SKIPTON'S history is literally being "unearthed" on Saturday, September 17, as characters rise from their graves in an ancient burial ground.

RAIKES burial ground in Raikes Road, Skipton, a time capsule to town's Victorian and literary heritage, is the last resting place of a bunch of characters who have made their mark not just locally but world wide.

The history of these men and women has lain dormant for about 140 years, but over the last couple of years their stories have been brought back to life by a group of enthusiasts who call themselves the Friends of Raikes Burial Ground.

With the support of Skipton Town Council and Craven District Council they were awarded Heritage Lottery cash to fund an extensive restoration programme to save the burial ground - the last resting place of about 2,000 people, from further decay.

The Friends' research, which has involved the excavation of an ancient mortuary, has revealed some fascinating stories - not least about the aunts of one of the most famous British authors Rudyard Kipling and a soldier hero of the Napoleonic wars who fought with the Duke of Wellington.

The public are being invited to learn all about these long dead "Skiptonions" - that's the title of the event - at the fifth of six open days being held this summer.

Opened in 1846 as an overspill from the churchyard at Holy Trinity, the burial ground ceased to function when the municipal cemetery at Waltonwrays was opened. It remained largely ignored until the Friends led by Jean Robinson of Skipton, took an interest.

Bringing the characters to life, so to speak, on the open day will be enactors togged out in the garments of the day, each clued up on the lives of their alter-egos.

They will take the roles of some of the Victorians interred at Raikes Road, such as the Parish Clerk and Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, as well as two landladies who were prominent in the town.

Patron of the burial ground is award-winning author and poet Blake Morrison, whose best-selling book "And When Did You Last See Your Father?" was made into a movie. He is a former student of the town's Ermysted's Grammar School.

A professor of creative writing at Goldsmith's College in London, he was approached by Jean because of the ground's rich literary connections. His patronage came last year as the Friends celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of Rudyard Kipling author of two of the most iconic books in the English language, Jungle Book and Just So Stories.

Kipling was a frequent visitor to the Skipton, which was the home of his grandfather, the Rev Joseph Kipling, a Wesleyan Methodist minister. He and his wife are buried in Raikes.

Other literary connections include a family named in one of Robert Burns’ poems, members of the Heelis family, one of whom married Beatrix Potter and Rev. John Cartman, whose uncle presided over the funerals of both Charlotte and Patrick Bronte.

Umpteen other long gone Skipton folk are buried on the site including Private Thomas -Tom- Preston who fought as a soldier in some of the most famous battles of the Napoleonic era.

Tom was born in 1782 at Kirkby Malham and when aged only 11 he enlisted with the 20th Regiment of Foot, later the Lancashire Fusiliers.

His first active service was not until 1806 when he was sent to Italy as part of a small force protecting Sicily from invasion and fought the French at the Battle of Maida, just outside Naples.

The 20th Foot formed the backbone of the battle and Tom was part of the 5,000 infantry in line which met 6,000 men in column and inflicted on them, it was said, one of the most crushing defeats on a small scale that took place during the whole of the Napoleonic Wars.

Initially, France and Spain had been allies, invading Portugal and creating a blockade of the ports but in 1808, Napoleon overplayed his hand by installing his brother, Joseph, as King of Spain, causing an uprising which encouraged the British to send an expeditionary force into the Iberian Peninsular.

August 1808 saw Tom fighting in the Battle of Vimeiro, near Lisbon, where he was among the victorious army of 10,000 led by Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington.

From Portugal, Tom was part of the northwards push into Spain at the Battle of Barossa, near Cadiz, in March 1811. Fighting again under Wellington’s command, a single British division defeated two French divisions. These battles were to end the port blockade.

The year 1813 was a busy one for Tom. In June he was in the Battle of Vittoria where King Joseph Bonaparte was defeated and his treasury captured. Joseph escaped but fled so quickly that he left behind his personal possessions, including his chamber pot!

The burial ground was rededicated last July by Skipton rector the Rev Veronica James. There were guided walks when visitors were be able to learn about life and death in Victorian Skipton and given an insight into the wildlife, including a population of locally rare water shrews.

In the same month the Friends held an open day and among the visitors was Michael Green, Kipling's great, great grandson.

The burial ground will be open from 10.30am and the re-enactments will take place at 11am and 2pm. Entry is free, but donations will be welcomed.