Discovering England’s Burial Spaces

Posted on 12 September 2017

University of York researchers awarded Historic England funding to support community led burial space research

Graveyard researchers work with University of York human computer interaction and archaeology specialists to develop new methods for recording burial spaces in the field. Photograph by Nicole Beale.

Researchers at the University of York has been awarded £74,000 by Historic England to help community groups to research burial spaces. Dr Nicole Beale, Dr Gareth Beale and Professor Julian Richards from the Department of Archaeology and Digital Creativity Labs will lead the 18-month project, beginning in September 2017, to develop and pilot a national database for burial spaces. The work benefits from the expertise of burial space specialist Professor Harold Mytum from the University of Liverpool.

The Discovering England’s Burial Spaces (DEBS) project will work with the Archaeology Data Service, the organisation that manages the national repository for archaeological data, to create training materials, a new website, and a suite of apps for recording burial spaces such as churchyards and cemeteries. The project aims to design a new system for use by researchers into burial spaces in partnership with Historic England, the public body that protects the historic environment of England.

The DEBS project will provide skills to new groups to improve access to the history and archaeology of their local area, whilst also building a national picture of our communal past.

The project team will develop resources to help volunteers who are hard at work rescuing knowledge being lost from burial places around the UK. The project will develop creative digital technologies to help amateur researchers working to transcribe the rapidly disappearing information from headstones and memorials in churchyards and cemeteries.

Community archaeology and digital heritage researcher, Dr. Nicole Beale, will lead work with six community groups in the north of England to carry out data capture and analysis of several burial spaces. This will form part of a process to collaboratively develop a prototype for the national database. Nicole explains more:

“This project will enable community-led initiatives to record information from burial spaces for many purposes, from family history to biodiversity to protection of graveyards, cemeteries and churchyards. Up until now, these efforts have been organised on a local level, with little opportunity for groups to share their findings and tell stories about the past from this data. Our work is addressing this need with a national system for collecting and sharing findings about our past.”

Participation in burial space research can contribute to emotional and physical wellbeing and the Discovering England’s Burial Spaces project will provide ways for people to get outside and to meet new people whilst engaging with their local outdoor heritage spaces.

The image shows graveyard researchers work with University of York human computer interaction and archaeology specialists to develop new methods for recording burial spaces in the field.

Notes to editors:

This project is funded by Historic England and is based at the University of York and the Archaeology Data Service.

The project will involve collaboration with a wide range of partners including the University of Liverpool, Caring for God’s Acre, and ChurchCare, as well as a several community-led research projects in the North of England.

Contact details

Dr. Nicole Beale, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Discovering England’s Burial Spaces

Address: Centre for Digital Heritage, Department of Archaeology
University of York, The King’s Manor, Exhibition Square,
York, YO1 7EP


Twitter: @nicoleebeale

Telephone: 01904 325723