Thursday, 16 February 2017

Thursday 16th February 2017

There isn’t much to report this week, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been progressing.

Alan contemplates the imminent approach of lunch-time
We continued typing up Grave reference sheets at yesterday’s session  – as always,  taking the opportunity to check for anomalies in the original church records, and to plan ahead for the kind of data we wish to gather and analyse for the next phase of the project, which will look at the memorials as a collective group in terms of their historical and cultural significance.

And of course we check the photographs carefully, and there is a growing list of those which need to be taken again for greater clarity or more detail. For some team members it is also proving a useful learning experience as they develop their computer literacy.  

Jane Lunnon

Friday, 10 February 2017

Friday 10th Feb 2017

We’ve been busy over the last couple of weeks.

With my husband I took a trip up the Wharfedale valley last Saturday and we had a quick look around three churchyards – at Burnsall, Linton and Hubberholme. 
Example of a gravestone style & design that is found at both Burnsall and Embsay
I took about 200 photographs trying to get a rough idea of the overlap in gravestone layout and design, and assess how local styles and particularly iconography vary from one parish to another. It was a fascinating exercise and one I think is well worth following up
Example of a gravestone style & design that is found at both Hubberholme and Embsay

– the differences and the similarities between neighbouring parishes is very interesting and raises all sorts of questions about the cultural interaction between communities within the same dale, the use of the same stone masons, and even the influence of changing local geology.
Undressed Limestone boulder - examples are found throughout Upper Wharfedale -
only in small numbers in Embsay & Linton,
but in large numbers at Kettlewell and Conistone-with-Kilnsey
It was surprising though to find that very few of the older gravestones have survived – we must assume that even though these three churches are medieval in origin that the Victorians have swept away the old memorials from their churchyards – only a handful of late 18thC headstones have survived in these ancient churchyards - it seems unlikely that no one could afford to set up headstones before the early 19thC in these parishes. (Of course, I am not counting the Anglo-Scandinavian hogbacks and early medieval crosses which are housed inside Burnsall church in this assessment!).  Looks like any comparative studies that we may decide to carry out in Upper Wharfedale may have to be confined to the 19th century.

There have been two more sessions at Sue’s house of typing up more Reference Sheets for individual gravestones. This is a surprisingly slow process even with people working in pairs as we are checking the photographic record against the field survey notes, and adding more information that we can glean from the photographs. It has shown how important it is to take a comprehensive set of photographs, making sure all the details of inscriptions, design features and carved imagery are included as close-ups so these can all be examined and entered onto the record sheets.

This stage of the process also allows us to check and cross-check any anomalies against the burial register, and to recognise the variety that there is in the designs and styles of gravestones.
It is also the time to list any queries that need following up, and notes on any further field work that needs doing – such as blurred photos that need to be taken again, or missing measurements, etc.

Sue and I have also been busy preparing a presentation – we finally gave our talk to the Friends of the Craven Museum in Skipton on Wednesday evening. Sue started with an overview of the project and how it started and is progressing, while I followed with two case studies – the gravestones of George Chamberlain and of Shacklock Mason’s family. 
The gravestone of George Chamberlain,
the very first burial at St Mary's Church, Embsay, 1853
There were lots of questions afterwards which is a good sign that they found it interesting. The title of the talk was “All life is here; the village churchyard as a window into local history”, and hopefully encouraged the audience to look at parish churchyards as an important heritage asset for social, local and family historians alike.  

Jane Lunnon 

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Wednesday 25th January 2017.

Ventured further up Upper Wharfedale this morning to visit Kettlewell churchyard.
Who knew gravestones could be so much fun?
At the invitation of Pete Reynolds from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, we were to demonstrate RTI photography to him and his colleague, Rebecca Cadbury-Simmons.

The subject for the photography was a listed 17thC gravestone which lays on the ground near the church building. The inscription is mostly fairly legible, but several vital words are badly worn, so we are hoping the RTI will reveal it all.

Essential kit - kitchen towel to wipe wet gravestones dry
It was, of course, a gloriously sunny day – so 4 of us had to huddle up to throw an even shadow over the gravestone – once we had taken the shine off the wet surface which had been caused by the dew. 

Setting up the horizontal bar proved a little tricky as it needed to be very high to get the whole memorial within the frame, and Alan was too short to look into the viewfinder. Thank goodness we had Tony with us, as he was tall enough to check the test shots for composition and the correct exposure. 
Setting up the tripod is the easy bit....

A small incident – the snooker ball rolled off halfway through the first set – meant we had to start all over again, but apart from that, it all went smoothly. Tried to upload the photos to my laptop so we could demonstrate the software, but my laptop wouldn’t recognise Alan’s camera, so that had to be abandoned.

After Pete and Rebecca left, the rest of us wandered around for about an hour, exploring the churchyard and the gravestones, before having a good, hearty lunch and general natter at the Racehorses pub.

Jane Lunnon.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Saturday 21st   January 2017

We had a really good day today – good company, very interesting discussions, exchanges of ideas, new directions, and a pub lunch.
Sue puts Nicole to work on a newly revealed headstone
Gareth and Nicole Beale from the Centre for Digital Heritage at York University came over for the day, with Helen Petrie and friends from Greece. We spent the morning catching up, discussing how the project is going, and looking at some software. There were two applications to look at – one from Luxembourg, the other from Australia - designed for burial ground surveys, specifically to facilitate data entry while out in the field. By looking critically at these, a new app can hopefully be developed which is more appropriate to groups in the UK.

Going through these two programs gave us a useful opportunity to re-examine and review our surveying practices, and data collection methods. After the experience of the past year or so, learning as we go, we can now stand back and look again at the work flow that we have developed.

With the fresh viewpoint coming from Gareth, Nicole, Helen and her friend Jenny, we can begin to really appreciate how far we have come – our little team of enthusiasts has been able to combine a range of skills, knowledge, and interests to bring together a fascinating project with multi-faceted perspectives which happily complement each other nicely:
  • Updating and amending the parish church records
  • Raising awareness of the churchyard as a local heritage asset
  • Developing and sharing skills in RTI photography
  • Revealing and recording previously unreadable monumental inscriptions
  • Providing information in response to family history enquiries
  • Developing a successful working partnership between local people, church members and local heritage groups
  • Developing and researching specific interests – stone masons, iconography, cultural significance of memorials, changing artistic styles of local memorials
  • Engaging with the local primary school
  • Offering graveyard tours as a way of promoting interest in local history

Demonstrating our working methods in the churchyard

Now that most of the field work is done, we are working on the second phase - creating a detailed record of each memorial. This phase focuses on the individual graves, creating individual reference sheets for each.  

This will be followed by Phase 3 – data analysis – in which the memorials will be studied as a group, including analysis of form, style, design, changing cultural & social meanings of the iconography and epitaphs. This phase will be complemented by detailed genealogical research into as many of the people who are buried here as we can.
It’s an ambitious programme, but we hope the results will prove interesting for a wider audience.

Sue keeps the visitors in order
We are so privileged to be working with Nicole, Gareth and Helen, and really looking forward to testing their data entry app which they will be developing for groups like us to use in the field.  Also waiting in great anticipation to see what Helen comes up with for helping us with Phases 2 and 3 of the data collection and analysis.

It was an excellent, stimulating day. Thanks ever so much, Gareth, Nicole, Helen, Jenny and her husband! (Not forgetting Helen’s delicious ginger cake….)

Jane Lunnon. 

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Wednesday 19th January 2017

We continued work this morning typing up the reference sheets for the file of individual gravestone records. It’s steady but slow work, and we are kept going by plenty of gossip, laughter, coffee and biscuits.

After a quick lunch, Sue and I spent the afternoon in the churchyard updating our list of tended graves. We feel it is important to know how many graves are visited by relatives and friends – this not only gives us an indication of one way in which the churchyard is used,  emphasising its importance to the community, but also helps us when it comes to considering the maintenance of the graveyard. The issue of how many ornaments and flowers and potted plants should be permitted is a contentious one, as many feel it makes a churchyard untidy, cluttered and unsightly, even tasteless, and for those who have to do the mowing it can make their job very awkward. Certainly a windy day can cause havoc with little trinkets and flowers being scattered around, and as ornaments become shabby, broken and old, and flowers wilt (or fray, if they are artificial), it can make a churchyard look scruffy and unkempt.

On the other hand, the uniformity of modern-day headstones can make a graveyard feel clinical and soulless. Yet this is a place where the bereaved need to feel an emotional connection with their loved ones. Visiting a family grave is an emotional event – and the bereaved need to make a personal gesture, to add something to the graveside that is pertinent to the individual.

Despite the disapproval of some guardians of churchyards, every Easter and Christmas, graveyards around the country are visited by the recently and not-so-recently bereaved, to lay flowers and wreaths for remembrance, affection, grieving and/or comfort. Sometimes little ornaments are added. These can be very touching, emotionally intense, and laden with sentimental meaning. These graveside tokens represent the purpose of the graveyard as a place of remembrance and the celebration of individuals. Without them churchyards would be much sadder places.  A balance needs to be achieved.

So we have recorded the Easter and Christmas status of visited graves. Sue and I admired some lovely flower and wreath arrangements. 

The colour from these lifts the atmosphere and at both Easter and Christmas the flowers have looked lovely. Some of the new little ornaments recently deposited are very touching, and we hope their presence will be tolerated for some time yet.

Jane Lunnon. 
Please note that all opinions expressed n this post are purely personal, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Group. 

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Wednesday 11 November 2017

The atrocious weather - high winds and rain - kept us indoors today. So we were busy typing up the individual reference forms for each headstone - with the measurements, locations, and brief descriptions of each memorial. These forms will be filed with the photographs of each memorial, as a record of the field notes made on them. 
Lunch break

Later we will add biographical notes for each interment. And the analysis of the data using a database will be a later phase. 
Sleeping on the job ....

Lots of work still to do then.... 

Jane Lunnon

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Happy New Year to everyone.

We’ve been taking a Christmas and New Year break from working in St Mary’s churchyard but we are now looking forward to a busy 2017 with more gravestones, more data, and more liaison with other taphophiles!

I couldn’t completely forget all about gravestones over the festive season, I have to admit. On our annual visit to family down south over New Year, I demonstrated RTI technique to members of a local history group, and hopefully they will now be proposing a churchyard survey to their committee. Which is wonderful because their West Sussex churchyard has some lovely early 18thC examples – most are illegible to the naked eye.
Sussex Headstone - winged death's head can be seen but the inscription is totally invisible

On the three examples we shot with RTI they came up with wonderful images which astonished and excited them.

Inscription revealed
It would be fabulous if we could share our enthusiasm and experience with this group further.

I also visited another churchyard in Sussex – The gravestones in Tangmere are fascinating. Not only are there the Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones for a number of German pilots, but there are wonderful examples of “body stones”, and brick mounds.
Brick-built body mounds at Tangmere
So, now we look forward to another year of studying gravestones in the Yorkshire Dales – there is still a little bit of field work to do at St Mary’s, Embsay, finishing off a few more photographs and plotting of un-marked graves; but work must also continue apace on the data analysis and reference forms.

Jane Lunnon