The earliest lych gates date back to medieval times and it was at the lych gate that the coffin was rested for a while before being taken into the church for the funeral service. In some older gates the lych stone, or coffin stone, still exists although most were removed in the eighteenth century as a hindrance to worshippers making their way into church.
The lych gate at Englefield, despite being of the design common four or five hundred years ago is much more recent; as the Tomkins engraving shows there was only a simple field gate at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was erected in 1894 (although Betjeman and Piper in the 1949 edition of Murray’s Berkshire call it “Edwardian”) and designed by Edward Swinfen Harris, who early the previous year had decorated the interior walls of the church and designed a new super-frontal for the altar. The great majority of Harris’s work was in north Buckinghamshire and it may be that the commissions at Englefield came because he was personally known to the Rector, the Rev Arthur Heigham, who had previously had the living at nearby Newport Pagnell. In 1896 he added a new vestry to St Mary’s, Mortimer for Mr Benyon.
The inscription "Let it be your care to go down humbly to your grave" on the lintel over the gate provides a reminder of the original function of a lych gate in words taken from the service of dedication on Sunday 4 November 1894.
The Churchyard Cross
The churchyard cross was erected, in the words of the Rector, to “commemorate the outbreak of illness last year which caused the school to be closed for 3 months, to commemorate the memory of some called to rest, as well as our thankfulness to God for many merciful recoveries and spared lives.” The illness was measles, followed by scarlet fever, which broke out amongst the village children in October 1893, ironically coinciding with a series of six lectures on “sick nursing” arranged by Mrs Benyon. The final lecture was on children’s diseases, including measles, and the number of people attending was reduced from the usual 50 to about 30 owing to the start of the epidemic. The school was closed from 12 October 1893 until the start of the new term on 3 January 1894. Four of the schoolchildren died from the disease: Margaret and William Eyles from number 3 in the Street and Jesse and Cecil Povey from Malthouse Farm. James Winchcomb from the Lodge Gates, father of Bertha and gardener to the Hon Lodovick Bligh MFH who was at that time renting the Rectory, also died, said by his daughter to be from the same cause. The Rector, a bachelor, was residing at the recently built “Parsonage” (number 8/9 in the Street).
The inscription on the cross also mentions an outbreak of disease in 1890. This was influenza, which ran through the village in the winter of that year. Although no deaths are known to have been attributed to the disease many were laid low by it, including Mr and Mrs Benyon.
The design of the cross was also by E Swinfen Harris but while the lych gate was paid for by Mr Benyon the money for the cross was raised from special collections taken at both services in church on Sunday 4 March 1894. These raised a total of £131-10-2½ (nearly £11,000 today and in 1890 representing over a year’s wage for a skilled worker according to the National Archives). After paying £110 for the cross and £16-14-2 to Mr Harris for the design, the balance of £4-16-1 was handed to Mr Benyon who used it in part payment for a new oak gate for the west entrance to the churchyard; the remaining cost he met himself. The gate has since been replaced by a new one.
The cross, like the lych gate, was dedicated at morning service on 4 November 1894.