A PROJECT to collect and register details of the graves in Burnsall’s St Wilfrid’s churchyard is seeking volunteers to make it happen.

The graveyard has been in use for around 1,000 years. And while there are records dating back some 460 years, the location of many graves is unknown.

Now a group has formed to look into registering all the graves which are visible as well as try and trace those which have no marked plot.

One of the group, Ed Williams, has placed an appeal for volunteers and support from residents in the parish magazine. He writes: “For many centuries, records of births, deaths and marriages depended on the diligence or whim of the local rector. Records for Burnsall are available from June 1559 - 460 years ago, in the reign of Elizabeth I.

“But in 1812 George Rose MP (1744-1818), a Minister under Pitt and a close friend of Nelson and of King George III, brought forward his “Act for the better regulating, and preserving of parish and other registers of births, baptisms, marriages and burials in England”, which came into effect the following year.

“The Act introduced standard forms, and required the inclusion in parish registers of basic names, dates and places.

“The resulting registers of Burnsall were transcribed in 1915 by Rev. William Stavert, rector of Burnsall, and published by the Craven Herald.

“He listed all marriages, baptisms and burials from 1813 - 1900.

“Examination of Mr Stavert’s records and of subsequent registers shows that at least 1,500 burials took place in Burnsall churchyard between 1813 and 1930, when the old portions were deemed to be full, and another 180 in the new portion since then.

“Many of these deaths are commemorated with memorial inscriptions, but most remain unidentified and anonymous. There is no overall record of the location of the graves, or of their occupants.”

Mr Williams said the social history of the area, stretching back over the entire period of use of the graveyard, can be traced from the parish registers. Many families, living here now, were represented in the 19th Century or before. Anyone wishing to research their ancestry needs access to parish records, which are generally available online.

He said there are probably still aspects of local history which can only be pieced together from evidence in the churchyard - evidence which gradually disappears over time.

He added: “The Parochial Church Council (PCC) therefore thinks it right to introduce better methods of recording burials, past and future. Fortunately the march of technology has given us a brilliant programme called the Burial Ground Management System, or BGMS, which uses a high-tech method of scanning all existing graves, above and below ground, together with modern methods of recording and analysing the data.

“I say ‘given’, but nothing good comes free. The capital cost is some £2,000, and the annual running cost £100 or so.

“Finding that sort of money so soon after the repair to the church roof is a challenge, so we are looking for money from grants or donations.

“Also, the introduction of the system will involve a fair amount of work, both in clearing the ground and headstones, and in preparing photographs and other records for uploading. Volunteers will be needed to help with this.”

Burnsall resident Robert Flower is another group member who is looking forward to getting the project off the ground.

He added: “A group from Atlantic Geomatics (Intl) Ltd, from Penrith, which is running the project, will be coming soon to do an initial survey of the visible graves. After that it is hoped to get a deeper survey done using radar which will reveal what is underground and the findings will be put onto a computer programme.

“We are greatly looking forward to the moment when the initial survey has been done, and we can share the results with our own parishioners and as many others as possible.

“It is a very exciting project and we hope people will be interested to volunteer. At the moment just one person has come forward, but that’s more than likely because of the busy Christmas and New Year period. Hopefully more people will be interested enough to join us.”

Anyone wishing to pledge financial help to get the project off the ground and assist with its running costs, as well as their help in volunteering can email robert.flower3@btinternet.com

The group expects to hold a meeting early next year to take the process forward.