Sylvia Thornbush 2013

University of Edinburgh, UK

The changing styles of inscriptions on headstones in urban churchyards in three English cities between 1600 and 1902

The crudeness of crafting inscriptions on headstones declined in the late eighteenth century, even though some headstones were crafted using calligraphic inscriptions. This shift in styles reflected a change from a craft to an industry.  The use of varied inscription styles was meant to aid in differentiating the different types of text. However, the choice of font was also, to some extent, meant to match the shape and decorative motifs chosen for the headstone. In some cases, the type of stone used disallowed the use of more elaborate inscriptions due to its strength. The sites examined in this study are four churchyards in Oxford, one in Scarborough and three in York. The headstones in this study were photographed in 2007, 2009, and 2010 during the summer.  The examination of the variations of inscriptions on headstones in Oxford, York and Scarborough churchyards revealed some different trends.  For Oxford, the majority of headstones contain Gothic inscriptions for the introductions, Block Roman styles for the inscriptions for the names of the deceased and a variation of (Block) Roman, Italics and Gothic for the other inscriptions such as ‘who departed’ or ‘aged’.  For York, the trend lean towards less Gothic inscriptions for the introductions and mostly (Block) Roman inscriptions throughout.  Scarborough contains more of a variation of Gothic, Roman and Italics for the introduction and Roman styles throughout the headstone, with the exception of the name of the deceased, which is not always in Block Roman lettering as is evident in Oxford and York.


The Cemetery Research Group runs two events a year: in May and in November. Follow the links and send in an abstract