2.6.1 The material and accessibility of existing information

After the Reformation in the late 16th century, a range of new gravestone forms began to appear in churchyards and subsequently within other types of graveyards. Forms included mausoleums (see Figure 53), mural monuments (see Figure 48), table-tombs (Figure 45), flat stones (Figure 46) and headstones (Figure 47). Their numbers remained relatively small until the later 18th and 19th centuries when there was a boom in erecting gravestones, particularly headstones (Tarlow 1999, 112; Mytum 2006, 101). Different monument types enjoyed defined periods of popularity and some could even be revived. For example, some later medieval forms, such as altar-tombs and coped stones (Figure 32), came back into fashion in the mid-19th century. Many 17th- and 18th-century gravestones bear highly detailed ‘vernacular’ carvings that often employ symbols of mortality (Figures 45, 47) and immortality, trade emblems (Figures 46–7), portraiture and religious scenes (Figure 52). Other monuments may bear heraldic arms (Figure 48). Carvings may reflect local or regional styles, and until the 19th century were usually cut from local stone. Gravestone inscriptions offer a resource for social history, place-name studies, local history and genealogy. With the development of the printing press, 19th-century lettering styles began to move away from script-influenced forms (Thomson 2001, 351). At about this time the number of mass-produced machine-cut marble and granite gravestones in more sculptural forms (Figure 51) and marketed through printed pattern books increased. In the 20th century foreign, rather than local, stone became increasingly popular and with the introduction of lawn cemeteries gravestones became less elaborately designed.

Stone table grave stone with skulls, bones and writing, in a graveyard

Figure 45: Table-stone with mortality carvings, surrounded by headstones, St Ninian’s Old Churchyard, Stonehouse, South Lanarkshire. © Susan Buckham

It is hard to gain a comprehensive oversight of the number and variability of gravestones at a national level. Currently, it is difficult to put an exact or even ballpark figure on the number of gravestones that survive. The SAFHS online list of burial sites offers a comprehensive dataset of over 3,500 graveyards but it does not include the number of gravestones within each location. In 2001, the cemetery manager for the City of Edinburgh Council noted that the Council was responsible for 39 graveyards containing approximately 115,000 memorials (Bell 2002, 30). Research suggests a significant number of stones may also be buried below the ground in graveyards (see Buried Tombstones: Case Study 35). At Govan Old Churchyard just over 25% of stones recorded in a 1931 survey are no longer visible on the ground today (Buckham 2015b, 97), however grass marks indicate a number lie below the turf.

Large flat rectangular engraved stone embedded in the ground, surrounded by moss and foliage

Figure 46: Flat (or ledger) stone dated 1822, with mortality symbols and gamekeeper trade carvings, created from locally quarried slate, Keil Chapel, Lismore and Appin, Argyll. © Susan Buckham

Ornate headstone of a Sea Captain and family, with carvings of a boat, rope, instruments as well as skull and bones

Figure 47: Headstone with carvings denoting the trade of the deceased, portraits and mortality symbols, Calton Old Burial Ground, Edinburgh. © Susan Buckham

Our understanding of Scottish gravestones is fragmentary, with existing research on Scottish gravestones often inaccessible being unpublished, out of print or held locally. The extensive literature on gravestones, including local guide books produced by community groups (e.g. Watters 1998; SUAT 1991; Carluke Parish Historical Society 2005), has not been drawn together, for example in bibliographies (Wells and Bishop 2005 being a notable exception). Published academic studies span a range of disciplines, for example, local history, archaeology, art, architecture, family history, social history, theology and geology, but there is an absence of joined-up and interdisciplinary studies to knit existing research together. When work is undertaken as part of a wider research interest (for example for a particular geographic area, family, building or historical period) it can be difficult to quickly establish whether graveyards form part of the study or not. Gravestones are closely connected to their graveyard setting, yet many studies of graveyards fail to include a summary of the gravestones they contain. Conversely, many gravestone surveys (often incorrectly described as graveyard surveys) include insufficient information about the graveyard landscape as a whole (Buckham 2002, 64).


Case Study: Buried Tombstones

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