Stondon Massey churchyard will have a newly constructed Garden of Remembrance this year. The money has been raised from an anonymous donation and the receipts from a highly successful William Byrd Festival held in May. It will be a three-sided commemorative wall on which plaques will be placed to the memory of those who have cremated burials in the churchyard.
William Byrd, the great composer, is thought to have been buried in Stondon Massey churchyard. However there is no conclusive evidence that the wishes expressed in his Last Will and Testament were carried out. The absence of the Parish Burial Register before 1708 means that Byrd’s burial place may never be truly known but, to date, there is no evidence to the contrary. There are some who believe that the lack of evidence to the contrary is not proof of confirming evidence.
It is interesting to look back over the recognition of William Byrd’s death over the past one hundred years or so. In 1906 William Barclay Squire expressed an interest to the then Rector of Stondon Massey that, “if by chance you ever succeed in proving that Byrd is really buried at Stondon … I will collect enough to put up a memorial to him in the church or churchyard”. The Rector was Revd. Edward Henry Lisle Reeve (1858 – 1936), a minister of religion and amateur historian.
At the time of the Tercentenary of Byrd’s death in 1923 Reeve wrote to ‘The Times’ suggesting, “Is it not time (in these broader-minded days) that some local monument were erected to his memory?” The London concerts realised a sufficient surplus which was employed towards the memorial inside St Peter & St Paul Church being erected. But the words on the Memorial carefully ignore any suggestion that Byrd was buried at Stondon: He “lived … for the last thirty years of his life. He died 4 July 1623 aged eighty”. This was historically accurate at the time.
Reeve suggests that since Stondon is the only place named in the Will “we can claim Byrd for our own”. He adds elsewhere in his notes, “I little thought, twenty years ago, that I should have witnessed such a Service [referring to the Memorial’s dedication] … or found Stondon so generally accepted as Byrd’s home and burial place”.