A VILLAGE church is to remove two gravestones inscribed with “deeply offensive” racial words.

Last week, St Margaret’s church in Rottingdean covered up the headstones to two music hall singers who performed in blackface.

Now it intends to put the monuments into “safe storage as soon as possible” partly, it said, to “protect them”.

The two stones have attracted complaints from residents. G H Elliott’s headstone refers to him by his stage name, the “Chocolate Coloured C**n”, while Alice Banford is described as a “C**n singer and dancer”. Both died in 1962.

The Argus:

The vicar Father Anthony Moore said he found the language “deeply offensive”, adding: “I am sure that the vast majority of people would agree and would want it changed.”

Church authorities said they want to trace G H Elliott’s relatives and discuss altering the inscription or making a new memorial.

But they also said the headstones are being removed to safeguard them. The vicar said the gravestones had initially been covered “to prevent them being defaced or damaged”.

The Argus:

The Diocese of Chichester, the Archdeacon of Brighton and Lewes Martin Lloyd Williams and the vicar issued a statement saying the move to cover the headstones followed conversations with residents over the past year and the recent high profile campaigns which have “rightly drawn attention to issues surrounding racial prejudice”.

The Parochial Church Council of St Margaret’s, Rottingdean, has now decided to “apply for a faculty” to remove both headstones into safe storage as soon as possible.

The statement said: “It has taken this decision for two reasons.

“It wishes, as is its legal obligation, to protect the property (the gravestones) of the relatives of the deceased but at the same time would welcome an urgent conversation with descendants about the appropriateness of the wording of the inscriptions in their churchyard.

The Argus:

“In law, a headstone is the property of the heirs at law. Efforts will therefore continue in the attempt to contact the relatives of G H Elliott (Alice Banford is believed to have no surviving relatives).

“The PCC would like to speak urgently with G H Elliott’s relatives in order to work with them on the re-engraving of the memorial or the construction of a new headstone which properly commemorates and respects his life but which omits wording that causes hurt and offence in today’s society.

“It is proposed that these new headstones would be introduced into the churchyard once necessary permission is obtained.

Fr Anthony said: “We are grateful for the patience of residents and are pleased that a way forward is being facilitated with other interested parties to agree an outcome which does not cause public offence but which continues to respect the memory of the deceased.”