Curious Tales from the Ancient Graveyard

Every grave has stories to tell of those within, and so every grave contains a nice little slice of history. What better way to find out the history of your town than to check out the graveyard?

Holy Ascension Church in Settle in the Yorkshire Dales was consecrated in 1838. Since then baptisms, marriages and burials have marked the passing of time. 180 years later in May 2018, Settle District U3A Family Historians decided it would be a good idea to record the inscriptions on all the gravestones to preserve them for future generations, starting with the oldest ones in the “Ancient Graveyard”.

But who were these people buried in these graves? What did they do? How did they make Settle what it is today? The temptation to find out was irresistible and so we started researching, to celebrate the lives of all our burials, from the aristocracy to working class heroes, vicars to navvies. As far back as records go, Settle has been a small, isolated market town, and often a bit behind the times. So was it a quiet little backwater?
Well no, not at all. There has been tragedy and scandal: bankrupts, bigamy and embezzlement, shootings, suicides and men running off with women a third of their age. However there are plenty of stars: England’s first female architect, orphans who became bank managers, an uncle of Lillie Langtry, and women appointed to serve Queen Victoria. We have millionaires and entrepreneurs, artists, wigmakers and eccentrics. We have suffragettes, choristers, war heroes, and an escapee from Versailles in the French Revolution.

We have women who produced 14 children, travellers on the Lusitania and labourer on the railways. Unsurprisingly, several displays at the church and the exhibition at the local Museum have created plenty of local interest.
The research has been a full time job, helped by the descendants of our burials providing photographs and anecdotes, and local residents have helped out too. This is genuine team work. The members of the team are busy recording inscriptions, taking photographs of gravestones, typing up inscriptions and cross referencing with the previously incomplete burial records. The U3A Family History group has monthly meetings with updates and presentations, and the Chair of the District U3A includes updates in the monthly newsletter. Researcher Sarah Lister said, “The project would never have happened without the U3A and the local community. We would like to thank them for their support. It’s really shaping up to be a wonderful insight into life in Settle in the 19th Century”.

Jackie Allot, Chair of Settle District U3A said. “This is such an interesting and exciting project involving so many of our U3A family historians – with much learning and enjoyment along the way. It has been wonderful to see the shared work with and for our local area and I am sure there will be opportunities for yet more ‘lives from the grave-yard’ searches and associated events. It is a shared-learning project very much in accord with U3A ethos of exploring interests in greater depth – and having serious fun in the process.The research has linked some families (near and far away) with their ancestors. It has ensured the names carved in stone can be appreciated as real and perhaps fallible human beings facing the opportunities and challenges of their age. The information gained must surely enhance our community.”

The work continues now, looking at more recent sections of the graveyard, and those without gravestones. The aim is to make the completed research available online and in hard copy for visitors to the church. We are optimistic that a local charity will support us in funding the publication of a book of some of the stories and there may even be graveyard tours this summer.

If you want to do something or learn more you can contact the project on settleresearch@gmail.com.