Thursday, 7 September 2017

Wednesday 6th September 2017-09-07

We ventured outside again in order to catch up on some of the missing photos that were needed, and to re-shoot those which needed better photos. It’s surprising over the past two years how much we have learnt about making a photo record and the details we should record – at the beginning of the project two years ago it didn’t really seem that important to photograph close-ups of little details such as motifs, mouldings, de-lamination, etc. Now we are much more aware how important such little details are in analysing the gravestones for their design features, condition monitoring, and stone masons’ idiosyncrasies.

The weather was a little variable but for the most part excellent for RTI purposes – dull, dry and wind-less.
Some stones needed the RTI re-doing, now that we are a little more proficient at the technique than we used to be; and some stones needed new photos as the old ones were not clear or detailed enough.
Example of the kind of detail we missed in the early days - distinctive decorative moulding at the base of a headstone 
We have found that full-scale RTI is not always necessary – the use of a flash light on a single photo shot is sometimes enough to reveal difficult-to-read inscriptions. So we decided we should try some “flashing in the churchyard” today. This rather unfortunate phrasing had us giggling like schoolchildren, but by the end of the day we had come up with a new terminology for the technique – “oblique lighting” – not so much fun, but better for use in polite company....

We had visitors too – a little group of visitors from Germany who were interested in our parish church, and later a passing little group who were walking up Kirk Lane, and stopped out of curiosity, wandering what on earth we were doing in the churchyard. 

It's the snooker ball that always catches the attention & curiosity of passers-by!
We invited them in and explained our project, and showed them some before and after RTI photos – which greatly impressed them. It’s always such a pleasure to share this project – we find most people are surprisingly interested when we explain what we are doing.  

In the afternoon we had to sit down inside the church and have a lengthy discussion on project management – we find ourselves being invited to share our project findings and help several other groups launch their own churchyard surveys. This is though, one of the joys of a project like this, and we really enjoy this aspect. So we discussed various options and plans, and have each come away with lots of preparation to do for presentations, workshops and photo shoots which are coming up over the next few months.

A busy day!

Jane Lunnon

Friday, 1 September 2017

Friday 1st September 2017

I’ve been in London for a few days and with a friend (who has been persuaded to appreciate gravestones – she has even spent a couple of days with us on our survey in North Yorkshire) took the opportunity to visit the famous Highgate Cemetery. Born and brought up in North London, I know I have been there as a child, but remembered very little about it. It is an extraordinary place, but the volunteers who run the place have a huge task on their hands to maintain it. The main circular path is well-kept – of course, this is lined with all the most ornate and showy monuments, as you would expect. 

Off the main paths are side avenues, some more “romantic” than others, under the shade of trees and undergrowth of thick ivy. The grave plots here are crammed in so tight you cannot get close to the masses of ivy-clad gravestones behind them without stepping on another memorial plot. 

The great majority are tilting, and many have parts missing or broken – the result of years of neglect before the present day Friends of Highgate Cemetery were formed and took on the huge task of caring for the place. New graves are still being added – along the main path especially, there are many modern gravestones nestled against Victorian counterparts. 

The curious mix is enchanting, as is the cosmopolitan mix of nationalities and cultures represented. Many of the latter are clustered together in their own zones, while there are other areas where different cultures lie in a diverse mix.

Highgate Cemetery has a very different atmosphere to Arnos Vale in Bristol – the latter feels like an open space, a garden landscape where people go to stroll or walk the dog – which was one of the original intentions of large urban cemeteries; at Highgate there is more of a sense of inner reflection and meditation, which can feel quite morbid and “gothic”. The monuments – whether hidden or visible – take centre stage rather than the landscaping which has long disappeared under the ivy and the overcrowding, creating a romantic atmosphere that many visitors may find a little forbidding. For me, of course, there was the sheer frustration of not being able to investigate the gravestones, and look at them in detail. That apart, I found it very beautiful and charming. The volunteers are doing a wonderful job against huge odds – and proved very friendly and helpful too.

Large privately run cemeteries like this are such a stark contrast to the little parish churchyards that we are currently studying. The ostentatiousness of the larger Victorian memorials is sometimes even outstripped by modern monuments in such places. Apart from the sheer size of many of the memorials along the main path, the variety of types of crosses and angels was particularly striking at Highgate. It is sad, though, that the vast majority of Victorian gravestones of a more modest and typical form will probably never be revealed, but will forever lie hidden under the thick growth of ivy. This does give a somewhat distorted impression of the nature of Victorian memorialisation. 

On the other hand, it does make for a lovely nature reserve - and a haven for local cats to explore.

Unfortunately we were unable to visit the West Side which is only accessible by guided tour – We fully intend to book a tour well in advance next time.

Jane Lunnon

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