Saturday, 28 September 2019

As mentioned earlier, here are some retrospective blog posts from Jennifer:

Friday 21st September 2019

This week was spent mostly up ladders – at least for those of us who were volunteered! We were blessed with good weather so took the opportunity to re-photograph some of the table graves , however they are too tall and long to photograph without a ladder, therefore the shortest (and youngest) person went up the ladder, kindly supported by two arm rests so that photographs could be taken, one handed and blinded by sunshine. Some were even taken upside down, or between other graves in an attempt to accurately record the inscriptions. The rest of the team were finishing off recording gravestones with a little less gymnastics. There’s not really much else to say, the week was mostly about catching up and finishing taking photographs, the only downside was that we used up all the camera battery and ended up sharing one camera between us all! However on the upside there was no-one to take photographs of us practising the sometimes extreme sport of graveyard surveying. 

Under sufferance my mother has allowed this photographed to be used, solely because it has the step ladder in! (I promise I was trying to take a picture of the gravestone really!!)

Jennifer Stearn

Wednesday 23rd August, 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 taphopiles. 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. Obviously we worked very hard and didn’t do any dancing or eating of chocolate cake!

Jennifer Stearn

Friday, 25th August, 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

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Saturday 7th September 2019

It was the Embsay-with-Eastby village fete today so we set up our little History Group stall. We were in a prime position which was excellent, and the sun came out encouraging a good turnout of residents. 

Our village has a wonderful community base and there’s always a good atmosphere at village “dos” like this. 

Our display was on the history of the Post Office, which from the 1870s to the present day has moved several times, mostly within the Elm Tree Tree Square – Shires Lane area at the top of the hill. 

We made several new contacts and were able to talk to many people about the village history. There certainly is an audience for our work. 
Overall a very satisfying day.

Jane Lunnon

Wednesday 4th September 2019

I missed last week’s session at Conistone, but Jennifer will fill you in with another post on what happened as they continued to battle against the vegetation. 

Despite the intermittent showers we were determined to get out today to continue at Skipton Holy Trinity Churchyard. 
A small team arrived and immediately started work on more memorial inscriptions checking, while I continued taking photographs on Row C. As always preparing the ledge stones – clearing away the weeds, and brushing them clean – took much more time than actually taking the photos, but it’s worth the effort for a good photographic record. 

We beat a hasty retreat from a short sharp shower and had a brew and some cake in the church vestry tea room. 
Jean chats to Tony about the Holy Trinity Project
We hadn’t been back out long when Toby Pillatt from the DEBs project, based at the University of York, arrived. He was interested to talk to Jean about the Holy Trinity survey and her other project at the Raikes Road Burial Ground. By looking at how different groups manage and organise their churchyard surveys it should help him develop the resources for other groups. 

About lunch-time we all went into town for a quick meal. We were able to have a very interesting conversation about churchyards, and the problems associated with contracting professionals to carry out churchyard plans, while voluntary groups struggle to finance expensive total stations or manage GPS under various conditions – such as tree canopies.  

The Embsay contingent took Toby to see St Mary’s churchyard at Embsay and despite getting soaked in the rain again we hope he found it interesting and informative.

Jane Lunnon

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

13 August 2019

Another really nice summer’s day for us at Conistone again. We had a full house with 9 of us turning up.

Alan and Tony tried yet again to carry out some RTI on a particular table top gravestone which has been proving troublesome. Alan has today tried a new ball-head to clamp the camera to the horizontal bar to see if that helps frame the composition better and allow the camera to be held closer to the memorial. Let’s hope it works.

Lynne and I worked steadily along the final row of graves of modern burials. 
Lynne - dangerous with shears!
Although we didn’t manage to finish it we made good progress, most of our time as usual spent in preparing them for photography. This has the added advantage of helping to tidy up the gravesides in case any relatives visit. Indeed, the areas we cleared last time around another couple of rows – previously at least waist high in nettles, brambles and wild flowers well past their spring-time best – had now been lovingly dressed with bouquets of flowers by visiting relatives, adding a wonderful personal touch and bright colour. 
A few of the newly laid flower bouquets
We felt very moved by the sudden appearance of so many fresh flowers in the churchyard. It brought to the fore that vexed question again about the right balance between allowing churchyards to be nature reserves, paying the costs of maintenance as congregations shrink, and the need to cater for those who visit the graves of relatives and ancestors.

The rest of the team set to work in the far corner where the tall plant growth is known to be hiding several gravestones – although we had decided these would have to wait until the vegetation had died down in the autumn, the tantalising glimpse of the corner of a raised cope-roofed ledger stone was too much to resist. 
As all of the team had experience of archaeological digs, they enthusiastically set to in order to uncover the stone. 
It took pretty much all day – the going was tough – but also the stone was revealed to be just the centrepiece of a much larger family plot which was defined by large lintel kerbstones punctuated with large side and corner posts. To add to that there was another small memorial next to it – a single plot defined by more kerbstones. 
The double memorial finally exposed ; Alan prepares for RTI
The inscriptions needed some RTI photography, but enough was readable to show that it included a memorial to a young man who had died in the First World War. 
Measuring up for survey data
 We were also visited by the senior sidesman again, who helped clear up some grave-id queries. And by a local lady who was able to provide some family history on her relatives. Another lady also brought her little grandson to lay flowers on her grandparents’ grave and a couple of passing hikers popped in to visit the church too. 
A well deserved tea break

Jane Lunnon.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Tuesday 6th August 2019

Again the weather forecasters got it wrong – we expected to be rained off by noon but although dark clouds threatened us, it never actually rained and we managed to get quite a bit done. 
Cleaning a memorial for photography, and measuring another
One of the things which has struck us is that in this churchyard the unevenness of the ground, and the sloping down to the west has created enormous problems with stabilising many of the gravestones. Modern memorials in particular have succumbed to collapse – many have not been fixed properly to begin with, and we have discovered several gravestones lying hidden in the undergrowth. 
Perhaps then it is not surprising that the most recent burials tend to favour the local Wharfedale custom of using natural, undressed limestone boulders instead of conventional memorial uprights. Yet even here poor craftsmanship had led to the memorial plaques falling off and being lost on some of them. Poor record-keeping in the past has meant we have a large number of un-marked plots without any information on who was buried there – and where the plaques are missing even a few graves marked with the limestone boulders are as yet unknown. Hopefully we can find someone local who can remember who is buried under those at least. 

Natural limestone boulders used instead of standard kerbstones
Another local variant we have found here, on some of the more recent grave plots, is the use of long limestone pieces, again undressed and in their natural irregular shapes, used to form kerb surrounds.  
Jane Lunnon

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Friday 2 August 2019

They said it would rain by lunchtime but in the event we had a very pleasant summer’s day until we left at about 4pm. 
Cleaning up in preparation for photography
Tony and Alan did some more RTI photography. 

Tony & Alan work deep undercover
Meanwhile Sue and I worked on the North side, spending most of the morning cleaning up and exposing the kerbstones of three grave plots which had become completely enveloped in moss. Two of these were unusual in that they were made up of natural limestone rocks. 

We had several visitors today – the senior sidesman stopped by to help us sort out some queries on grave-ids; we had a very nice chat to a passing hiker who had a particular interest in family history and was curious as to what we were up to; two hikers came to see the memorial to cavers who died at Mossdale in 1967; a family on holiday strolled through as part of their leisurely exploration of the village; and a local resident chatted with us when she came to tend a grave. It served to emphasise that any churchyard, no matter how unassuming,  is such an important local asset – as much there for the sake of the living as for the dead.  
Jane Lunnon

Tuesday 30th July 2019

It was a hot, hot day.  Beautifully sunny despite the dire warnings of impending thunderstorms. The moths and butterflies were out in force today, emphasising how important such burial sites can be for wildlife. We did feel a little guilty about clearing away some of the vegetation, but there was plenty left elsewhere in the churchyard for them to retreat to. 
Tony had brought along a petrol-powered strimmer which would work much better than the battery-powered one to clear away the thick stems of nettles and brambles from the frontages of the gravestones we wanted to record today. It took him all morning and it was extremely hard work, but he managed it. He did a grand job.

Meanwhile, Jennifer and I spent much of the morning preparing a particularly overgrown burial plot to reveal a memorial of the 1960s which has long since collapsed into pieces. We felt it especially important to do a good job not only for the photographic record, but also because it is obviously still visited by relatives who had recently left fresh roses at the graveside. 
Sue and Lynne worked on the north side to record some of the newer gravestones there.

Sue amused by the use of a beer can as a flower vase
While having lunch we heard the thunderclaps approaching and decided to call it a day – none too soon, as we were battered by heavy rain on our drive homeward.

Jane Lunnon