St Mary's church is situated at the heart of the former agricultural community of Braughing and it's footprint has been a place of worship for nigh on a thousand years. Historian Peter Boylan writes:
" The churchyard surrounding the Grade I Listed parish church has for centuries been the final resting place for Braughing residents, regardless of their religious beliefs. As well as evidence of burials within the church itself, the burial ground itself wraps itself around the church on all sides.
The oldest part of the current church is the chancel, built some 800 years ago in 1220 and there is strong evidence this church stands on the site of an earlier minster church. Therefore, it is conceivable that Braughing residents have been buried in this space for over 1000 years.
During that time, the churchyard has been extended to provide extra burial space. The latest addition was made in 1881, when the executors of Catherine Martha Mellish, owner of Hamels Estate gifted an acre of land on the north side of the churchyard, where the village workhouse had been recently demolished. The land was consecrated by the Bishop of St Albans on 16 August 1881 and at that time, the estate planted lime and yew trees along the north boundary of the new churchyard.
In times gone by, there was a hierarchy of charges and social status attached to where your final resting place would be. The most notable residents and of course the most expensive graves would always be inside the church, with the chancel being the most revered resting place, thought to be closer to God. Outside of the church, the most desired places to be buried were close to the church building and particularly close to its entrance on the south side. The north side of a church burial ground would have been the least desirable place to be buried and were often reserved for paupers.
The number of Braughing residents now buried within the grounds of the churchyard is impossible to state with any degree of accuracy. However, to give some context to this, these are some of the more recent numbers of burials:
1800 to 1899 – 2183 (Average – 21.83/year)
1900 to 1999 – 1167 (Average – 11.87/year)
This shows that over two centuries there were 3350 residents buried there. As can be seen from these figures, the average number of burials per year has fallen. Childhood mortality was significantly higher and average age of adult deaths was much younger. It is therefore conceivable that over the last one thousand years, this churchyard could well have been the final resting place for 20,000 residents".