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: http://frrbg.org.uk/

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

Monday, 3 April 2017


Wednesday, 29 March 2017,

After a break last week, we got together again for another session of typing up Grave reference sheets. The damage caused by Storm Doris has now to be entered as part of the condition monitoring. The tree has now been cut up and is being removed so we can assess the damage - but it is remarkable how lucky we were that minimal damage was caused.
Photo by Sue Stearn

One gravestone has been pushed forward by a falling tree, so it now leans, and a surface crack which existed previously is now much larger; while another, a cross, has been tipped off its plinth - this should be fairly easy to get put back. The greatest damage was to a kerbstone-surround - an inscribed kerbstone has been smashed by the fallen tree. So overall we are very lucky that not more extensive damage was caused. 
Photo by Sue Stearn
Among the grave plots being entered into the reference sheets today were several un-marked graves. In the absence of headstones we are heavily dependent upon the grave plan and burial register to indicate who is buried here. We feel it is very important to record the names of the people buried in these plots - and make it clear that an "empty" space is usually someone's resting place. 


Jane Lunnon



Sunday, 12 March 2017


Friday 10 March 2017

We had another good day typing up Grave Reference Sheets.
Included amongst the survey forms was one for a very small headstone that is barely legible. But the wonders of RTI reveals the inscription clearly. This was the memorial to a Belgian refugee of the First World War, who died at the local Sanatorium.
RTI photography reveals the inscription
The inscription reads:
To the memory of Leopold Joseph Van Duyvenboden, Died Nov. 28th 1917, Aged 22 Years.
Belgian Refugee since Feb. 1915, & late guest of the Walton le Dale Wesleyan Congregation.

Leopold's headstone in its lichen-cover obscurity
This plain, unassuming little headstone is a wonderful piece of social and local history – At once we are drawn into not only an emotional response to the death of this young man, in a strange country, but our interest is piqued by a series of issues & questions that we must follow up.
We know he died at the Eastby Sanatorium which was established by Bradford Corporation to care for tuberculosis patients – the history of this convalescent home is quite well researched already. But, so far as we know, this is the only memorial in the local churchyard to a patient from outside the parish who died there.

What was Leopold’s own story – where did he flee from? And how did he arrive in England? How does his personal story fit in with the story of the thousands of Belgian refugees who fled to England at the start of the First World War?
What part did the Walton le Dale Wesleyan chapel play in taking him in? And why is he not buried in that part of the world? Who came to his funeral here in Embsay? Did he have any family?

We definitely need to find out more.

On Thursday evening, I gave a talk to the Skipton Historical Society on the iconography of the gravestones – using examples not only from Embsay, but also  churchyards across the Dales and other parts of the country.
The more I look at the imagery the more fascinating it becomes, particularly when I compare what is popular in different areas, how choices of the type of motifs changed over time, or was affected by religious affiliation.
Even though the imagery and styles of gravestones in Embsay churchyard are relatively modest and conservative, by comparison with some other burial sites, there is still much of great interest here.

The fruit and flower covered Tait memorial, 1858
The Tait memorial, for example, with its cornucopia of sculpted fruits and flowers, as a testament to his grief over the death of his wife and two babies. It not only gives us an insight into his personal feelings, but also into his religious beliefs – as a member of the New Jerusalem Church he would have been very aware of the symbolism of plants as expounded by the church’s founder, Emanuel Swedenborg (1668-1772). Hence the elaborate imagery.
Broken flower bud on Tait memorial - for the loss of a young child
The audience at the Skipton History Society, were very appreciative, which was nice, and had plenty of questions at the end of the talk, which is always gratifying. I hope many of them will be encouraged to look at churchyards with fresh eyes.


 Jane Lunnon 

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Thursday 2 March 2017

At the Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group’s AGM there was an opportunity to hear about some of the current projects being carried out by the Group.

Sue had 20 minutes to deliver a presentation about the Embsay Churchyard Project – I know all about the project being involved with it, yet I thought her approach was fresh and gave a completely different perspective. Inspired by the recently published essay by Nicole and Gareth in “Participatory Heritage” [see below] Sue focused on our churchyard survey’s use of digital technology in its various forms, showing how a small community heritage project can effectively employ digital photography, databases, and RTI.

One mention she made was of the use of Social Media - 


As well as our own Blog, we are now featured on Facebook on the pages of the Archaeology section of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority - our use of RTI at Kettlewell for a 17th C gravestone is on a post by Rebecca Cadbury-Simmons (dated 17 February 2017) - https://www.facebook.com/dalesarch. Thanks for the mention, Rebecca!




And thank you Sue for an excellent talk on Thursday.


G.Beale, N. Smith and St. Mary the Virgin Embsay Eastby Churchyard Survey Team – “New approaches to the community recording and preservation of burial space”, in H. Roued-Cunliffe and A.Copeland (eds.) – Participatory Heritage (Facit Publishing, 2017, pp. 173-184)


Jane Lunnon. 

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Wednesday 1st March 2017

After a break last week we were back around the table typing up more Grave reference sheets today. Every session we do we find ourselves chasing queries, wondering why so-and-so is buried with that other person, or why there’s no inscription for someone. Then there are anomalies to check against the church records. We find having the genealogical database invaluable in helping us out with a lot of these queries.  

Photo by Sue Stearn
Well, Storm Doris wreaked havoc last week – A large tree blew down over the churchyard. Incredibly, like that old Buster Keaton silent movie where a building falls down and misses him, simply because he is where the doorway was as the wall falls over him, there’s a headstone that ended up totally unscathed in the narrow space between two big branches.  

Photo by Sue Stearn
We’re not yet sure about the other headstones that are now under the branches, but we’re hoping when the tree is cleared away that they will be equally untouched.

We’re glad we have all the photos of the  headstones before this happened – so there’s another reason for doing the survey! It’s a timely reminder that graveyards are as vulnerable as any other heritage site to the vagaries of nature as well as intervention of people.


Jane Lunnon