June and July saw my new lecture, 'It Comes to us All', (see left) well and truly launched with its inaugural presentation for Warmsworth Ladies' Circle, followed by a re-run for Selby Family History Society last week.
The story of funerals may seem like an morbid subject for a talk - but (maybe because I started my career as an archaeologist, so relics of the dead have always fascinated me), I think a whistle-stop tour through 2 million years of funeral history is strangely interesting, often moving, and occasionally blackly humorous. One thing that struck me while I was preparing for it was how our attitudes towards death, dying and the remembrance of the dead have changed over the years (although funerals themselves, typically featuring a procession of mourners following the deceased, a ceremony of commital, then disposal of the body either by burial or cremation, have remained remarkably similar since the Classical period). This is perhaps best illustrated by the post-mortem photographs which became briefly popular in the Victorian period. These featured the recently-deceased, fully clothed and posed in lifelike positions with the aid of concealed props (above right), and in some cases posing alongside living family members (below right - the child on the left is dead; the one on the right, holding her late sister's hand and gripping the arm of her chair, looks very much alive and scared out of her wits). The results can be quite macabre, although it's easy to imagine people in the late 1800's
Because this talk concludes with a 10-minute promotion for SafeHands Funeral Plans, I offer it free of charge to venues within an hour's drive-time of Wakefield - contact me for further details and I'll gladly deliver it for you.
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becoming very excited about a new technology which could give them a lasting memento of their late loved ones - particularly because in some cases, the post-mortem photograph was the only image which showed the whole family together (hence the understandable wish to have the deceased looking as lifelike as possible). The practice fell out of favour early in the last century, but it has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years with the increasingly common tendency to take photographs, hand and/or foot-prints and hand or foot casts of stillborn babies or infants who die soon after birth - although the contemporary tendency is to show the deceased in the repose of death, rather than trying to create a facsimile of life. Altogether a poignant and interesting subject - and if you'd like to know more, or would like me to deliver this hour-long presentation for your group, do get in touch.
The spring of 2016 saw the 50th anniversary of one of Britain's most famous trials: that of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley for the notorious 'Moors Murders' which cost the lives of three children and two teenagers between 1963 and 1965. Although I was just a young child at the time, I was very much aware of this peculiarly horrible case, because it dominated the news and adults were always talking about it; I've always retained an interest, and in the process of doing some research for a presentation on the subject, Mick and I visited Saddleworth Moor yesterday to take some photographs.
We started out at Hollin Brown Knoll, a hill beside the A635 Holmfirth to Oldham road with a scatter of squarish boulders along it (see top left). The murderers posed here for a number of photographs; two of their victims (Pauline Reade and Lesley Anne Downey) were buried a short distance north of these rocks, and a third (John Kilbride) a short distance to the south (centre left). W couldn't visit the grave sites because Saddleworth Moor has changed a good deal in the half-century since Brady and Hindley roamed freely there wearing ordinary clothes and fashion shoes; now the road is edged on both sides by a substantial ditch and fences, and the terrain is so rough and boggy that we wouldn't have fancied trying to cross it in our hiking gear and walking boots. But we had spotted a car-park and footpath signs a mile or so away towards Wessenden Head and the area where the body of one poor child, Keith Bennett, still lies undiscovered; so despite the moor's grisly associations, we decided to make the most of a beautiful sunny Sunday with a hike over Featherbed Moss and White Moss.
The first 1.5 - 2 miles of the footpath is easy walking because it's paved with big flat stones - an incredibly impressive labour which allows you to wend up and down the contours of this spectacular landscape without getting your feet wet (and without getting mired to the knees in thick black peaty mud). As the picture bottom left shows, it's a strange, almost alien world of shallow pools and rivulets carved out of layers of peat laid down over immeasurable time, thick with wild flowers (Mick got very excited about the purple orchids!), nodding with white tufts of cotton-grass and loud with the song of sky-larks; and although Saddleworth Moor will always be indelibly associated with one of the most terrible murder cases of the 20th century, as a natural environment it's very beautiful and well worth a visit - and if you're more intrepid than we were yesterday, you can continue the walk on an unpaved track and pick up the Pennine Trail at Black Moss Reservoir.
Feeling hot and footsore after our hike, we felt we deserved a nice cuppa in the lovely town of Holmfirth, and hoped to have it at 'Sid's Cafe' - but having been made so famous thanks to the long-running comedy series Last of the Summer Wine, it wasn't surprising that we found the place full
and had to settle for the caff next door instead! However, we got some compensation for our disappointment with an unexpected treat: seeing a display by the Wise Owl Bird of Prey Rescue Centre on the park as we passed by. This wonderful facility is run by Wayne Auty (left, with his magnificent long-eared owl) and his wife Katrina, and is responsible for saving hundreds of raptors a year - including a kestrel which hit the front of a truck, travelled 11 miles with its head stuck through the broken grill, and (amazingly) was fit to be released back into the wild after only 5 days of nursing. We really enjoyed seeing and hearing about the birds Wayne and Katrina had brought to Holmfirth, among them barn owls, a Harris hawk and this delightful little owl (see right), and pleased to learn that their centre is practically on our doorstep and takes in injured birds from all round the Yorkshire region (one day we may need their services for our Beckside wildlife). They're clearly passionate about their feathered friends, do a grand job and rely on donations and earnings from appearances like this one - so why not bung Wise Owl a few quid to help their vauable work, or engage them for your next event?