Funeral directors came to the rescue after a 186-year-old tomb collapsed leaving a gaping hole in the graveyard of a church.

Gay Ellis, reverend of St John the Baptist Church, in The Street, Pebmarsh, is still unsure what caused the grave to collapse and the ten cubic metre hole to appear, but says the church could not affordto pay for the repairs.

Luckily Roy and Matt Gwennell, of funeral directors Harvey Darke, A.R. Clarke and Colne Valley Funeral Directors, offered to help the church out and complete the work free of charge.

The Rev Ellis said: “Straight away they looked at it and said it was really dangerous.

“The hole was something like ten foot long, nine foot wide and eight foot deep.”

The tomb first fell through on Friday, April 6 and the diocesan archaeologist was immediately called to carry out an inspection.

The Rev Ellis said: “He came the next day and said it needed to be sorted out straight away.

“We had to seal it off immediately so we put up plastic sheets and got a metal guard to cover the hole.

“The archaeologist said he had only seen this happen twice before and I have never seen it since I started as a vicar 25 years ago.

“I had no idea who to get to do the work but Roy and Matt agreed to take a look.”

After assessing the area, the burial experts attended with team members on Tuesday, April 17, and managed to ensure the area was made safe for parishioners.

The Rev Ellis said: “The tomb dates from 1832 and it appears it was effectively the entrance way to a bigger tomb.

“We thought there were going to be bodies around there at first, but luckily there weren’t.

“It was a difficult job for them as they couldn’t actually get into the ground themselves and had to use machinery.

“We must say a big thank you, as without them I do not know what we would have done.”