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A (Very Short!) History of Headstones

black and white image of headstones

For thousands of years, headstones have been used to mark where family and friends have been buried. Before the time of cemeteries, people would bury their loved ones in proximity to the family home, and mark the burial spot with wood or works as a means to ‘’keep the dead from rising’’. Things have changed since then mind, so we thought we’d give you a short history of headstones. 


17th Century

As personal burial grounds gave way to church cemeteries, the use of larger upright tombstones became prevalent for marking graves. Originally crafted from slate, these tombstones would later transition to sandstone, with both materials proving relatively easy to inscribe with names, dates, and inscriptions. 


18th Century

In the 18th century, iron cages known as mort safes were employed to cover graves. However, by the end of the Victorian era, materials such as marble, granite, iron, and wood replaced these cages. This period also witnessed a shift in the commemoration of loved ones’ graves, as lower socioeconomic classes began to adopt the use of more elaborate gravestones, which had previously been primarily reserved for the middle and upper classes.


19th Century 

The 19th century marked the emergence of public burial grounds, prompting families to personalise headstones as heartfelt tributes to their departed. This era saw the inclusion of engraved short epitaphs and personal details on increasingly elaborate and decorative grave markers. Alongside these inscriptions, favourite prayers and simple religious symbols often adorned the grave markers, reflecting the spiritual and personal beliefs of the deceased.


Modern Times

With the advent of industrialisation, headstone production became more streamlined. Materials such as granite and marble became widely used due to their durability and aesthetic appeal. Modern headstones now feature personalised inscriptions, photographs, or even QR codes that link to online memorials, allowing visitors to access more information.


Cope Memorials

With a century of industry expertise and specialised knowledge in stonemasonry, the team at Cope Memorials are dedicated to helping you find the ideal headstone for your beloved. If you’re facing difficulty in your search, we encourage you to reach out to us without hesitation. Please give us a call today on 01773 602 187 or complete our online enquiry form.

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