Monumental Inscriptions

Types of Monument


[Altar]Altar Tombs: A flat slab inscribed on top and raised on brickwork. Over time, the brickwork would deteriorate and, unless repaired, would collapse or be demolished. These stones are often now seen with only one or two courses of brick, looking very similar to flat ledger stones placed entirely at ground level. Ledger stones, by the way, are large flat stones that were originally inside the church and later placed outside and laid in the graveyard.


[Chest]Chest Tombs: Although similar to altar tombs, the flat slab is enclosed by stone panelling. More robust than brick-work, the panelling is often decorated with motifs, escutcheons and inscriptions pertinent to the deceased and the family. Ironwork often enclosed the tomb. However, in the Second World War, much ironwork like this was removed to help the war effort, placed in a scrap yard and forgotten.


[Coping]Coped or Coping Stones: These are low lying stones with gables and ridges. The gables and ridges were sometimes cruciform or follow the shape of a ridge tent. Although an old pattern, this shape of stone became popular in the 19th Century. The stone often rests on a base. Any part of the stone may bear an inscription, including the base. Do not confuse these stones with coffin and body stones which tend to take on the shape of a corpse, being tapered towards the feet. Coffin stones, with flat surfaces at the top and sides, bear inscriptions. Body stones are rounded and not inscribed but were designed to have a footstone and a headstone for completeness.


[Head Board]Head Boards: One or two wooden planks, suitably inscribed on the vertical, stretched between two wooden posts, were a common feature of Hertfordshire churchyards. The inscriptions were generally painted on but sometimes they were carved into the wood. The structure is short-lived compared with stone and are rarely seen now. Those from the 19th Century can still be found and the shape tended to become more elaborate as the century progressed, with additional carving and sometimes a roof.


[Headstone]Headstone & Footstones: Headstones, the most ubiquitous of the memorials, coming in all shapes and sizes over the centuries, are still the most favoured memorial stone in modern times. The shape and decoration is often a guide to the stone’s age. Normally inscribed from top to bottom, some are centrally divided like the pages of a book and inscribed in columnar form. Nowadays, the headstone is often accompanied by a rectangular kerb encompassing the grave which may also bear an inscription. Footstones are still common, placed about eight feet from the headstone, often bearing the initials of the deceased and the year of death. Footstones are a good guide to the actual position of the grave.


[Cross]The Cross: The Cross was for three centuries after the Reformation considered a symbol of the Church of Rome and found no favour in the churchyard until Victorian times. They often stand on a squared stone plinths, normally three, any side of which may be inscribed.


[Pedestal]The Pedestal: The obelisk shape was often used as a memorial to a senior military man, the shape being favourable for listing battle honours and exploits. Often topped by a stone ball or pineapple and decorated with military symbols, the pedestal can catch the eye in any churchyard. Similar to pedestals are obelisk like structures which serve the similar purpose of catching the attention through their height alone. Obelisks normally bear inscriptions at the base rather than on the body.


White, H. Leslie “Monuments and their Inscriptions”, Society of Genealogists, 1978

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