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What Are Headstones Like in the UK?
By Thom Sanders

When travelling around the world, it's not particularly likely you'll spend a lot of time in cemeteries. Most people prefer to spend their holidays on the beach, or walking through gorgeous countryside, or experiencing all the cultural delights that wherever they're visiting has to offer. No, graveyards and cemeteries definitely are not on top of the list of most people's holiday days out. If they were, however, people might notice that gravestone and memorial headstone styles vary enormously from country to country and continent to continent.

Western European and North American headstones tend to follow similar patterns and styles. For centuries, they have used darker stones like granite, and made solemn, imposing slabs that stand out against the landscape. Keeping these carefully regimented has also been popular, making them very obvious marks across landscapes. Religious inscriptions are also popular, as is burying family members together.

Narrowing our focus a little more to look at gravestones in the UK, we find similar patterns to most of Western Europe but with an added emphasis on solemnity and with much more dark stone used. The prevalence of darker stones being quarried across the country has a large part to play in this, but the UK also uses dark stones for a lot of its religious buildings (churches, for instance, are often built out of hard, long wearing, dark stones) and black has traditionally been considered the colour that represents mourning. It makes sense, then, that something which marks the spot where the deceased is buried should follow both those patterns as well.

The slab design has also been a constant, whereas other countries opt for crosses or pillars more frequently. This may be to maintain the uniformity of cemeteries, or for reasons of cost and ease of creation. Richer members of society have frequently opted for more ostentatious burial sites, such as mausoleums or elaborate tombs, showing that perhaps this cultural pattern emerged from frugality.

The UK gravestone scene has also been resistant to imports from America, where more elaborate memorial headstones have been becoming increasingly popular in the last half century, especially for deaths that are considered special in some way, such as the death of infants. This ostentatious approach tends to wear quicker, especially in the British climate, which may be yet another reason for the approach taken in the UK, or they may have been disregarded for not fitting with the established pattern of being solemn focuses for mourning.


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