I WRITE on behalf of the Friends of Raikes Road Burial Ground Skipton, in response to Cllr Peter Madeley’s comments (Call for fresh look at churchyards' budget, Craven Herald, November 11) that it is “not right” to “give £10,000 per year to a closed burial ground when we have to have an invite to go and see it”.

In terms of “not right”, let me inform the councillor that due to a quirk of Victorian legislation, Skipton Town Council is responsible for the maintenance of the site, although the incumbent Rector of the Parish Church is the actual owner. When our volunteer group was first formed nine years ago – at the behest of the council of the day – we were met with over 120 years of neglect and damage.

But it had also become something of a wildlife haven, with rare species of fungi and mammals (freely identified by local experts) and so it was agreed that we should seek a balance between its original use as a cemetery with the rich ecological site it had become. This aspect is important as a pleasant and green area of the town. At its inception in 1846, the ground stood alone on the outskirts of town. Now, buildings occupy three sides of it.

We would like open access to be available but unfortunately, because of those years of neglect and damage causing trip hazards, deep holes where monuments have been robbed out plus land slippage on what is a sloping site, this cannot safely be done at present.

We still don’t know the full extent of the damage and we have no burial plan to help. But we do have open days and have always facilitated requests at other times for those seeking their ancestors graves to have supervised access or other groups wanting to be shown around.

However, we receive no money from the council. If there is work to be done on a monument, as indicated in the report, then Skipton Town Council commission that work. We report issues with which we cannot deal.

Extensive research continues to be carried out on the monuments and the people, as well as managing the ecology.

The only record we have, the burial register, has been transcribed by us and so we offer people the opportunity to see if they have family or other connections with the ground.

Research also shows family connections, not just to the Brontes and Rudyard Kipling, but also to Beatrix Potter, Robert Burns and to the first Duke of Wellington.

Four of the original directors of Skipton Building Society have monuments as does the founder of the Craven Herald. The father and grandfather of Thomas Spencer, founder of Marks and Spencer, are there, together with a wealth of Georgian and Victorian people from all walks of life. No cost to the council.

This year, our stalwart group of Friends – all of us pensioners – have done weekly working party days. One generously used a small bequest to pay for a bulk bag of pebbles at a cost of £112 so we could place these on kerbed gravestones we cleared of vegetation, to stabilise and help with maintenance.

As this worked well, we bought another bag, funded by donations from visitors on the open days and the rest from our small reserve of funds. Other Friends have bought bulbs and chippings. We use our own tools and resources for the work. Craven Rotary has also given free time to us this year. No cost to the council.

We used to have help when one of the council employees strimmed the ground but with cutbacks this stopped. Using our funds to hire an industrial strimmer became too expensive so we bought a specialist strimmer to go round the gravestones, funded by both our own funds and a generous grant from Skipton Mechanics. No cost to the council.

One of the future projects we would have liked to do involves the mortuary, one of two buildings which used to be on the site. We did a limited excavation a few years ago and the expert in such buildings has suggested that it could be the only – or the only remaining one – in the country. Our aim was to seek grants for further exploratory work. No cost to the council.

The “invite” to which Cllr Madeley refers was just, so we thought, a friendly gesture for the members to come and see this year’s work and the site generally because, so far as I’m aware, only a small number of councillors have actually been there.

We’re not looking for thanks or acknowledgement because we consider this site to be a valuable historic and environmental asset to Skipton and we have been privileged to give our time and work to what we see as an ongoing project.

But then, if the comments of Councillor Madeley stand, I’m left with one question – why bother?


Jean Robinson

Friends of the Raikes Road Burial Ground