Thursday, 17 August 2017

Wednesday 17 August 2017

Summer’s always a busy time what with people being away on holiday etc. But we have been able to meet up most Wednesdays to type up a few more grave reference sheets and sort out anomalies that arise when we compare our data to the parish church records. Admittedly for many people this may seem to be the dullest stage of the process, but for those of us who have tackled the data entry, it has definitely proved to be so interesting. We find that as we type up the data we can start to see trends and patterns, we can ask all sorts of questions about the information we are gathering, and the whole project starts to makes sense. We can now see all sorts of possibilities with what we can do with this data. 

Our fascination with gravestones has only intensified as we realise what huge scope there is in investigating the social and cultural significance of design, iconography, the wording of epitaphs, the meaning of spatial distribution, and the production processes involved in creating the headstones. That and, of course, all the local and family history too! And we haven’t even begun to study the lichens and mosses growing on the stones yet.

Today was, at last, the first day when we could really take advantage of some summer weather – so we spent the morning taking a few photos that we missed before, and filling in a few other missing details on our survey forms. During the project we have learnt much, and we now realise that we were missing significant details in the early days of our survey.

In the afternoon, Sue and I – over some nice chocolate cake of course - had a long and very useful discussion about how we can share our experiences and knowledge with other groups, and how we can move forward with the data analysis. We have several options which we need to investigate – and this is perhaps the most exciting part of the whole project – sharing what we have done, and also taking it further into a broader context ; what we need now is a busman’s holiday, visiting other burial sites to compare our village churchyard to other places. 

Jane Lunnon

Monday, 10 July 2017

10 July 2017

Tony and I (Sue) attended a Church of England conference at York recently about churchyards, which are now being seen very much as a heritage asset, not only for family history research, but telling the social history of an area, village or town. That they need to be cherished.

For more information on the proposals for a national churchyards survey see:

Sue Stearn

10 July 2017 

A recent visit to North Norfolk allowed us (Sue, Tony and Jennifer Stearn) to explore local village churches in the Blackeney area and their graveyards.
Some of the medieval churches are like Cathedrals and reflect the wealth in the area at that time.

Above is a photograph of St Margaret Church, Cley, and below, a box tomb in its churchyard made with flint, a local stone.

Cley was once at the harbour mouth of Blakeney Haven, the great north Norfolk conurbation of ports, where the streets thronged with wealthy merchants and their workers. The port no longer exists due to silting.

On our way to Norfolk we also visited another St Margaret's church, this time in Sibsey, Lincolnshire, where family members are buried. I noticed that one grave was made of ceramic, painted black to resemble black marble. We also have one in St Mary's, Embsay - but I have never seen another until visiting Sibsey. They both date from 1930 - 1940's. 
Sue Stearn.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Friday 7th July 2017
I returned from holiday a few days ago and naturally spent some time photographing gravestones – as you do!

We were on the lovely Hebridean islands of Islay and Jura, where there are many old burial grounds and chapel ruins as well as still-active churches with graveyards. 

The ruined chapel of Kildalton, Islay - with several medieval grave slabs on the ground, and more modern memorials planted inside the chapel ruins
The population of both islands fell dramatically from the mid-19thC and the result is that many chapels are now abandoned for lack of a congregation. Some of their graveyards continued to be used for many decades, however, sometimes until very recently indeed. 

The Scottish weather and geology of the local stone used for headstones has resulted in a large number of the gravestones now being badly eroded or otherwise illegible – the lichen covering many of them is lovely to look at, but is often so thick it completely obscures the inscriptions. 

Typical Hebridean headstone style - now mostly illegible due to lichen coverage.
Perhaps RTI could help?
Still, some admirable work has been done by others and many of the inscriptions are freely available online.
Regional Victorian style popular across Islay & Jura - with domed overhang moulding.
This example shows signs of extensive erosion due to weather & quality of the stone
There are certainly regional forms and styles here which I haven’t seen in Yorkshire, or even in Sutherland in the far north of Scotland, but I know can be found across the Argyll region, including the mainland.

And of course, there are many examples of mass-produced designs from the Victorian and more modern periods which you can find anywhere across England and Scotland. Nevertheless, even on the modern memorials there are some distinctly Scottish trends. 

Clan name in large letters prominently shown on the plinth

For example, the practice of proudly displaying the family surname, either prominently on the plinth, or as an initial letter within a crest or shield at the top of the headstone. 
"C" for Campbell - typical use of initial letter of surname
Celtic revival motifs are also, of course, very popular, especially from the late Victorian period, and continue to be to the present day.

The Scots are very fond of engravings on their modern headstones to individualise the person being commemorated. In the Highlands I have always found many touching and beautiful depictions of favourite motifs, scenes, pets and hobbies which catch the eye and sing out to you that here is someone who was loved, and was a unique person worthy of remembrance. We find these in many English graveyards, of course, but the Scots seem to be more free and uninhibited with them.
Modern headstone - the inscription does not refer to the meaning of the motif,
because the image says it all
Over the coming weeks I shall be looking closely at my hundreds of photos of Islay & Jura headstones to see how they compare to those of the Yorkshire Dales.

Jane Lunnon. 

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Saturday 10th June 2017

Last autumn we ran the second of our graveyard tours at St Mary’s, Embsay. Since it was overbooked we decided to offer a repeat in the summer. But the weather wasn’t so good in the middle of June as it was last November! The rain meant we had to retreat into the church. Luckily we had been forewarned by the weather forecasters, so three of us hastily put together a slideshow presentation over the previous day and were well prepared to give our “virtual tour” inside the church. We gave the presentation twice so that we could have an audience in the morning and again in the afternoon.

David and I divided the talk between us as usual – the theme was “Saints and Sinners” and we had chosen to tell the life histories of 5 people who are buried at St Mary’s. The individual stories touched upon a wide range of issues from Victorian social history – suicide, health and safety, social class, literacy and self-education, crime, illegitimacy, village politics, infant mortality, the history of photography, and much more. There was a good discussion /Q&A at the end of each presentation, with some interesting observations on the village's history by some long-term residents. 

As I reminded the audience at the end of the talks – through the parish churchyard, you can get closer here to the people who shaped our village communities and local history than anywhere else. Our churchyards are a precious local heritage asset.

Excellent cake, by the way, was provided, along with welcome hot cuppas to keep us warm through the day! 

Jane Lunnon

Friday, 26 May 2017

26 May 2016

We have all been busy with our work on the churchyard survey – including  more data input sessions in a bid to complete the Grave Reference Sheets. I think the end is in sight for these, although there are still a lot to type up yet.
In the meantime some of us have been visiting more graveyards.

The Stearns gravitated towards a number of them while on holiday in Norfolk recently – their daughter had a job keeping up with Sue’s demands for photographs and now has a camera full of gravestone images. Not what she expected to bring back from holiday!

I took advantage of a recent open day at the Raikes Road Burial Ground in Skipton. This intriguing urban burial ground is being lovingly restored and investigated by an enthusiastic local group. A book has now been published on Raikes Road, written by Jean Robinson of the Friends of Raikes Road Burial Ground. It’s well presented and gives a very interesting collection of stories about the people buried here.

For more information see their website:

I made the most out of the opportunity to take lots of photos in a bid to see how much similarity there is between the gravestones here and those at St Mary’s Embsay. And it was immediately obvious that there were many similarities - and many differences. Look, for instance at this carving of an angel that is at Raikes Road...

 And this one, which is in St Mary’s, Embsay.

Remarkably similar, but with subtle differences indicating this is the work of a craftsman, rather than that of a commercial workshop mass producing memorial templates.

This memorial at Raikes Road is badly eroded, and the original imagery is missing. 

But happily, we can find a similar design at St Mary's Embsay, and assume that the original at Raikes Road looked something like this:

This highlights just a couple of the benefits of extending our investigation of gravestones beyond our own parochial boundary, something that we would very much like to do.

Jane Lunnon 

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

2nd May 2017

We have been quietly busy with the creation of the grave reference sheets over the past few weeks – meeting at Sue’s house to share data input sessions. We have had some particularly complicated queries arising from the grave references of the past couple of weeks – suddenly we seemed to have a crop of 2nd husbands and second or even third wives. Sometimes it’s not easy working out who was buried with whom, and why someone with a completely different surname is found in the same burial plot – or why, for example, a man and his daughter were buried in an un-marked grave in part of the churchyard, while his wife and another daughter were buried in another plot a hundred yards away. We were only aware of the connection because the mother and daughter’s headstone commemorated all four. We have found several similar instances where headstone epitaphs have misled us into thinking someone was buried where actually they are not!

The village genealogical database has been so very helpful in untangling some of these anomalies.

High Cross at Grinton Church in Sawleale
Not that we becoming obsessed with gravestones, of course, but to celebrate 40 years since the day we first met, my husband and I spent the day exploring churchyards in beautiful Swaledale recently.

A bold statement from Gunnerside Methodist Chapel
We found considerable similarities in many headstones with those of Wharfedale, but also some local styles that we haven’t yet seen around Craven or Upper Wharfedale, such as the "House" shaped headstones.
A rather more modest example of a "house" style memorial stone at Muker Church

Jane Lunnon