A PROJECT to detail the backgrounds of some of the people buried in Settle’s Holy Ascension Church has unearthed some fascinating stories.

Settle District U3A family historians began to record the inscriptions on all the gravestones to preserve them, but temptation overtook the volunteers and Sarah Lister started to research the lives behind the names.

Two such graves, side by side, revealed the story of the Jarry sisters.

Maria Louisa and Alphonsine Sarah, were half French, aristocratic, wealthy and generous in the community they lived..

Sarah Lister writes about their story.

“Maria Louisa, born 1818, and Alphonsine Sarah Jarry, born 1822, were the daughters of Frenchman Etienne (otherwise known as Stephen) Jarry and his wife Sophia Milbourn. In 1851 the family lived in Halifax. Stephen taught French and provided an excellent French library for his students.

“According to ‘It happened here: Halifax’ by Arthur Porritt, Etienne was born at Versailles in 1776, his father being a steward for King Louis XV1. Little Etienne performed as a chorister in the Chapel Royal from the age of five, but this lifestyle was to come crashing to an end with the French Revolution in 1789 and the beheading of the King in 1793.

“Anyone associated with the King was hunted down and often slaughtered. Etienne found himself begging for bread for several years - and there was no cake!

“Amazingly he survived and being an able man of good character became a secretary to a general, travelling through Europe. Then became a soldier in the army and saw plenty of active service. Eventually wounded by a British sabre in Spain in 1809, he was brought to England as a prisoner of war and was released at Northampton at the end of hostilities.

“In 1812, aged 36, he married 20 year old Sophia. Etienne and Sophia settled in Halifax. Etienne was listed in an 1818 trade directory working in ‘British Lace manufacture, wool shops’, before teaching French. Despite all his adventures, Etienne lived until an incredible 82 years of age.

“In 1841, daughter Maria worked as a governess in Halifax. After the death of both of their parents in the 1850s and equipped with their sizeable inheritance, the sisters moved to Fern Hill, on Constitution Hill, in Settle, with their aged aunt Sarah Chapman who died in 1863 at the age of 75.

“Alphonsine helped with the work of the church and Sunday School for over 40 years. When she retired, she was presented with a purse containing more than 50 guineas with letters from over 80 people.

In 1923 the Craven Herald began a series of articles called ‘A Veteran’s Reminiscences of Settle’. There it reveals the sisters were born in Halifax rather than ‘some foreign shore’, but after their father’s early years it’s no wonder the sisters appreciated the ‘peaceful quietude of life in England.

“The sisters were rarely seen without the other as they lived out their lives in Craven.

“Maria died in 1893 and left her estate to Alphonsine who died in 1912, aged 89, leaving the equivalent to over £1.1million today. Three-quarters of that went to charity. That’s not bad for the daughters of a Versailles escapee! “Alphonsine generously donated to the Settle church endowment scheme for pew rents, and to a charity set up by Rev John Robinson, the object being it was of benefit of the aged and infirm of the parish of Giggleswick’. She left a legacy to the Halifax infirmary where her father died, together with a portrait of him.

“It’s not clear where the sisters’ money came from, although Etienne clearly moved in high circles. One of the executors of his will was Sir James Stansfeld from Halifax who was the first cousin of George Stansfeld and a “radical” liberal MP (or possibly his father James, also an MP, JP for the West Riding and High Court Judge). This could explain why the women moved to Settle from Halifax.

“A William Morris stained glass window and plaque in the church reads: ‘To the memory of two sisters devoted to kind and good works. Louisa Mary Jarry died (aged 75) April 17, 1893, Alphonsine Sarah Jarry died November 6, 1912 (aged 90). RIP. Erected AD 1913 by parishioners and friends.’

The graves are in a prime position, right by the door of the church.”