Sunday, 12 March 2017

Friday 10 March 2017

We had another good day typing up Grave Reference Sheets.
Included amongst the survey forms was one for a very small headstone that is barely legible. But the wonders of RTI reveals the inscription clearly. This was the memorial to a Belgian refugee of the First World War, who died at the local Sanatorium.
RTI photography reveals the inscription
The inscription reads:
To the memory of Leopold Joseph Van Duyvenboden, Died Nov. 28th 1917, Aged 22 Years.
Belgian Refugee since Feb. 1915, & late guest of the Walton le Dale Wesleyan Congregation.

Leopold's headstone in its lichen-cover obscurity
This plain, unassuming little headstone is a wonderful piece of social and local history – At once we are drawn into not only an emotional response to the death of this young man, in a strange country, but our interest is piqued by a series of issues & questions that we must follow up.
We know he died at the Eastby Sanatorium which was established by Bradford Corporation to care for tuberculosis patients – the history of this convalescent home is quite well researched already. But, so far as we know, this is the only memorial in the local churchyard to a patient from outside the parish who died there.

What was Leopold’s own story – where did he flee from? And how did he arrive in England? How does his personal story fit in with the story of the thousands of Belgian refugees who fled to England at the start of the First World War?
What part did the Walton le Dale Wesleyan chapel play in taking him in? And why is he not buried in that part of the world? Who came to his funeral here in Embsay? Did he have any family?

We definitely need to find out more.

On Thursday evening, I gave a talk to the Skipton Historical Society on the iconography of the gravestones – using examples not only from Embsay, but also  churchyards across the Dales and other parts of the country.
The more I look at the imagery the more fascinating it becomes, particularly when I compare what is popular in different areas, how choices of the type of motifs changed over time, or was affected by religious affiliation.
Even though the imagery and styles of gravestones in Embsay churchyard are relatively modest and conservative, by comparison with some other burial sites, there is still much of great interest here.

The fruit and flower covered Tait memorial, 1858
The Tait memorial, for example, with its cornucopia of sculpted fruits and flowers, as a testament to his grief over the death of his wife and two babies. It not only gives us an insight into his personal feelings, but also into his religious beliefs – as a member of the New Jerusalem Church he would have been very aware of the symbolism of plants as expounded by the church’s founder, Emanuel Swedenborg (1668-1772). Hence the elaborate imagery.
Broken flower bud on Tait memorial - for the loss of a young child
The audience at the Skipton History Society, were very appreciative, which was nice, and had plenty of questions at the end of the talk, which is always gratifying. I hope many of them will be encouraged to look at churchyards with fresh eyes.

 Jane Lunnon 

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