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