More than 500 tiny babies who have been buried in a village churchyard are finally to get a lasting memorial.
The bodies of the stillborn babies - all born at Cuckfield Hospital - are in unmarked graves at the village’s Holy Trinity Church.
Now the local parish council, Cuckfield Museum and historian Kate Fleming have joined together to highlight the poignant plight of the infants and their mothers - and to seek public views on a lasting memorial to them.
Kate, a former university lecturer who has carried out extensive research to discover how the babies came to be in the graveyard, said: “In the early nineteenth century and indeed up until the 1970s, history reveals that a baby that was stillborn or died shortly after birth was buried in a communal grave with other babies, or in a grave with an adult.
“Hospitals, in this case Cuckfield, assumed responsibility for the burial. Mothers it appears had no say in what happened to their baby, and were discouraged, and often forbidden to see or hold the baby. Fathers were excluded from the whole process of childbirth.
“After a healthy, trouble-free pregnancy, Catharine Robinson’s baby was stillborn on November 8th 1973 in Cuckfield Hospital. The baby girl was taken away, never seen or held by either of her parents, she just simply disappeared.
“However, ‘Baby Robinson’ remained constantly and clearly in her mother’s loving maternal memory.
“So it was with immense joy that after 41 years she traced her baby’s resting place to Cuckfield churchyard. Catharine can now visit their shrine and give her baby the long awaited blessing that she has dreamt of for nearly half a century.
“As a mother there is little that I can imagine worse than having a stillborn baby or losing a child at any age, and have been assured that our attitude towards these tragedies has changed and that this cruel treatment of fellow human beings has been firmly placed in the past.
“In the meantime the babies lie in the tranquillity of Cuckfield churchyard. A beautiful, lovingly-kept place of memories and holy sanctuary for all the loved ones buried there.”
It is now planned to mark the graves with a memorial bench or commemorative sculpture.
Anyone who wants to voice their views on the nature of the memorial or would like to make a donation towards the cost is asked to contact the parish council via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01444 451610.