ERG are a working group within the Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group (UWHG). Initially set up for documentary research work to support the Whitfield Syke Project in 2010, ERG continue to work as a research group focusing on several aspects of the local history and historic landscape of the parish of Embsay-with-Eastby, near Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales.
In addition, we are currently working in partnership with the St Mary's Embsay Churchyard Survey Project team.
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
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.
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.