Sarah Lister from Settle Graveyard Project has unearthed a fascinating graveyard tale linking MP Walter Morrison. Here is what she has found.

Sarah has been working with the Folly in Settle and Malhamdale Local History Group as part of the Walter Morrison Festival commemorating 100 years since his death. Walter Morrison was one of the good guys, a local MP and philanthropist who lived at Malham Tarn House. Amongst many other things he paid for the construction of Giggleswick School Chapel.

This tale is about the incredible Winskill family.

From the 1840s John Winskill advertised his business in Settle as a builder, stonemason and grave stone cutter. He was immensely successful becoming one of the largest employers in Settle and providing jobs for 72 masons, labourers and apprentices.

John, a clean living Rechabite, had several responsible positions in the town. He was a churchwarden at the Church, the vice vhair of the Sanitary Authority, (the equivalent of Health and Safety) and a Poor Law Guardian.

John and his wife Margaret Parkinson died within a year of each other in their 70s. John’s obituary explains that ‘Most of the houses and public buildings erected in the Settle district during the last forty years have been reared under Mr Winskill’s direction’.

The understated John Winskill was the man behind the building of Victoria Hall in Kirkgate in 1853 and the engineer appointed to replace the whole of the town’s sewerage system in 1877. He ran a quarry in Eldroth, probably near Black Bank Farm, which provided stone for his projects.

Incredibly, despite leaving a generous estate, John and Margaret are buried in an unmarked grave.

Successful men are often a hard act to follow. Eldest son, James, began life as a farmer but in his 40s began to have mental health difficulties, writing insulting letters to both the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury. A few years later, James appeared in Calais dressed in red and carrying a wooden cross.

He died in Calais the following year, aged 50. There was no support for mental health problems in those days.

Second son, John Whittingdale Winskill, continued his father’s business for a while, but from 1897 onwards, made his own mark as the land agent and steward for Walter Morrison MP at Malham Tarn Estate. This was a highly respected and well paid position with immense responsibility, overseeing all issues on the estate whether or not Walter Morrison was in residence.

He worked there over 30 years.

When Walter Morrison died in 1921, he famously left generous bequests to his servants including £1,000 to John.

John died in 1931, aged 80, and was buried next to his parents. He left an estate worth nearly £1 million in today’s value, but still didn’t have a gravestone.

This would seem like the end of the story of the Winskills. But it isn’t.

Over 70 years after the death of John Winskill (Snr) in 1890, his funeral card, in pristine condition, was found in the pocket of a pair of trousers which were covering the legs of a skeleton found in a disused lead mine below Buckden Pike.

The skeleton was discovered on a snowy day in March 1963, 400 yards deep into a passage which could only be reached using three shafts each up to 18 metres high.

The skeleton was clothed in the trousers, studded boots, shirt and waistcoat and a fine felt hat. The case became known as ‘The Mystery of Buckden Bill’.

The funeral card provided the best clue to the identity of this person — John Sunter Place. He had found work in the Buckden lead mine and had six children with his wife Mary Wiseman.

The Buckden mines ceased trading in 1877 so John took his family to Burnley.

Mary’s family were Settle Rechabites so knew the Winskills and so when John Winskill died, John Sunter Place went to the funeral. Very soon after his own father also died.

It seems John Sunter Place, 46, took a trip down memory lane, exploring his old mine. After a four mile walk and three shafts to climb it is thought he had a heart attack.

His poor wife Mary Ann died in 1919, aged 73, without ever knowing what happened to her husband.

This is one of several stories from Settle Graveyard about Walter Morrison’s staff. Local exhibitions will run until the end of 2021 — details from the Folly or from Sarah at