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