A unique Service of Commemoration has been held at Fewston near Harrogate to mark the end of a pioneering, seven year, heritage project and to commemorate the lives of 154 local people from the 19th century whose remains have been part of a major scientific study.
Local descendants of those whose remains were discovered, have been involved throughout the seven year project and took part in the Service of Commemoration at St Michael and St Lawrence church, to commemorate the ‘Fewston Assemblage.’ The ‘Assemblage’ is the name of the collection of artefacts and skeletons painstakingly and carefully moved and examined by scientists from Durham and York Universities during the development of the Washburn Heritage Centre, all of which have now been returned to burial plots beside the church.
During the Service, Mervyn Lister, a local resident (pictured left), spoke on behalf of all the descendants and paid tribute to the care and consultation taken by the team of archaeologists: “Representatives of the families of the known individuals whose remains were intended to be disturbed were fully consulted and consent obtained from them prior to the work beginning….I feel that I can speak for all the living descendants when I say that we all, collectively, thank the many people who have been involved with this special undertaking for their work, consideration and respect throughout.”
Carrying a casket to the graveside, containing the remains of an unnamed person, was Dr Anwen Caffell, a Bio-archaeologist from York Osteoarchaeology Ltd. which was commissioned to study the findings.
The small wicker coffin represented the Fewston Assemblage, and Dr Caffell said that the project’s findings were of great significance. “Having the support of the local descendants was very important. We have been coming back here quite regularly and giving talks about the results of our findings over the past five years, so they have been with us every step of the way. But it’s been a two-way street and they have been telling us information about the local context, there are lots of volunteers here doing historical research on the identified individuals… from our perspective that has been very rewarding.”
Vicar, Revd Graham Shield, led the service and said, “I have only been involved in this project for the last three years as the parish priest, but I want to give thanks for all those who have been involved and to say how everyone has dealt lovingly and respectfully with all parts of the Assemblage.”
The remains, he said, has been handled with a proper regard for the Christian principles of burial and each had been returned to the ground with appropriate respect and with prayers. “As you will appreciate it would have been impractical to carry out 154 different burials today. All but one have taken place, each with respectful dignity and prayers.” The specially commissioned casket from a weaver in Cockermouth, he added, contained one symbolic set of unnamed remains to represent all the villagers.
Prayers were taken from the Prayer Book and the music in the service and by the graveside included regional hymns and songs performed by The Fewston Musick, a group of local singers and musicians.
As the large congregation left the church and processed to the graveside they were given specially home-made Funeral Biscuits, a Victorian tradition, revived by Maureen and Ken Fackrell who used a traditional 19th century recipe to create the Arvel biscuits (they are pictured (left) giving out the biscuits with Robin Noakes).
The result of the research will be published next January – an exhibition, a booklet and a short film will be on display at the Washburn Heritage Centre, with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation.