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Churchyard Project

Throwing light upon local history


A project initiated by St. Mary the Virgin Church (Embsay-with-Eastby), together with the Embsay-with-Eastby Historical Research Group (part of UWHG),  in partnership with the “Discovering England’s Burial Spaces (DEBS) Project at the University of York, which has now expanded to include Conistone-with-Kilnsey churchyard, and Skipton Holy Trinity Churchyard (the latter in partnership with The Friends of Raikes Road Burial Ground, Skipton).


Why Study Churchyards?

Churchyards are a place for private expressions of personal grief, love and family bonds, yet at the same time they are very public places, accessible to all who wish to find some moments of peace and tranquility, or to search for the resting place of an ancestor.  The village churchyard allows us to engage directly with the people who have shaped our families, our communities, and our parish history.


Churchyards are highly significant local heritage assets.  In most villages and many towns they are often the most visible and evocative physical presence of the influence of the past.


At the heart of village history

You can regard gravestones as archaeological artefacts, historical documents set in stone, or as public works of art. They reflect changing social, artistic and cultural trends, show changing methods of production and manufacture, represent varied expressions of religious faith, and demonstrate changing approaches to death and bereavement.

In many cases they are heritage at risk – vulnerable to the ravages of time and weather, neglect, abuse, or even obliteration. Yet elsewhere, they are still at the living heart of parish life, enjoyed by churchgoers, local residents, family historians and tourists.


It’s time to give them a little more attention and appreciation.

Churchyard-Samual Johnson Quote-1.jpg

Our Churchyard Project

Our study embraces many different aspects of the churchyard: not only the memorial inscriptions, but also the imagery, the symbolism, the artistic styles, condition monitoring, updating of parish church records, family and local history, and the natural ecology of the burial ground.


St. Mary the Virgin Church, Embsay, c.1900  


A typical example of a mid-Victorian village churchyard in the Craven Dales, Embsay-with-Eastby is a rural parish just a couple of miles from the ancient market town of Skipton, North Yorkshire. The church was built in 1853 to cater for the workers at the seven mills, which then existed in the  two villages, and  although those mills are now gone, the church still plays an active part in the life of the local community. 

RTI Photography

Most work carried out in churchyards has been to record memorial inscriptions, but many of these have become illegible. 

With the help of the “Discovering England’s Burial Spaces” project at the University of York, the Embsay Churchyard Project has used Reflective Transformation Imaging (RTI) to reveal many more inscriptions and images than could previously be seen with the naked eye.


Spreading the Word


The Embsay Churchyard Project team are keen to encourage other local groups to study their own churchyards and develop RTI skills. We hope that by sharing our experiences in developing our study of Embsay Churchyard we can help others to carry out similar studies of their own.


Partners :

Toby Pillatt, Dr Nicole Smith and Dr Gareth Beale, DEBS Project, University of York.

The P.C.C., St Mary the Virgin Church, Embsay-with-Eastby:


Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group:


Friends of Raikes Road Burial Ground, Skipton:


Blog :

Embsay-with-Eastby Historical Research Group at:


Contact Us:

Project co-ordinator: Sue Stearn :


Current Churchyard Project Team Members:

Peter Gallagher

Chris & Jane Lunnon

Lynne Primmer

Jean Robinson

Jennifer, Sue & Tony Stearn

David Turner

Eileen Webb

Alan Williams

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