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

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Wednesday 17 July 2019 

A hot, muggy day – Skipton bustling with locals and tourists. We spent just the morning in the churchyard. 

Despite the direct sunlight, the team had quite a bit of difficulty, struggling to read some of the inscriptions. Hopefully, when the RTI photographs are completed these inscriptions will become beautifully and immediately clear. But in the meantime it was quite fun listening to the various attempts to decipher the words and letters, while I was doing some photography at the other end of the site.  

It was hot work, since I like to have “clean” photographs of gravestones, without shadows or weeds and grass obscuring even the edges of the stone. At least I didn’t face the scale of vegetation that we had yesterday at Conistone! Nevertheless, I had to spend about 20 minutes cutting away the vegetation and sweeping off the dust, flower petals and leaves before I could start the photography on each memorial. In the hot weather that was a bit of a slog, but I do think it worthwhile to make sure the photographic record as good as possible.

Naturally, our morning tea break was a little longer than usual as we relaxed in the shade, but it was a good opportunity to discuss local archaeological sites around the town – and in our home village of Embsay - and bemoan how local heritage and historic landscape is being lost forever under the housing developments sweeping around what was once a lovely market town and a small village in a distinctly rural area. The least we can do with our small-scale resources is to continue recording the graveyards. 

Jane Lunnon

Tuesday 16 July 2019

We arrived at Conistone to find the sidesman valiantly trying to clear away some of the overgrowth for us with a strimmer. 

It is a delicate balance to maintain a churchyard where the small congregation and remote location makes it difficult to find the resources. The location at Kilnsey-with-Conistone also makes this an ideal spot for a little nature reserve and the churchyard here has been allowed to develop as a home for wild flowers, insects and birds for several years. The whole churchyard certainly looked absolutely gorgeous with all the wild plants and flowers, but much of it is bramble and nettles as well. 
"So, where do we start?"
A few footpaths had already been cleared through but we couldn’t get to the gravestones. So, sadly, some of the plants had to go. 
Eileen: "I've lost Sue - I hope she can find her way back"
The strimmer couldn’t cope with it all and we spent much of the day using shears to expose each memorial we wanted to survey. 
The graveyard pixies busy at work
In many places the memorials were completely lost to view, but some of the taller memorials could be seen poking their heads above the  plants, which were 4 to 5 feet high.

Jennifer hard at work 

After - There IS a memorial and kerbstones under all that lot!
This slowed us up somewhat, but it was kind of fun, if a bit back-breaking!

Jane Lunnon

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Wednesday 3rd July 2019

A very hot sunny day – Skipton was heaving with people, and the benches in the churchyard in front of the church (where the old burial ground has been landscaped into a lawn, and benches placed strategically around the perimeter)were full of picnicers and people relaxing.

 But round the back in our enclosed space on the north side, behind the iron gates, our little team was beavering away as usual. 
While the others continued the work of checking the inscriptions against a list of formerly produced MI’s, Alan, Jennifer and myself tried to do some RTI photography. Of course, the bright sunshine was a small problem! Alan had seen a weather forecast that promised clouds as the day progressed, but they never came. So we concentrated on a couple of gravestones that are perpetually in the shade.

Alan also experimented with a horizontal camera bar that extends out from the tripod – it is a useful tool where there are obstructions such as walls or limited space in which to work, and the RTI bar can’t be set up. It also works well where only a small portion of the gravestone needs to be photographed. But it is a little unstable, and needs a very heavy weight to be attached to keep the tripod steady. 

After lunch we gave up on RTI and started taking a series of ordinary photographs of the ledgers. 
Jennifer swelters in the hot sunshine to prepare ledgers for photographing
But by 3pm it was so hot we were wilting and decided to call it a day.

Jane Lunnon

Jura, The Hebrides, Scotland, June 2019
I have recently returned from a fortnight on the isle of Jura in the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland (and hence managed to avoid all the horrid weather being endured across England!). Although we were there two years ago and had taken a large number (hundreds) of photos of gravestones on Jura and Islay at that time, I was able to find more this time round too.
The beautiful setting of Kilnave chapel, isle of Islay, Scotland
We accidentally came across Kilnave chapel, an enchanting burial ground in an idyllic remote setting on the northern part of the island of Islay – the ancient chapel (14th-early 15thC) is a romantic ruin overlooking the bay and on one side are the older gravestones, plus an ancient high cross (5th-8thC) ; and on the north side a new extension – still being used for new burials.
The ancient cross at Kilnave, Islay
The cross is worn and broken, and the intricate carvings are difficult to capture on an ordinary photograph (I'd love to do some RTI on it!) but still impressive. It doesn’t have the magnificent carvings of the Kilchoman and Kidalton crosses elsewhere on Islay, but it certainly has its own unique charisma.
Old ledger stones nestled into the grass at Kilnave - a common sight in  Hebridean churchyards
I also re-visited Bowmore where the beautiful round church dominates the high street of this bustling little town. 
The round church at Bowmore, Islay

After taking numerous photos of the older gravestones, I found that a large new extension has been added at the back – and repeatedly I was profoundly moved by the plethora of ephemeral gifts left by relatives at the gravesides. 
No headstone, but many grave gifts create a loving memorial at Bowmore
I admit I have a particular interest in this aspect of graveyards – these items represent the deepest and most heartfelt emotions, even more so than the much more permanent headstones, and as such they perform an essential function in the grieving process. 
A particularly touching graveside with a status of the deceased's pet dog, at Bowmore, Islay

They are discouraged in most English churchyards, but appear to be more accepted by the authorities in Scottish churchyards.

And another churchyard that I have been to before, but wanted to re-visit, was at Kilchoman (just down the road from the Kilchoman whisky distillery – paid a return visit there as well!). Here there is another abandoned church – but this is a Victorian church, making the setting less romantic than at Kilnave, and a little sadder. 
A very interesting old ledger gravestone at Kilchoman, Islay, with a naïve effigy sculpture
The old burial ground was much more overgrown than when I came here a couple of years ago, but perhaps it was just because I came between ground maintenance sessions.  
A fine medieval ledger at Kilchoman, Islay, with heraldic crest, skull and crossbones
I was wanting to take a couple of better photographs of a selection of old gravestones, and was able to do so on this lovely sunny day. 
Typical medieval ledger of the Hebrides - 
this one at Kilchoman, Islay, bears a sword flanked by "Celtic" style embellishments
In the new burial ground next door I came across a monumental mason working on a new inscription being added to an existing memorial. He very helpfully explained the technique he was using of applying a strip of lead to the stone, and then chiselling out the letters. 

Jane Lunnon 

Wednesday 26th June 2019

With the sun inching out between the clouds at very awkward moments we attempted the intricate art of horizontal RTI’s, with same added slope work. 
The bar, once eventually set up and strapped together and screwed the right way, we realised why we need tall people with allen keys. 

But once the bar was set to the magic height of 130cm above grave slab we got into the swing of things, right as the sun made everything rather useless. There aren’t many people in Britain who are unhappy when the sun comes out, but we are some of the few.

It is a very good thing that we were all too busy and otherwise engaged in the very careful and slow dance of the RTI photographing that we couldn’t take pictures because we would have had some very interesting angles and shapes.  We also learnt that it is very difficult to angle a flash when perched precariously on a grassy slope, and even more difficult to swap sides when the string attached to the flash is attached to cane that someone else is holding.

Despite the challenges, we managed some work and briefly mused on the challenges yet to come of performing RTI on half a step in the sunshine, hemmed in by walls and gates.
Jennifer Stearn 

Wednesday 19th June 2019

The weather at last had sorted itself out with sunshine on the cards; brilliant for plain photographs, but next to useless for RTI, but never the less we persevered.

Splitting our time between Holy Trinity Skipton and Conistone churchyards we made a happy caravan of taphophiles. The sun just about remained behind the clouds for several tricky RTI’s, eventually setting aside the infamous table top RTI and finishing at a reasonable time, once the sun had made itself well known.

The challenge of doing RTI on a sunny with cloud interval day and the different angles and conditions of each grave certainly challenged us all. Interestingly it took four of us to do one grave, one taking the pictures, one holding the flash, one holding the string and one holding the coat. The coat was very key to blocking the sun, but also provided a rather strange line up for passers-by.

Owing to the fact that we left behind the very useful if slightly Heath Robinson garden cane to hold the string, we even had to fashion a string hold stick out of a handy branch with only minor puncture wounds.

A Happy Taphophile!     (c) Alan Williams
A picture says a thousand words and obviously we worked very hard and didn’t do any dancing or eating of chocolate cake....

Jennifer Stearn