I do not have any particular interest, in most cases, in who the memorial commemorates, my interest usually lies in the structure itself and either the decoration on it, the person who produced it or the stone from which it is made.

I break memorials down into two categories;-

SECULAR MEMORIALS are usually either roadside or in places where a death has occurred or to commemorate a person or event associated with the place.



these can take many forms. Prehistoric people marked the graves of thier ancestors with mounds now known as barrows.

The romans probably introduced the grave stone with its inscription in to Britain and many examples can be seen in the Soloway area museums.



Roman tombstone (Hancock Museum, Newcastle)

They also introduced sculpture to gravestones.



A family group on a tombstone. (hancock Museum, Newcastle)

More examples and details can be see here.

Early church sites were often marked with a wooden or stone cross. In the Solway region a number of these crosses have survived either intact or as fragments.



The Anglo Saxons and Vikings marked their graves as mounds which were occasionally delineated with stones. Some Viking graves had markers in the form of 'Hogsbacks'.





The cross became a common symbol to be used on grave markers originally scratched onto a slab of stone either used as a coffin lid or as a ledger or marker of the graves. These carved grave cover stone  became more detailed and other symbols such as swords, shears etc. were carved on them to show the status of the person buried below. 







The upright cross became a common grave marker in the victorian period. They took the form of either the standard open cross through to the highly decorated Celtic crosses with their wheel heads.  They are usually found on either two or three steps. Originally they were in local stone, but with the introduction of more exotic stones from abroad they can be found in all types of stone.






All examples are in Wetheral Cemetery.


polished-cross-wetheral-cem           rough-cross-weteral-cemetry                                                polygonal-cross-weteral-cem



A polished granite cross.                      An unpolished granite cross                                 A polygonal cross                                                                                                               


William Robinson died August 1893.  Capt. Fergus Graham Ling died December 1916.   Mary Ling died June 1892.


As well as the standard cross there was also a desire to reintroduce the wheel head cross with or without 'celtic' designs carved on them.


ring-cross-wetheral-cem                    celtic-cross-weteral-cemete



A perforated circulated cross.                  A Celtic Cross.


Horace Blamire Lonsdale died Sept 1915.  Sarah Ling died March 1904.


There was also a phase when it was popular to make stone crosses imitate a cross made from a tree by carving a rustication and leaves etc. on the cross.





A rusticated cross Grasmere Churchyard with imitation bark carved on it and also a vine/ivy climbing up it.

J M Atkinson died December 1898.





A variation with the elaborate celtic style crosses carved in relief on rough slabs.


John Henry Toppin died Oct 1928, John Castlehow Toppin Died April 1915, Fredrick Toppin died April 1941.




During the Medieval period there was a fashion for the upper classes to be commemorated on their tomb by effigies. The better quality ones were carved in alabaster and poorer quality ones were carved in local stones and even occasionally in wood. The effigies were often placed on the top of a table tomb, or in an elaborate niche in the church wall.



Burial in the floor of the church was common for those people who could afford it and large ledgers were made to cover the graves often inscribed with the name of the person and occasionally with brass plagues set into them.

 floor newcastlle cathedral

A ledger in the floor of Newcastle Cathedral to Anthony Isaacson died june 1696 with the family coat of arms on it.



The practice of burial within the church had usually stopped by the 19th century due to usually the lack of space and also worries over hygiene. The use of ledgers moved outside and became very popular in the 18th and 19th century. The flat stone developed into highly elaborated ridged and hipped stones. some of which carried horizontal crosses.






A flat ledger on a small plinth grey granite

ernest E Carrick died 1868.

st Johns, Keswick





 A coped stone on a small plinth, grey granite

Edward Bousfield died Jan 1885

St Johns, Keswick.




A coped stone finnishing in a cross on a low plinth. Red and grey granite

S Z Langton died February 1884.

St Johns, Keswick. 


With the burial occuring in the churchyard people started to want there their own plot marked not only with a tombstone at the head of the grave. These were originaly just lumps of stone, these started to be shaped into the recognised gravestone shape. By the early 1600s people started to identify the person buried in the grave on the stones, initially just with initials and a date but eventually moving into the full inscriptions we see today.









Arnisdale churchyard NG 844 104 a lot of the graves are marked with just rough stones approximately shaped to represent the classic headstone. The majority have no inscription on them. 





An early gravestone with initials EB dated 1670.

Churchyard Sweet Heart Abbey.






An early basic inscription Brampton old Church.


William Atkinson glover 1686.

As shown by the two stones above, a lot of early stones were square topped but they started to get tops which appear to be based on the style of furniture such as chair and bedsteads with wavey tops.



A gravestone with a 'bedtop' Askham Churchyard.


Eventually more details were added to the inscription, some developed into quite an art form with ornate script.




Dornock Church. John Roome died 1737.


Next development was the additon of sculpture which in some cases was very deep. Most of the early carvings were associated with symbols of death and immortality. In parts of Northern England, Scotland and Ireland there was a tradition of putting the inscription on the front of the stone with the carvings on the rear.


clunie church death

 The back of a gravestone (fallen over) covered in the symbols of death.  Skull, bones, coffin and timer. Clunie Churchyard.

The meaning of the various carvings is explained at Symbolism on Tombstones


scultpture on tomb stone

Deep scupture (nearly in the round) on a gravestone in Arturet Churchyard.


Rather than just burial under the floor of the church, some families had vaults excavated under either the floor of the church or outside in the churchyard. These were either brick or stone lined and the entrance stairs are usually covered by a large slab. People buried in the vault were often commemorated by wall tablets. Occasionally these vaults were under a private family chapel either attached to the local church or as stand alone chapels in the grounds of the families house.


skelton-vault-ent     skelton-tomb


Entrance to the Cowper family tomb in Skelton Churchyard. The entrance is covered by the large stone slabs with iron lifting rings. The people buried in the vault are commemorated on the table tomb (by W Harrison Sculp Penrith.)`on top of the vault and the tablet on the chancel wall.




 The Howard Chapel at Wetheral church attached to the chancel.


With the removal of the right to have burial within the church, wealthy people moved to having their own building, mauseleum, for their family burials. these were either a stand alone building in the churchyard or cemetery or as an attachment to the church. A mauseleum is defined in the dictionary as 'a magnificent or monumental tomb' This covers a wide range of funerary architecture from the smaller tombs and family chapels. However it generally applies as a building type that can be defined as a large, discrete funerary structure containg or intewnding to contain a tomb (a number were built around the country and never had a body placed in them) which can be entered.  


The term Mausoleum is derived from the splendid tomb built for King Mausolos of Caria at Halicarnassos in about 353 BC. It was a rectangular podium on which there was 6 columns capped by a pyramidal roof reaching an overal height of 43m.






The east mausoleum for the Seaforth family at Duthil.




The less wealthy marked their plots by surrounding them with walls.






Stewarts of Shambellie House, New Abbey Dumfrieshire walled burial enclosure, Sweet heart Abbey graveyard.with a coat arms over entrance.


During the victorian period the 'newly rich' started to buy plots in cemetery and then built large monuments/family tombs on the sites for the future burials of the family. These tombs were usually decorated with large pieces of sculpture or were constructed on a specific architectural style such as 'egyptian'.


monumentwigtoncem     monumentwigtoncem2



Monument to William Banks Jun. of Highmoor died 1901. Red and grey granite stele is by Macdonald Field & co, Aberdeen. The sculptor of Justice holding the scales is unkown. Originally there would have been either poles or chains between the pillars. (Wigton Cemetery). With the door entry this could be classified as a small mausoleum.


 In case of the individual family plots some of the walls were lower and had wrought or cast iron railings mounted on top to further emphasis the individual plots. A lot of these railings were removed for scrap during the various wars. Some of the remaining although in poor condition are ornate.





Iron railings around a grave plot, Lismore parish Church.


As time progressed these walls became lower as curbs especially from 1860 became very popular. The curbs, corners and headstones are usually of the same stone.






A grave marked by curbs with inscriptions on the top and bottom curbs. These are made from pink Shap granite. Armathwaite church.


There are examples of grave curbs in glazed fired clay.

A lot of the individual kerbs around graves have been removed in recent times to allow easier maintainance of graveyards and cemetries with mechanical mowers This has in some cases been applied to the gravestones as well. In some occasions they have been arranged against the wall around the edge of the graveyard, or they have occasionally been used for paving in front of the church.





Pavement in front of St. Mary's church Wigton, made from old gravestones cleared from the graveyard.


During the regency period there was a drive to place wall memorials to people inside the church. the majority of these are in white marble  and some may be very elaborate in their design, with the majority of the classic symbols on death etc. being represented.





 Mural tablet Barnard Castle Church.


It would appear that after the Civil War there was an increase in the number of gravestones set up in churchyards. this may have been due to either people becoming richer and being able to pay for a stone or a change in custom. Originally the stones were of local stone and of a basic tombstone design. As time passed they became bigger with more elaborate decoration and finer script with the masons showing off their wide range of different fonts.

The symbolism of the objects carved on gravestones had meaning when they were done. The types of symbolism also changed over time.

The development in the style of the gravestone occured over time. It was with the development of the railway that 'foreign stones' were introduced in to the gravestone market with marbles and then granites being more easily distributed around the country and also imported.


During the 17th century the chest tomb which had been used inside the church usually as a support for an effigy was moved outside into the churchyard. 

 Tombs can be usually categorised as either chest or table and they were at their height of popularity in the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. They copy a tradition dating back to the medieval period when they common inside the church.



A vertical style tomb was also developed. 

Chest tombs are boxes with their sides closed in, the majority are hollow. If the local stone was suitable they can be of very high quality stone, but if the local stone was not suitable for large pieces then they can be made of rubble or bricks and then rendered.

plain tomb

A plain tomb chest Bowness on Solway Churchyard. (unfortunately the stone is easily eroded and the inscritpion on the top surface is not readable.)

masonry chest tomb

A chest tomb made from blocks of stone with a large slate slab on the top Barton churchyard. (The slate has started to split and is not readable.)

The more elaborate tombs can have columns, cornices pilasters and scrolls. The panels can have either inscriptions on them or may be carved with either patterns, figures or symbols. Occasionally the tomb is raised up on a pedistal.

houghton architec chest tom

Chest tomb with corbels to support the top.  Houghton Churchyard.

decorated tomb

A chest tomb with heavily decorated side panels. Bowness on Solway churcgyard.

A table tomb is as described and consists of a flat top on a number of legs usually 4 (one at each corner) or 6 (3 either side). The design of the legs varies enormously and are usually in stone. A more unusual design is to have solid panel at each end and a solid central spine.

colvend 4 leg table

A four legged table tomb  Colvend Churchyard, rockcliffe.


square leg table

Basic square sandstone legs.(6) Scaleby Church.


 table tomb solid ends

A Table tomb with a panel between the legs at the ends.  Barton Churchyard. There is some evidence  for a cherub being carved on the panel.

 Another form of tomb was the vertical or pedestal tomb.

pillar tomb colvend

An example of a pedestal tomb in Colvend churchyard, Rockcliffe in sandstone.





The square furniture style was followed by a more neo-classical range of styles. These included the slightly narrowing and pointed topped forms to replicate stelae, well proportioned flat topped stones and pedimented monuments. Scrollwork, pediments and the outlines of stelae and sarcophagi were carved onto the face.

The size of headstones generally increased in size during the 18th and 19th Centuries and also the frequency of internments being marked by memorials. There was also an increase in the number of designs which allowed individual graves to stand out.

From the late 18th Century the quality of the workmanship improved with less crude lettering being produced and a more professional appearance started to occur. Lettering and layout of the inscriptions improved. Although the mass produced memorial did not appear for a long time.

A long-lived style is the round topped stone which can be linked to a Romanesque revival. These occasionally had dog-toothed decoration around the top. They may also be derived from the ledger stones of the 18th century which have round topped arches with columns down the side.

During the 19th Century there was a general interest in the gothic revival style especially for church architecture and this is also shown in the design of headstones. They ranged from the basic design to those heavily decorated with bosses and tracery and other decorative motifs. Frequently round sectioned columns are carved on the side of the headstone and in more expensive examples these can be in marble or granite. Other colour was produced by painting although few now remain with paint still on, or by the insertion of decorative stone panels or tiles.

Towards the end of the 19th Century a few other designs appeared such as logs, etc. These were usually in non native stone.

The 20th Century has seen a reduction in the size of the headstone but a wider range of ‘foreign’ stones being used.

There has always been a need for people to commemorate their deceased relatives (and in some cases by people before they died) with larger and more ornate memorials. Two of the most commonest monument types that vary from the standard gravestone are the crosses ( see above) and figures. A lot of these were in exotic stones such as marble and also granites. A number were created in or near the quarries such as the Carrara marble quarries in Italy. However were local stones allowed these types of memorial were carved in them (See Shap granite).

Whilst in the range of figures angels are the most common figure portrayed the Virgin Mary, mourners and even the deceased can be displayed. Statuary is fairly rare in churchyards being mostly found in cemeteries.

One of the earliest type of sculptured monument was the broken column, said to represent a life cut short and comes in a variety of stone types. Other types of monument are obelisks and columns. These can be draped in some cases and occasionally have urns on the top, again these can be draped. The height of a lot of these monuments must have been chosen for them to stand out from the rest of the monuments in the cemetery.

 sandstone obelisk

A local sandstone obelisk in Churchyard of st Lawrence Appleby.


There has been a number of other materials used to make grave markers. Wooden crosses etc. must have been very common although as they tend to rot relatively quickly there are not many old wooden memorials left.

Towards the end of the 18th century cast iron became cheaper and easier to produce in quantity and cast iron grave markers became common especially in areas with blast furnaces.

cast iron grave marker


There was a time when after being buried there was always ther possiblity that the body would be dug up during the night and sold to universities for use in dissection. To counteract this peopel use to cover the graves either with a large stone or with a heavy iron cage to stop people digging the body out until it was suitably decomposed.

grave cover

A pair of graves at St Germains, Marske North Yorkshire. these two graves have both headstones and footstones and a stone laid over the actual graves.

mort safe

A wrought iron mort safe at the old church Rothiemurchus.


An Iron cover to go over the coffin. Churchyard at Aberfoyle.


Some graves and memorials can be grouped together as they are all connected with one group of people. For example Covenanter Martyrs. 


The Quakers had their own burial grounds usually associated with their Meeting Houses.  

 The Quakers generally did not believe in marking graves with anything, the yearly meetings of 1717 and 1766 instructed the removal of markers from the burial grounds and so few early markers survive. But for reasons of management of graveyards etc. it was found that some form of maker was necessary.  The yearly meetings of 1850, 1861 and 1883 lifted the prohibition of gravestones. A plain stone with an inscription recording the name, age and date of death.  It was usually laid down the form these markers were to take so that each burial ground had a uniform apppearance.

The Friends burial ground at Scotby have a unusual design being like an old pill box with the inscriptions on the oval top (18 ins by 15 ins and about 2ft high)

quaker scotby 2      quaker scotby 3

Example of the grave markers at Scotby.

scotby quaker1 

The burial ground at Scotby is now closed and is a private garden The stones have been placed allong the garden wall. Please ask permission before accessing.

In 1891 the Strickland Meeting in Cumbria stated that all  gravestones were to meet the following guidelines :-

2ft. 6ins. high from the gound line, 1ft. 8ins. wide. ½ inch chamfer on back and front edge. The inscription to consist of the name, Date of Death and age. the headstone to be of a kind known as Robin Hood Yorkshire Stone 3½ inches thick with circular top. dowelled 3 inches into a base of good local Red Sandstone 9 inches thick, the whole to be polished throughout above the ground line. T S Gressenthwaite's tender for £2 5s including fixing - all lettering to be charged extra at the rate of 1s per dozen letters up to 1¼ inches in size.  (Ref. the quakers in North-West England:2 Apeople to be Gathered.)

Not all gravestones actually mark an actual grave. On the bank of the river Eden at NY 48417 32237 next to a small quarry. The quarry was a freestone quarry which mean't that people in the parish could use the stone from the quarry for free as long as it stays in the parish. The Gravestone was made by the son of Mathew and Mary Knubley to commemorate their deaths. Unfortunately they were buried outside the parish so he was unable to place the stone on their grave.


Who were the men who made these memorials? In most cases they probably would have been the local stone mason. by the middle of the nineteenth century adverts start to appear for masons who had started to specialise in this work. To date I have found very little information on the cost of producing gravestones. 

Certain monumental masons have signed their work. Below are a list of masons/sculptors with examples in the Solway area.























FAMOUS PEOPLE are usually commemorated with elaborate tombs occasionally these are emclosed in their own building. The local landowning families often built their own building to hold the bodies of their fsmily over numerous generations. These mausoleums can be either attached to the church usually as a side chapel in which occasionally the family would sit during the sunday services. Or they are built as free standing buildings in the churchyard. These mausoleums often contain numerous wall plaques, often very ornate, or free standing sculptures. 

Stone that is easily identifiable and used for monuments (and building stones) include 

Red Shap Granite

Dent Marble

Egglestone Marble

Frosterley Marble

Whilst the majority of tombstones seen in graveyards are either local stone or imported fancy stones a number were made of wood but few of these have survived, especially in the wet northern environment. Other materials that have been used are cast iron and ceramics.



Since starting this web page I have now started recording (if legible) the first person on a tombstone. If you would like further details please contact me