Saturday, 14 September 2019

Saturday 7th September 2019

It was the Embsay-with-Eastby village fete today so we set up our little History Group stall. We were in a prime position which was excellent, and the sun came out encouraging a good turnout of residents. 

Our village has a wonderful community base and there’s always a good atmosphere at village “dos” like this. 

Our display was on the history of the Post Office, which from the 1870s to the present day has moved several times, mostly within the Elm Tree Tree Square – Shires Lane area at the top of the hill. 

We made several new contacts and were able to talk to many people about the village history. There certainly is an audience for our work. 
Overall a very satisfying day.

Jane Lunnon

Wednesday 4th September 2019

I missed last week’s session at Conistone, but Jennifer will fill you in with another post on what happened as they continued to battle against the vegetation. 

Despite the intermittent showers we were determined to get out today to continue at Skipton Holy Trinity Churchyard. 
A small team arrived and immediately started work on more memorial inscriptions checking, while I continued taking photographs on Row C. As always preparing the ledge stones – clearing away the weeds, and brushing them clean – took much more time than actually taking the photos, but it’s worth the effort for a good photographic record. 

We beat a hasty retreat from a short sharp shower and had a brew and some cake in the church vestry tea room. 
Jean chats to Tony about the Holy Trinity Project
We hadn’t been back out long when Toby Pillatt from the DEBs project, based at the University of York, arrived. He was interested to talk to Jean about the Holy Trinity survey and her other project at the Raikes Road Burial Ground. By looking at how different groups manage and organise their churchyard surveys it should help him develop the resources for other groups. 

About lunch-time we all went into town for a quick meal. We were able to have a very interesting conversation about churchyards, and the problems associated with contracting professionals to carry out churchyard plans, while voluntary groups struggle to finance expensive total stations or manage GPS under various conditions – such as tree canopies.  

The Embsay contingent took Toby to see St Mary’s churchyard at Embsay and despite getting soaked in the rain again we hope he found it interesting and informative.

Jane Lunnon

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

13 August 2019

Another really nice summer’s day for us at Conistone again. We had a full house with 9 of us turning up.

Alan and Tony tried yet again to carry out some RTI on a particular table top gravestone which has been proving troublesome. Alan has today tried a new ball-head to clamp the camera to the horizontal bar to see if that helps frame the composition better and allow the camera to be held closer to the memorial. Let’s hope it works.

Lynne and I worked steadily along the final row of graves of modern burials. 
Lynne - dangerous with shears!
Although we didn’t manage to finish it we made good progress, most of our time as usual spent in preparing them for photography. This has the added advantage of helping to tidy up the gravesides in case any relatives visit. Indeed, the areas we cleared last time around another couple of rows – previously at least waist high in nettles, brambles and wild flowers well past their spring-time best – had now been lovingly dressed with bouquets of flowers by visiting relatives, adding a wonderful personal touch and bright colour. 
A few of the newly laid flower bouquets
We felt very moved by the sudden appearance of so many fresh flowers in the churchyard. It brought to the fore that vexed question again about the right balance between allowing churchyards to be nature reserves, paying the costs of maintenance as congregations shrink, and the need to cater for those who visit the graves of relatives and ancestors.

The rest of the team set to work in the far corner where the tall plant growth is known to be hiding several gravestones – although we had decided these would have to wait until the vegetation had died down in the autumn, the tantalising glimpse of the corner of a raised cope-roofed ledger stone was too much to resist. 
As all of the team had experience of archaeological digs, they enthusiastically set to in order to uncover the stone. 
It took pretty much all day – the going was tough – but also the stone was revealed to be just the centrepiece of a much larger family plot which was defined by large lintel kerbstones punctuated with large side and corner posts. To add to that there was another small memorial next to it – a single plot defined by more kerbstones. 
The double memorial finally exposed ; Alan prepares for RTI
The inscriptions needed some RTI photography, but enough was readable to show that it included a memorial to a young man who had died in the First World War. 
Measuring up for survey data
 We were also visited by the senior sidesman again, who helped clear up some grave-id queries. And by a local lady who was able to provide some family history on her relatives. Another lady also brought her little grandson to lay flowers on her grandparents’ grave and a couple of passing hikers popped in to visit the church too. 
A well deserved tea break

Jane Lunnon.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Tuesday 6th August 2019

Again the weather forecasters got it wrong – we expected to be rained off by noon but although dark clouds threatened us, it never actually rained and we managed to get quite a bit done. 
Cleaning a memorial for photography, and measuring another
One of the things which has struck us is that in this churchyard the unevenness of the ground, and the sloping down to the west has created enormous problems with stabilising many of the gravestones. Modern memorials in particular have succumbed to collapse – many have not been fixed properly to begin with, and we have discovered several gravestones lying hidden in the undergrowth. 
Perhaps then it is not surprising that the most recent burials tend to favour the local Wharfedale custom of using natural, undressed limestone boulders instead of conventional memorial uprights. Yet even here poor craftsmanship had led to the memorial plaques falling off and being lost on some of them. Poor record-keeping in the past has meant we have a large number of un-marked plots without any information on who was buried there – and where the plaques are missing even a few graves marked with the limestone boulders are as yet unknown. Hopefully we can find someone local who can remember who is buried under those at least. 

Natural limestone boulders used instead of standard kerbstones
Another local variant we have found here, on some of the more recent grave plots, is the use of long limestone pieces, again undressed and in their natural irregular shapes, used to form kerb surrounds.  
Jane Lunnon

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Friday 2 August 2019

They said it would rain by lunchtime but in the event we had a very pleasant summer’s day until we left at about 4pm. 
Cleaning up in preparation for photography
Tony and Alan did some more RTI photography. 

Tony & Alan work deep undercover
Meanwhile Sue and I worked on the North side, spending most of the morning cleaning up and exposing the kerbstones of three grave plots which had become completely enveloped in moss. Two of these were unusual in that they were made up of natural limestone rocks. 

We had several visitors today – the senior sidesman stopped by to help us sort out some queries on grave-ids; we had a very nice chat to a passing hiker who had a particular interest in family history and was curious as to what we were up to; two hikers came to see the memorial to cavers who died at Mossdale in 1967; a family on holiday strolled through as part of their leisurely exploration of the village; and a local resident chatted with us when she came to tend a grave. It served to emphasise that any churchyard, no matter how unassuming,  is such an important local asset – as much there for the sake of the living as for the dead.  
Jane Lunnon

Tuesday 30th July 2019

It was a hot, hot day.  Beautifully sunny despite the dire warnings of impending thunderstorms. The moths and butterflies were out in force today, emphasising how important such burial sites can be for wildlife. We did feel a little guilty about clearing away some of the vegetation, but there was plenty left elsewhere in the churchyard for them to retreat to. 
Tony had brought along a petrol-powered strimmer which would work much better than the battery-powered one to clear away the thick stems of nettles and brambles from the frontages of the gravestones we wanted to record today. It took him all morning and it was extremely hard work, but he managed it. He did a grand job.

Meanwhile, Jennifer and I spent much of the morning preparing a particularly overgrown burial plot to reveal a memorial of the 1960s which has long since collapsed into pieces. We felt it especially important to do a good job not only for the photographic record, but also because it is obviously still visited by relatives who had recently left fresh roses at the graveside. 
Sue and Lynne worked on the north side to record some of the newer gravestones there.

Sue amused by the use of a beer can as a flower vase
While having lunch we heard the thunderclaps approaching and decided to call it a day – none too soon, as we were battered by heavy rain on our drive homeward.

Jane Lunnon

Monday, 29 July 2019

Tuesday 23rd  July 2019

An extremely hot and muggy day – not the best conditions for hacking away at brambles, nettles and 4 foot high vegetation, but we were at least able to cool off every now and then with cold drinks inside the church. 
We were pleased to have the company of Dr Toby Pillatt, who is working on the DEBs project and came to see what our methodology was, and to talk about our project and how it fits in with the DEBs project at the University of York. 
RTI demonstration for Toby Pillatt

Alan, Jennifer and Tony spent the morning with him demonstrating RTI photography – on both vertical and horizontal gravestones, which call for two slightly different approaches. Luckily, despite the bright sunshine, they were able to find some gravestones in the shade, although as Alan pointed out, bright sunshine is slightly less of a problem than reflective white cloud cover.

The processing of the RTI photos taken in the morning proved a little problematic – but at least it proved that the software can be temperamental – easy to use when it goes right, and you know what you are doing, but it can fall down at the slightest error or hitch. It certainly needs improving if it is going to be used on a large scale by community groups who may have limited confidence with computers.

Lunch-time gave us an excellent opportunity to discuss the technical aspects of our survey as well as funding issues, the development of the field survey app prototype, and database.

Eileen learns how to create a detailed photographic record of a gravestone
In the afternoon we braved the increasingly hot and stifling outdoors to show Toby how we survey a churchyard.  He joined in enthusiastically, helping to measure up and fill in the forms, although we spent more time clearing away the weeds and scraping off the moss to reveal inscriptions, than actually recording memorials!

Careful excavation of a collapsed gravestone which had become completely overgrown 
- final picking out of letters ready for photography
The undergrowth was so high and dense in some places that we agreed several gravestones would have to wait until the autumn before they could be recorded as they are at the moment completely hidden and inaccessible. Besides, the wild flowers were lovely and we didn’t want to disturb it too much since this is a haven for insects and birdlife. 
We can understand that the balance between maintenance of a churchyard to keep gravestones clear and accessible for visiting relatives; the increasing difficulty of financing that maintenance (which if the congregation is small and there are few willing volunteers available, can be very expensive since contractors have to be employed); and allowing churchyards to become nature reserves (for which they are ideally suited), is a very difficult one – perhaps without a real solution that is acceptable for everyone.

Jane Lunnon