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 Diede 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. 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.



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





Dornock Church. John Roome died 1737.


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.


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. Originally it was quite plain but later it became elaboratly decorated with a wide variety of symbols representing death and the life of the person.



A variatrion of the chest tomb is the table tomb where a large ledger is supported either on 2 solid stones one at each end or a number of legs (usually 6). The legs are usually carved similar to table legs and can give an idea to the type table legs in fashion at the time.


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.



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

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