Wednesday, 20 June 2018


20 June 2018


The local clergy monthly meeting was held at St Mary’s on Monday 11th June. Sue gave a short talk to a group of 11 clergy about our project, followed by a tour round the churchyard. 

The tour included the kerbstone grave which looks like black marble, but is in fact ceramic. This was a surprise to the group as no one had seen a ceramic gravestone before. These ceramic gravestones tended to have been used in the 1940s–1950s. Sue has only seen two others - both in Lincolnshire - and would like to know the location of any others around the country. 

Ceramic memorial in Sibsey, Lincolnshire 
She also showed them Revd Charles Hardman’s grave. He was St Mary’s second vicar (1865 – 1879), and had the ignominy of being declared bankrupt in 1868. His income at the time was £225 per annum, but he carried on being vicar of St Mary’s. His father-in-law, Revd Phillip Charbert Kidd, rector of Holy Trinity, Skipton, did not appear to help him, or pay his debts! 

Rev. Charles Hardman's gravestone, Embsay-with-Eastby
There is also a stonemason’s error on the grave. At the bottom of the inscription it says:  ‘He was not for God took him.’ The group was asked what the missing word/words should be. The consensus was ‘Forsaken’.

They were very interested in the project, and one vicar asked if we could do one of his four churchyards next!


Sue Stearn, Project Co-ordinator, Embsay-with-Eastby St Mary the Virgin Churchyard project

Monday, 18 June 2018


Wednesday 13th June 2018
Sue and I tested the new data entry forms for the gravestones database this morning, using Eileen as a fresh pair of eyes to see if it is user friendly enough. The experiment went quite well, although I shall be making a few more tweaks to the form to make it easier to fill in. Our authority file of terms to use in the database is now huge, but it just goes to show how complex gravestones are, and what variety there is in their style and design.

After lunch, Sue and I re-visited Silsden churchyard to take some photographs. Sue focused on the work of specific stone masons, while I looked at symbolism, imagery, and design details which would help to illustrate the database authority file. 
Amongst the giants, this small and very touching memorial
Time flew by, and it was a lovely day for wandering around gravestones. But by late afternoon the sun was so bright that taking photographs on the west side proved too difficult.

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks – not only have we been filming with BBC Look North, but Sue has been talking about our project to a meeting of the Skipton Deanery, and a live interview with BBC Radio. But I will let her write about those experiences in detail in another blog post.

We are also considering a botanical and wildlife survey and preparing plans for a second churchyard project in Upper Wharfedale.  Looks like we will be busy for several years to come!

Jane Lunnon

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Thursday 7th June 2018

It was with some trepidation that some of us gathered together at St Mary's Church this morning to be joined by Nicole and Gareth for a morning of filming. We had been invited by Gareth and Nicole to be the case study fronting a piece on the "Discovering England's Burial Spaces Project" (DEBS), to be shown on BBC Look North. 

Jen & Sue show how it's done
None of us wanted to be actually filmed - we all wanted to let Nicole do all the talking to camera while we were busy carrying out survey work in the background - such a shy bunch we are! But Heidi, who came to film us, wasn't having any of that. She was with us pretty much all day - from 10am to 3pm. She didn't even stop for lunch, although we managed to get her to have some tea and biscuits. There's no hiding from Heidi - she even managed to persuade Alan to be filmed demonstrating the RTI software, which was quite a feat.  
Camera-shy photographer prepares to be filmed
Apart from those moments when we were each talking to camera, it was a very enjoyable day!!

Sue, Jen & Tony were filmed demonstrating the technique of RTI photography - it was early in the day, and Alan thought at that stage he could get away with staying out of camera shot …
Revd Louise was filmed inside the church, talking about the church records and importance of the project, while the rest of us quietly sat nearby. 
Waiting while Louise is filming
Jen and Sue were filmed measuring up a gravestone, and the whole bunch of us wandered around the churchyard discussing the memorials - we forgot the camera at that stage, we were so engrossed in talking to Nicole about our early forays into comparative studies through the Craven area and Upper Wharfedale. Heidi had to call to us several times to direct us to walk towards her, or show certain features of the memorials to camera. 

I had my terrifying moments telling the stories behind two gravestones. I tried my best to just pretend I was doing another of our annual churchyard tours to a small group of people. 

It was a beautiful day and we had several walkers passing through, so Sue was backwards and forwards, chatting to them and giving them a brief churchyard tour, then popping back to the filming. Heidi really wanted to interview one visitor who was an American, but he and his friends said they didn't have time as they were on a long walk, which was a shame. 

So there we are! We shall have our 2 minutes of fame.
It was nice working with Heidi - she made it as relaxed and painless as possible. Nevertheless - Glad that's over....

Jane Lunnon 





Thursday, 7 June 2018

Wednesday 6th June 2018 

It is with great sadness that we heard about the death of Ruth Spencer this week, a founder member of Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group, and an early member of the Embsay-with-Eastby Research Group. 
Ruth Spencer - greatly missed

She was such a wonderful lady - warm, kind, tactful, caring and always so welcoming, helpful and generous of spirit. She was the most delightful company, and we all loved her very much. Her enthusiasm for history and archaeology was boundless, and she contributed greatly to the success of both groups. She will be greatly missed by a large number of people. 

Since our last post on 4th May we have had a little bit of a quiet period, as we build up towards a busy summer.

We had a stand at the local heritage fair in Skipton Public Library in May 15th, and managed to talk to quite a few visitors about our Churchyard project and how we have used RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) to help us. The occasion was also an opportunity for us to talk to some of the other local history societies and other organisations from the Craven area, and for the Library to launch the new Rowley-Ellwood Collection website: https://rowleycollection.co.uk/  (although this is mostly focused on the history of the town of Skipton, we have an interest in it as one of our Embsay-with-Eastby group is a member of the library team involved in transcribing the Rowley research notebooks).  

We have also had two of our monthly meetings with the World War One Armistice Event village committee, and are busily researching for our display and presentation in November.

We are also turning our attention towards developing a database, with an authority file for analysing the gravestones in detail – looking at the structural and design elements in each. It’s still very experimental at this stage but seems to be coming together.

We also have our annual churchyard tour coming up in a couple of weeks, so David and I are putting together our scripts for that, which is taking up a lot of time, of course.
Dutifully gathered at the Fire Assembly Point in Silsden Churchyard.

And today, our little group was given a tour of Silsden churchyard by David Mason, of the local history group there. We spent a fascinating afternoon hearing about Silsden’s history, and making comparisons with Embsay churchyard.  


The back entrance and walkway favoured by the late Victorian Silsden Methodists
It was particularly interesting to see how the social and economic history affected the choice and style of gravestones. The Silsden examples are in general much more flamboyant, better quality (very few of the stones there are weathered or eroded), heavier and bigger than those in Embsay, probably reflecting the very different social structure of the much larger village of Silsden, which had a much later and longer industrial period than that in Embsay.

So our thanks to David for a really good afternoon.  

Jane Lunnon. 


Friday, 4 May 2018




4 May 2018
We are almost at the finish of phase 1; that is, having surveyed the churchyard, and collected all the data on the headstones, we have cross-checked and double-checked them against the churchyard plan, church and parish records to make sure everyone is where they should be, and also created a Reference sheet of the vital data for each individual headstone. Work has been slow – probably because we talk too much! But we find the nattering has been a very useful and meaningful exercise, helping us to re-think our attitudes, and develop an appreciation of churchyards as a vital part of our history. 
That’s our excuse anyway…. 
So with just a handful more Grave reference sheets to go, we can look forward to a celebratory lunch soon, and then on to the next phase. 
We aim to research the people buried at St Mary’s Church, Embsay, so that a Person Reference Sheet can accompany each Grave Reference Sheet. In addition we will be analysing the gravestones as archaeological artefacts – creating a database which will enable us to look at the stylistic aspects , symbolism, and other social and cultural aspects of the grave markers in all their varied forms. 
A couple of weeks ago I took time out from the project to go down to London – to cheer on our niece as she ran the London Marathon – extraordinary girl! She did a great run – and, as one does, when one is on a break, we visited a cemetery. It was Highgate Cemetery again – but this time we managed to get onto one of the tours of the West Side. The catacombs are of course, impressive, but I particularly loved the jumble of headstones amongst the undergrowth – such an interesting variety of styles and iconography. Unfortunately I had to keep up with the guided party and couldn’t wander off to take lots of photos but my camera was kept pretty busy snapping as many as I could on the way.

Of course, a large municipal cemetery is so very different from a small, country churchyard. It might seem ridiculous to compare the two, but there are surprising similarities as well as stark contrasts in form, design, style and purpose, especially when you start looking at the smaller details. 
High gothic at Embsay Churchyard

High Gothic in Highgate Cemetery

This week, 3 of us briefly returned to St Mary’s churchyard to finish off a few measurements & photos  which needed doing again.












While there, enjoying a bit of spring sunshine, we fell into conversation (as we do!) about what it is that fascinates us about headstones, and wondering how we can best convey that to others who may think it a curious, if not morbid, hobby. It was interesting to find we each have a slightly different angle on the subject, but agree that it gives us a connection to our local history we couldn’t get anywhere else; the headstones are not necessarily sad reminders, for we choose to regard them as physical expressions of love and affection for people that were once – or indeed still are – loved and respected. They each celebrate a life that deserves to be remembered. And here in the churchyard they act as constant reminders of the history of the parish, being so physically close to continuing parish life as people come and go – whether to the church, or simply passing by on the pavement outside as they walk their dogs, or take the children to school.  
One of our Research Team, David Turner, gave one of his excellent talks last week - to a packed village hall - on the Baynes family of Quakers and mill owners who built the grand Georgian house known as Embsay Kirk. The locals were astonished to hear all about John Baynes, a young man of radical politics, who was friends with Benjamin Franklin. His promising career was cut short however, as he died when still in the 20s. 
No doubt David will soon make his history of the Baynes family more widely available soon. 

Jane Lunnon

Sunday, 1 April 2018


31 March 2018

A number of our group attended the launch of DEBS – Discovering England’s Burial Spaces – hosted by Gareth and Nicole Beale at King’s Manor, in York, last Tuesday. It was an opportunity not only to be introduced to the aims of the project, but also to meet some of the other groups who are involved.  We were pleased to see our friends from Raikes Road Burial Ground, Skipton, were there too.
Alan with Peter from Raikes Road

A good spread was provided at lunchtime, and Nicole thoughtfully provided lots of chocolate to keep us going through the afternoon! It was intended to be an overview, a general introduction to the objectives of the project and what they hope to achieve. For more details see the website: www.debs.ac.uk


It was a really enjoyable day – we especially found Dr Harold Mytum’s lecture interesting and entertaining. And it was gratifying to see that we are on the right lines with the way our project is progressing. He talked about how gravestones can be studied for their cultural and social significance as well as their family history, and many of the aspects he talked about are on our “to do” list, or we are looking at already.  


Then it was round to the Lion and Lamb pub across the street for a general chat over a few drinks to round the day off. Some of us put the world to rights, of course, as you tend to do in a pub once you’ve a couple of drinks!


On a different note, Chris has been looking at the medieval Embsay and Eastby – after much hard work, he put together a paper which he delivered to the Craven and Skipton History Society earlier this month. Much of what he talked about was from his work on the Bolton Priory Compotus – the fragmentary financial accounts of the priory’s estates in the 14th century, which included many references to Embsay and Eastby. Together with some research on Skipton’s history he has come up with some very interesting revelations about the medieval crisis in the Craven area. The talk was well received and he hopes to produce an expanded version for publication.  


Jane Lunnon

Thursday, 1 March 2018


Wednesday 28 February 2018

I love the snow! So yesterday I went out with my camera taking pictures of our lovely snow – I included a visit to the churchyard. Looks lovely in the snow.

St Mary the Virgin's parish church, Embsay, near Skipton  (c) Jane Lunnon
Today we sheltered indoors – and watched the blizzards from the comfort of a warm living room, while we did some more data inputting to our gravestones database.

We were rather held up by coming across some very curious anomalies. Sue has now recorded getting on for 70 or so in the records – we sometimes think it would have been easier if we didn’t have any historical records because there are so many instances when they don’t seem to agree with the actual gravestones! But in the long run, we know we are very lucky to have plans and grave lists, which many parish churches don’t possess. In the end our records of who is buried where will be more accurate, but it’s sometimes a very confusing business.  Today’s curiosities were particularly frustrating – people not buried where they are supposed to be or missing. We didn’t get them sorted out today, it was so complicated. 
No! That's not what I mean! Yes, It's fine now! No it's not! They should be here - not there!
Still, it’s interesting watching mother and daughter trying to resolve these issues together.

Jane Lunnon