Monday, 4 March 2019

Thursday 28th February 2019

Some time ago we did some Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) photography on a 17th Century listed grave slab at Kettlewell churchyard, and the P.C.C. are now planning to put some of the results on an information board.

So we were invited over to have a chat with Di who is co-ordinating this and other plans for increasing appreciation of the churchyard and what it has to offer in terms of mindfulness (with a prayer walk), and biodiversity, as well as heritage.

It gave us the opportunity to have a lovely chat with someone who shared our enthusiasm, and to point out some of the ways in which a churchyard survey can open up people’s awareness of how gravestones can be a window into local and social history.

Take, for example, one particular memorial we spent a little time looking at more closely.
It was erected in 1834 in memory of a 2 year old girl. It is a very large memorial, over 5 foot in height, and broader than usual. Although not located at the east end, near the altar, nor facing straight onto a footpath, or another of the most prominent positions within the churchyard, it is nevertheless an imposing memorial, and must have been a very expensive commission.

The design is unusual, with a bold profile – the sides are slightly splayed outwards, and the top line is a strong diamond centrepiece over deeply scooped shoulders, flanked by rosetted wings. The imagery is neo-classical in design, probably influenced by the Adam style, although it is not as sophisticated nor elegant, suggesting this was not made by a highly skilled artist. But it is well-made, probably handcrafted by a skilled monumental mason. A surprising feature is that the urn and swag design is duplicated on the back of the headstone, although the inscription is only on the primary face, and is dedicated to the one burial.

Unfortunately it is difficult to read the epitaph with the naked eye – there is clearly a lengthy quotation or piece of poetry at the base of the memorial – another case for the RTI squad perhaps!!

This is an extraordinary memorial to a small child, and speaks volumes about the grief that was felt at her death. Indeed this is a good example of a memorial that says more about the bereaved and how they felt about their loss, than it does about the deceased.

Our thanks to Di for her interest and we wish Kettlewell P.C.C. every success with their project.

Jane Lunnon

Monday, 11 February 2019

Saturday 9th February 2019  

On Wednesday some of our Churchyard survey team went over to the lovely market town of Settle in neighbouring Ribblesdale at the request of the History Group there. They have nearly completed a survey of the large churchyard of the parish church of The Holy Ascension, with an extensive photographic record and transcriptions of the memorial inscriptions.

The condition of the majority of the gravestones is very good, but there were three that could not be read. So we gladly agreed to come over and take some RTI pictures.  It was a perfect day for RTI photography – only a very slight breeze, an overcast but not too grey a sky, and it wasn’t raining. 
While 3 of us demonstrated the RTI technique, Sue and the Settle people exchanged information and some thoughts on churchyard surveying.

The old Settle churchyard (as distinct from the modern extensions at the far end) contains a wide variety of memorial types including the ubiquitous pedestal crosses. A good proportion of kerbstones survive – thankfully not removed for the sake of easier grass-cutting. The standard of the gravestones is generally high quality – apart from the three selected for RTI the condition is very good, with few signs of weathering. 
This headstone is too badly eroded even for RTI to help reveal the inscription

There are also some interesting designs – one which particularly caught my eye was a dismantled pedestal cross with art nouveau style carving – despite being a popular style in the early 20th Century for interior design and furnishings, I have so far found few examples of this style in parish churchyard memorials. 

We finished in time for lunch and walked the few hundred yards into the town centre to a coffee shop where we continued our exchange of ideas, and compared methodology and project objectives. It was an extremely useful and enjoyable exercise – talking through different approaches and different reasons for recording gravestones. 

It was a very different meeting that we had on Saturday as Nicole and Gareth came over to discuss the progress of the DEBS project (Discovering England’s Burial Spaces, Centre for Digital Heritage at The University of York). 

We had a really interesting day going through the designs for the gravestones database, and tweaking some of the data fields. It brought into sharp focus the need to design databases with community groups specifically in mind, a rather different proposition from designing for academics.

Thanks, Sue, for a great buffet lunch!

Jane Lunnon.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Saturday 15th December 2018
On a bitterly cold, damp, bone-biting day, we met at St Mary’s Church, to greet a visitor from Minneapolis.
Katie Thornton is a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow – which means she is exploring what burial spaces mean to people around the world, especially as increasing pressure on burial spaces forces us to re-configure our approach to commemorating and remembering our dead. She uses “digital storytelling” as the medium to explore these issues.
After warming up a bit with cups of tea and coffee, we ventured outside to give Katie a tour of our very typical Dales churchyard. As we explained, there’s nothing particularly unique about St Mary’s, but in our view that’s precisely what makes it so special. It represents the normal, the mundane, the grassroots history of a small community. This churchyard represents the history of ordinary people over many generations. There are no famous people – here we have the final resting places of mill workers, quarrymen, farmers and agricultural labourers, shopkeepers, teachers, craftsmen, and their families. Their life histories can stand in for the lives of ordinary folk across the country since the mid-Victorian period.
Back at Sue’s house, over a good buffet (thanks, Sue!), we had a wide-ranging discussion about how we have carried out our churchyard project, how it has brought together a team of people with a range of skills and interests, and what the project means to each of us – after all, we each have different perspectives, although happily these dovetail nicely into each other.  
Sue explains our project methodology to Katie

We were so absorbed in the discussions we completely forget that Katie was recording everything throughout the day. What could have been a bit daunting actually passed us by, we were so engaged in chatting with Katie. The day sped by and before we knew it, it was time for her to leave so she could catch her train back to York.
It was a very useful exercise simply talking informally with an interested outsider, making us reassess why we are doing this project, and clarifying what we feel we can get out if it, and where we take it in the future.  Katie was delightful company, and it was a very pleasant day.
Jane Lunnon

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Sunday 18th November 2018

We had another good session at Skipton’s Holy Trinity Churchyard on Wednesday. It threatened to rain but the sunshine came through for us, and it wasn’t too cold. The autumn leaves took a bit of sweeping away for the purposes of photographing the stones, but they look very colourful and lovely. 
We continued the work of transcribing the legible inscriptions, and photographing the ledgers. 

Surveying the churchyard against a beautiful autumn sky
When I got home I found that the photographs I took before my morning coffee break were rather unfocused while after I had had my brew they were rather clearer! Still trying to catch up on being so tired after all the preparations and the delivery of the Armistice centenary event at Embsay, that the early morning photos I took at Holy Trinity were very blurred. The coffee helped me keep awake and a bit steadier with the camera! So I shall have to re-take the first set again next week. 

In the meantime, I shall be going through all the photos I have taken so far at Holy Trinity and organise them into digital folders. Then I think I shall start to attempt a simple classification of them all according to form and design. 
Kirkby Malham churchyard

On Thursday evening I was giving a talk to the Malhamdale Local History Group. 

The meeting room was packed, and the audience seemed to be interested in the concept of gravestones as something more than simply sources of genealogical data. I hope I have inspired some of them to look at gravestones in a different light. My thanks to the Malham LHG for their welcome and interest. 

Jane Lunnon.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Monday 12 November 2018

What a weekend it was! The centenary of the 1918 Armistice has been our obsession for nigh on 6 months or so.

It was about a year ago that Vince Smith, of the Embsay-with-Eastby Parish Council, invited Embsay Research Group to contribute towards an event he was planning to commemorate the centenary. We pooled our ideas, along with the W.I. and the Embsay Steam Railway group – and over the months the ideas grew and developed, and the “event” got bigger and bigger.

But hopefully all the angst and hard work, and all those late evenings researching and writing (often into the small hours of the next morning) have all been worth it. 
Vince needn’t have worried that no one would turn up – the turnout was wonderful – thank you to all the villagers of Embsay and Eastby for supporting the event. 
visitors to the ERG history display on Saturday 10th 
We had tried to offer something for everyone – a large history display by ERG explored a range of topics, including everything from military casualty figures and animals in war, to the women poets and Lloyd George’s beer.  

Peter Edwards tells the poignant story of his grandfather, who looked after the Belgian Refugees arriving in Folkestone during the war
A series of small cameo performances by members of the ERG, and friends from the village, explored the lives of young women during the war, the Belgian refugees, fashion tips, household hints, the Spanish flu, and the Khaki election of December 1918.  
Jennifer and Sue Stearn dispense fashion and household tips from 1917 and 1918

A hour’s show – to a packed village hall – presented readings from contemporary newspapers and journals, poems, and songs accompanied by a slideshow.  
Peter Edwards reading local newspaper reports on the role played by local Embsay girls for the National Egg Collection during the Great War.
There were re-enactments by Skipton Academy students of soldiers returning to their families and sweethearts at Embsay Railway station, and an afternoon tea party provided by the W.I. and accompanied by entertainment from local villagers. 

The usual morning ceremony was held at the village war memorial on Sunday morning – attended by a very large number of people – and in the evening a special dusk ceremony was held, where children laid down hand-painted pebbles dedicated to the soldiers who died, along with small candles, as a silent slideshow of the men’s names was projected to the side. I think the large number of people who attended found it extraordinarily simple but moving. And the reading of Sassoon’s poem “Aftermath” was particularly apt to close the whole weekend.
Candles and children's hand-painted pebbles laid at dusk, in tribute to the fallen soldiers of Embsay and Eastby in World War One.

There were so many people involved in putting this weekend together, and making it so successful, the list would be too long to put here, but they all deserve huge thanks. 

Jane Lunnon

Friday, 12 October 2018

Thursday 11th November 2018

The weather was a little different today – we delayed going this morning as there was some rain, and it didn’t look hopeful, but by about 10am the sun came out and we all dashed out of our respective homes to descend on Skipton and see how much we could get done before the forecast rain came. 

We were lucky in that we were able to keep working until well past 1 p.m.  The sunny skies soon turned a bit dull, which made the task of reading many of the inscriptions a little more difficult. Peter’s super-duper LED torch was used to provide some raking light and clarifying some of them, but it’s evident that some RTI photography will be needed.

When the kitchen extension was added to the back of the church in 1979 some old gravestones were cut up for use as steps.
I continued taking ordinary photographs -  Not always easy for a short person like me – even standing on a double-step step-ladder I can only just get a ledger in frame provided I stretch right up and hold my arms out at full stretch. Sometimes I couldn’t really see what I was taking even with my swivel display screen as the sun was in my eyes. Still I think I got most of them ok. 

Jane Lunnon, Embsay Research Group.

9th & 10th November 2018 

Started on a new Churchyard survey project today. Joined forces with the Friends of Raikes Road Burial Ground (Skipton) to work on recording the gravestones at Holy Trinity Church, Skipton. Old engravings of the church clearly show the south graveyard was once filled with a large number of table tops and chest tombs – but in the 1950s the south side was completely cleared and landscaped, so that now it is a large plain lawn with a few benches ranged around the perimeter – a popular resting place for locals and tourists alike as it provides a good view down the high street.
North side with re-located headstones under the castle walls
Many of the gravestones were moved round to the back in what is now a very pleasant, quiet, walled enclosure under the shadow of the castle outbuildings. 
The north graveyard extends under the shadow of the church
The majority of the gravestones are now set into the ground as ledgers – most were formerly table tops, but there are a good number of uprights ranged against the walls. This area is secluded because of the iron gates, which are often locked, but the vicar has been kind enough to give us access.
The weather on Tuesday and Wednesday took us by surprise – several of us turned up wearing our thermals expecting a cold chilly day – it was actually a beautiful warm summer’s day, excellent for reading inscriptions. Good for a lot of the photography too, although in some instances the high contrasting shadows thrown across the gravestones proved troublesome.
The wind blew around the autumn leaves - which kept Pete busy with the broom
Our project co-ordinator, Jean, who has for several years run the highly successful Friends of Raikes Road Burial Ground, has allocated an identifying number to each gravestone, and has set our first task as checking the accuracy of a previous recording of the memorial inscriptions. As with so many MI records, the primary purpose had been to simply record the names and dates of the deceased to serve genealogists’ needs. But this means that subtle messages and interesting foibles are often missed. So we are now transcribing the full inscriptions verbatim, complete with contemporary spelling and punctuation. Most of the inscriptions in the area we are starting on are actually in surprisingly good condition. The masons of Skipton appear to have used very good quality stone (although, of course, we have no idea how many poor quality headstones were discarded in the clearance of the south graveyard).  The sunshine proved very helpful in the reading.
In the meantime, Pete started measuring up the graveyard to produce a plan, while I set to on the task of making a detailed photographic record of the headstones. I’m photographing not only the face of each gravestone, but also specific details such as iconography, close-ups of the inscription, design details, and signs of damage and deterioration for condition monitoring purposes.

We were grateful to the caretaker who has invited us to use the kitchen to make tea and coffee, and indeed to the gentleman who even made us tea and coffee on Wednesday. 

Jane Lunnon