of children, bored with the services or Sunday School!