A HEADSTONE is to be dedicated after detective work by a vicar solved the 50-year mystery of a missing grave.

Stories circulated in Leyburn for many years that an unknown person was the only burial in St Matthew's churchyard, but records were lost and no marker ever erected.

The mystery intrigued the Rev Christopher Huggett when he became parish vicar six years ago. Now he has identified the site of the grave and discovered that it belongs to a former churchwarden, Thomas Peacock.

Mr Peacock, a stonemason, was born in 1877 and died in 1955 when, despite a ban on burials in the churchyard, a special dispensation appears to have been made. A headstone was not permitted at the time but a marker has now been made and will be dedicated on December 17.

"When I arrived in Leyburn, a church history suggested that someone had been buried in the churchyard, but records had been lost," said Mr Huggett. "I talked to some of the congregation but nobody knew where the grave was supposed to be."

With the help of the county records office at Northallerton, and Harrogate register office, where the death was recorded, he solved the mystery.

He also discovered the name and address of Mr Peacock's son but investigations drew a blank. "Thomas Peacock was 78 when he died in 1955, so his son is probably dead by now and the trail has gone cold," Mr Huggett said.

When St Matthew's was built by public subscription in 1868, a policy banned burials in the grounds. Mr Huggett suspects this was to preserve the view of the building from the approach road to the town.

"The no burials policy continues but Mr Peacock obviously had some clout in those days and apparently insisted in his will on being buried in the churchyard."

The parochial church council agreed to mark the grave, which is near the church door, to ensure it is not disturbed by parking or work.

Mr Huggett will perform the dedication with Lord Bolton, the church patron, at 6.30 on December 17, followed by candlelit carols with Leyburn Brass Band at 7pm. Residents are welcome at both services.