A History of Headstones in Liverpool

Four hundred years ago burial in churches was reserved solely for those of a certain religious or noble stature. For the vast majority of those who died, the body was wrapped in a shroud and graves were marked with a simple structure such as a small wooden cross or some stones.

These basic grave markers were said to stop the dead from rising and if they were inscribed it would be with no more than the person’s name, age and the year that they died.

After the Reformation the right to burials in churchyards was extended and the first markers were often flat. There are not many churches still standing in the Liverpool area that were around then but one of them is Prescot Parish Church. Many of the oldest graves have now sunk but in August 2015 a stone from 1677 was uncovered during the clearance of jungle ivy.

From the eighteenth centLiverpool headstones historyury upright memorials became more commonplace but the information about the deceased was still very limited, as the picture on the left of a headstone in All Saints Church in Childwall demonstrates.

The first purpose built cemetery in Liverpool was the Necropolis in 1825, near the corner of Rocky Lane and Everton Road. Over the next seventy years more than 80,000 burials took place there before it was closed, the headstones removed and the ground landscaped over. Now it is known as Grant Gardens.

In the year the Necropolis opened, the quarry at St James Mount was exhausted and that was converted to a cemetery, the first interment taking place in 1829. There have been no burials there for eighty years and it is now Cathedral Gardens but not all of the gravestones were removed.

Both the Necropolis and St James Cemetery were privately run, but with churchyards full to capacity by the 1850s and Liverpool’s population booming drastic action was needed. The Burial Act of 1857 allowed for new municipal cemeteries out of town and away from the densely populated areas. Toxteth Park Cemetery opened in 1856 and Anfield Cemetery in 1863. As the town expanded, further cemeteries opened in the 1880s serving the parishes of Everton, Kirkdale and West Derby and then in 1909 Allerton Cemetery opened.

Liverpool Headstones History

These grand cemeteries were designed as places of reflection not just mourning, and the headstones that were erected there memorialised the dead. The sections containing the most elaborate memorials remembering the most well to do, give the air of being in a park with statues rather than a cemetery. The huge Celtic cross marking the grave of Samuel Robert Graves (right) in Toxteth Cemetery states that he ‘represented Liverpool in Parliament’, while a headstone in Anfield tells us that the person who is buried there, Samuel White, was a ‘master mathematician at Liverpool College’. Ornamentation on the gravestones also become common in this period with different symbols reflecting loyalty, someone taken too soon and so on.

Lengthier inscriptions on headstones in Victorian times weren’t reserved for the privileged few. They now began to began to say more about the person whose grave they mark, sometimes detailing the circumstances of death. A walk around any cemetery opened in Victorian times will reveal a huge variety of inscriptions. Random examples from Toxteth for instance are that of John Worrall, who in 1856 was ‘killed by a fall from the hold of the ship Hannah Mary in Brunswick Dock’ and of Edward Ellis who died in 1862, having ‘laboured in the Mount Pleasant Wesleyan Sunday School with faithfulness and success for upwards of 26 years’.

Such practices continued prior to the 1st World War, but the inter war years saw headstones become much more simplified when it came to inscriptions. In today’s more secular times there has been a shift from religiously inscriptions to family epitaphs. Whereas one hundred years ago reference to family members was factual, such as ‘husband of’ now this is often extended to something along the lines of ‘a loving and much loved husband and father’.

Memorial sizes are much smaller now. Many local authorities place restrictions on headstone height and also give guidance on inscriptions. With cremation becoming more common, the plots for the interment of2016-07-13 18.22.21 cremated remains are smaller than standard graves and thus the headstones are too. Many sections of cemeteries are much more uniform, with graves being identical in size and material, such as in the area of Allerton in the photograph on the left.

As cemeteries around the world fill up to capacity some innovative solutions are being put forward. In Hong Kong there have been proposals for a vessel containing over 300,000 cremation urns to be floated offshore, while in Oslo a skyscraper several hundred metres high containing vaults has been proposed.

Virtual memorials are now common on the internet and greener woodland burials are on the increase. However most likely in Liverpool the oldest graves will simply be turned over, as they are only leased for a period of 99 years rather than owned. The traditional headstone is sure to be around for many more years to come


St Helens Cemetery

Situated in Windlehsaw, St Helens cemetery was formally opened in 1858. Local architect Thomas Denville Barry was behind the design of two curved drives creating a heart shape, with paths leading off from them.

The first interment there had actually taken place in a private vault on 20th November the previous year and was that Mary Shanks. She was the wife of James shanks, a proprietor in the Crosfield and Shanks chemical company.

St Helens cemetery chapel

Either side of the entrance in Hard Lane stand two lodges, designed by John Middleton. They were initially built for the keeper of the grounds and resident clergyman.  Barry designed three chapels for the cemetery although only the Church of England one survives. The footprint of the Roman Catholic chapel is still there as well as a memorial stone commemorating it.

Several grand monuments line the sides of the main driveway, including memorials marking the graves of family members of the Pilkington glass manufacturers. There are a number of war related burials in the cemetery, including a Victoria Cross recipient from the Indian Mutiny and several soldiers killed in the first and second world wars.

The cemetery was further extended in 1912 and in the late 1930s. In 1962 a crematorium and chapel of remembrance were opened, as well as  memorial garden. Further expansion occurred in 2010, when the purchase of adjoining farmland ensured there was sufficient capacity until around 2040.

st helens cemetery main path

Grave plots in St Helens cemetery are available for up to three interments and it is also possible to purchase plots solely for the burial of cremated remains. The local authority restricts headstone size to three feet four inches by three feet and all memorials must be erected by BRAMM registered masons. They also do not allow kerbsets, chippings, toys or ornamentation, although a two by three feet garden containing small plants is allowed. Further information can be found here.

Sarsfield Memorials has been placing headstones in St Helens cemetery for sixty years. If you are considering erecting a memorial there, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your requirements, give guidance on their regulations and provide a free no obligation quote.

Churchyard Memorials in the Diocese of Liverpool

Although most burials take place in cemeteries nowadays they are still permitted in churchyards if the deceased lived or died in the parish. There are restrictions however on memorial sizes, types, inscriptions and what can be placed on graves.

The Diocese of Liverpool has issued guidance for clergy and churchwardens on how to follow their regulations, but they do allow a certain amount of discretion depending on the circumstances of individual parishes. Unsurprisingly there are strict rules on who can carry out work in churchyards and all masons must comply with the NAMM (National Association of Memorial Masons) code and British Standard 8415.


It is unlikely that clergy will allow highly polished memorials in a churchyard where most of the surrounding gravestones are old and weathered. As such the material used for churchyard memorials should be sensitive to its surroundings. Headstones must be no more than three feet six inches high and the width depends on how much space there is between graves. The memorial must be a simple vertical design, with curved tops preferred but rectangular shaped headstones are acceptable. It is now common for gravestones in cemeteries to have photographs of the deceased but the Diocese do not encourage these so few vicars will allow them.

There are strict rules on grave surrounds and ornamentation, with safety in churchyards being paramount. Kerbsets, chains and railings are not allowed as they can be a tripping hazard and also impede access to another grave. Gravel chippings can damage grass cutting equipment and are also not permitted. The Diocese also instructs clergy to ensure that all ornamentation such as vases is placed on the memorial plinth to aid with grass cutting.

Churchyards now allow the burial of cremated remains, with the memorial size being restricted to two feet by eighteen inches high if vertical. Alternatively horizontal memorials are allowed, measuring up to 21 inches by 21 inches.

When it comes to inscriptions, a spiritual approach is preferred but reference to the deceased being a relative of named persons is allowed. Overly long inscriptions are not encouraged so as to ensure enough space is left on the headstone for future interments.

On the whole, churchyard regulations are much stricter than in local authority cemeteries but some vicars who are more lenient than others. Generally speaking Often, a new vicar will simply follow a precedent set by those in the role before them but you cannot guarantee this will be the case. Before deciding on a memorial, it is best to speak to the vicar or a mason who can give you guidance on what they will allow. This means you can have an idea of what type of memorial and ornamentation you can place there.

As a monumental mason that has been in existence for over sixty years spanning three generations, Sarsfield Memorials has plenty of experience working in the Diocese of Liverpool with local clergy. We are sensitive to your needs and can take care of all the administration and form filling that is required on your behalf. If you would like to discuss the erection of a memorial in a churchyard, or the repair or replacement of an existing one, please contact us to discuss your requirements and a free no obligation quote.


Memorials For Liverpool’s Catholic Cemeteries

There are two cemeteries in Liverpool which are reserved solely for the burial of members of the Roman Catholic faith.  Situated at Yew Tree in West Derby and Ford in Litherland, they are owned by the Archdiocese of Liverpool and have their own regulations which differ from those set by Liverpool city council.

By far the larger of the two Catholic cemeteries is at Ford, where over 350,000 are buried. This cemetery was opened in 1859 after Liverpool Corporation had ordered the closure of all central burial grounds. This led to Canon Newsham of St Anthony’s Church on Scotland Road being instrumental in arranging the purchase of the land for the Liverpool Catholic Burials Board. The much smaller Yew Tree cemetery was opened in 1893.

The Archdiocese has strict rules in respect of the memorials that are placed on graves in their cemeteries. The headstones must be no more than three feet six inches in height and the maximum width is three feet. Kerbsets are not allowed in either, although you may see some in Yew Tree as historically there was no grass there. This situation was eventually rectified though due to the problems with maintenance. Kerbsets may also be seen in Ford Cemetery on some of the very old graves.

Nowadays graves for new burials can only be purchased in Ford cemetery. Yew Tree cemetery only has provision for graves of cremated remains, but if you already have a plot there with additional space for a burial then this can be arranged. It is also possible for ashes to be interred in a family grave through the undertaker and the ArchdioOur Lady engraved on headstonecese.

In addition to the different rules, fees at the Archdiocese owned cemeteries vary to those run by Liverpool city council. However the six council administered cemeteries do all have Catholic burial sections containing a substantial number of graves. At Allerton for instance, 20% of those buried there are Roman Catholic. This means that if your loved one is buried here you are not so restricted in your choice of memorial as at Ford or Yew Tree.

Traditionally Catholic memorials would have a carved marble statue, a Saint or a cross on the memorial. Today Catholic families often request just a Saint, Our Lady or simple cross design for the memorial. Unfortunately marble statues are not as popular due to height restrictions within the cemeteries and also the fact that marble being a soft material makes it easy to vandalise.

If you require any further information about the graves in Ford or Yew Tree cemetery please contact Ursula at Sarsfield Memorials who will be happy to help with your enquiry.

Children’s Memorials and Ornamentation

Should you be in the tragic situation of losing a child, there is now some comfort in that cemeteries are a lot more flexible in the type of memorials and ornamentation that are allowed on children’s graves.

Gone are the rigid ruletraingraves of days gone by when the only indication that a headstone was that of a child was the inscription indicating age and a possible symbol of a cherub. Nowadays memorials often come in the shape of teddy bears and stars, we can also offer unusual design gravestones including a piece of a jigsaw puzzle or a children’s television or story book character. There is no need to consider just a general headstone, as memorials can also be made in the shape of cars, trains and butterflies to name a few.

In cemeteries where kerbsets are allowed, coloured chippings can be added allowing extra space at which you can place extra ornamentation, vases, memorial plaques, the child’s toys or windmills.

There is an almost unlimited range of symbols that can be etched onto children’s gravestones. Winnie the Pooh characters are common, as are Thomas the Tank Engine and Fairies. However it also possible to etch or carve favourite cartoon characters or your childs’ preferred toy onto gravestones, or a photograph or laser etching of your precious son or daughter.

When it comes to inscriptions, ‘in the arms of angels’ and ‘held for a moment, loved for a lifetime’ are two examples of what can be used on children’s and babies headstones. It is becoming increasingly common to see more brightly coloured lettering on children’s memorials. Often families find comfort in making a gravestone colourful and very personal, as you do not want to visit the cemetery and spend a lifetime of sadness visiting a grave; Instead you want to think of the precious moments you shared and what life could and would have been like if your precious baby or child had lived.

At Sarsfield Memorials we provide a range of children’s headstones and can offer advice on inscriptions and ornamentation. We endeavour to guide parents with our expert knowledge, while always being compassionate and attentive to their wishes. A customer who we have had the honour of helping at this very distressing time said to us ‘On that first time we saw the gravestone we cried with sadness, then we saw the beauty within the stone and it made us smile.’ We like to think that through your grief we can help you and your family smile again, by working with you to produce a special memorial that reflects the precious time you all shared together






You will always see a final drawing showing the memorial before we carry out the work, this gives you time to reflect before the final gravestone is made and lettered. All our memorials are made out of the finest quality materials and fitted to NAMM standard. If you require further information or just an informal chat please contact us.


Why Anchoring Your Headstone Is So Important

When purchasing a headstone for your loved one’s grave, one of the most important things to consider is will it be anchored. If the answer is yes, then you can be sure that the gravestone is secure for many years to come.

Sarsfield Memorbramm logo accreditationials is a member of the British Register of Accredited Memorial Masons (BRAMM). This was set up in 2004 to establish a national register of accredited masons to replace the local registration schemes which were then in existence.  This is the masons equivalent of the CORGI standard which is applied to gas fitters  Many local authorities are now only allowing masons to fit memorials that have signed up to BRAMM.

Among the aims of BRAMM is to ensure all gravestones are fixed to the BS8415 standard. This specifies minimum lengths of anchor that are needed, dependent on ground conditions.

The anchoring system used by Sarsfield is the Ground Support System C.C.A ® Central Collapsible Support. These anchors are adjustable depending on the thickness of the base of the memorial, they require no adhesive cement and are simple for Masons to remove and re-affix to headstones, should the gravestone have to be removed for future internments.














All of Sarsfield’s masons have the BRAMM fixer licence, so you can be rest assured at the quality of our workmanship. These are issued to fixers once they passed a practical and written test, meaning that installing the headstone to the BS8415 standard is guaranteed. Fixers must re-apply for their licence every five years and be able to show that they continue to meet the standards required. Any headstone supplied by someone with a BRAMM Fixer Licence is certain to be stable and fitted to a uniform standard by somebody with the skills and knowledge of the procedures required to do so.

Sarsfield Memorials will always guarantee that all new headstones anchored by our masons are done so to the BRAMM standards. The same applies to older gravestones that we may restore, as if a memorial is removed from a cemetery it must be anchored to minimum standards on refixing, even if it wasn’t initially fitted to them.

Liverpool City Council is one local authority that does not require masons to be BRAMM accredited. However we are because we choose to fix our memorials to a standard that is recognised throughout the trade and give our customers added security and peace of mind. Please contact us for advice and a free no obligation quote if you are thinking of buying a memorial or wish to bring an older one up to the modern safety standards.

Floral Ornamentation on Gravestones

Historically any ornamentation added to gravestones has been predominantly religious in nature. Although such symbols have not disappeared today and remain popular, especially among the Catholic faith, floral ornamentation has also become a common sight on new headstones.

One form of floral ornamentation that can be seen on older graves is ivy, which indicates affection, fidelity and everlasting life. Other symbols of immortality include evergreens, figs and yews.

Nowadays roses are a common form of ornamentation on headstones, symbolising beauty, hope and unfailing love. The stage of the rose’s development indicates how old the person was at the time of death. A bud will be used for somebody aged under twelve, a partial bloom represents a teenager and a full bloom shows that somebody has died in the prime of their life.

Lilies are another flower that are often added in ornamental form to gravestones today, usually on those of women. They signify purity and innocence and there use at death reflects the rcow parsleyestoration of the soul to its previous innocence.

Trees on gravestones represent the love of Christ and tree of life. Like with roses, the development of the tree coincides with the age of the person on whose headstone the ornament has been placed. Sprouting trees indicate everlasting life but stumps or trunks are usually used to signify that the person whose headstone they are on has died too young.

Younger persons headstones may also be decorated by a broken branch or bud, which indicates that they departed life too soon. It is also common to see daffodils and daisies on youngsters graves, these flowers representing purity of thought.

People who have had a long life may also have their gravestones decorated by wheat, reflecting resurrection and harvesting into a new life. Flowers that are generally mournful include cypress tress, said to be what Christ’s cross was made of, as well as willows and yew trees.

Sarsfield Memorials are able to provide a wide range of gravestone ornamentation and the examples given here are not exhaustive. We are able to provide just about anything you wish, the most unusual design we have been asked to do being cow parsley. Another well known name for this plant is mother dies, the design having been carved into the slate headstone. Please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your requirements.



Headstone Insurance

Vandalism or accidental damage to headstones can be costly to repair. Graffiti, falling trees, subsidence and lawnmowers are examples of how gravestones can suffer damage, whether it be accidental or wanton.

Earlier this year thirty Storm Damaged Gravestone in Ohio (Anne Mitchell Flickr)gravestones were damaged in Rhymney in South Wales when a tree fell during a storm, while last year nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale’s memorial in Hampshire was removed from its plinth by a tree falling in high winds. Sadly damage to headstones can also be deliberate, as was the case in July 2014 when three youths went on a wrecking spree in a cemetery in Bidston and caused damage estimated at a total of £300,000 to one hundred gravestones

Peace of mind is available though with Stoneguard, which has been the leading headstone insurance policy for over thirty years. Sarsfield Memorials can value the memorial and set up the policy, including issuing a Certificate so you have immediate cover. We will do all the paperwork and correspondence with Bridge Insurance Brokers who are underwritten by Royal Sun Alliance, with cover available for as little as £5.60 per year renewable every five years. Claims are processed and repairs or replacement carried out to get your loved one’s gravestone back to it’s original state as quickly as possible.

Stoneguard’s policy is a straight forward ‘all risk one’ in that you can not choose to insure against certain causes of damage but not others. It covers damage to your headstone caused by storms, accidents, vandalism, subsidence and falling trees, allowing for replacement if necessary.  It also provides personal liability of up to £2 million for any injuries caused by your headstone to members of the public but there are exemptions in respect of the insured and certain family members. The insurance policy does not cover wear and tear and damage to the headstone appearance caused by sunlight, weathering, nuclear incidents, terrorism or acts of war.

Premiums are available for headstones in all UK cemeteries and churchyards and are based on the value of your headstone, with no variations according to your geographical region. For gravestones up to the value of £400, cover costs £28 for five years, while a headstone valued at £751-1000 costs £59 and for a memorial worth £2501-3250 it is £167. For any gravestones that have a higher value than this, please call Sarsfield Memorials on 0151 228 5616 for a quote. A full list of premiums up to the value of £3250 can be found here.

Given payouts for claims made include £419 for graffiti in Glasgow, £1,056 for a falling tree in Surrey and £4,560 for vandalism in Devon, you really ought to give headstone insurance serious consideration. In fact some local authorities will not allow new headstones to be erected in their cemeteries without insurance. With the Chancellor raising insurance premium tax from 6.5% to 9% on 1st November, now is the time to take out cover for your gravestone. Here at Sarsfield Memorials we can arrange cover for you and will also be happy to discuss the policy in more detail. If you would like to do this please call Ursula Sarsfield on 0151 228 5616



When you buy a headstone from Sarsfield Memorials we will always advise on how to keep it clean and what to use. If you are looking to clean an existing gravestone, we are happy to give free advice along with a  no obligation quote for us to do the work if you change your mind about doing it yourself.

To the man on the street, cleaning gravestones appears to be a very simple and easy task, thanks to all the wonderful cleaning products that are available on the internet from Ebay and Amazon and on the high street. However nothing could be further from the truth!

Gravestone before cleaning

Sandstone is a sedimentary rock, granite is igneous, marble and Portland stone are metaphoric and slate is a fine-grained, foliated and homogeneous metamorphic rock. All these natural materials will retain products that are rubbed in or brushed on because they reflect the weather at the time they are applied. Whether damp or dry, the chemicals will react with the material in different ways and will cause deterioration of the stone. Unless you know and understand the geology of the material your headstone is made from, we would never advise a family to clean a memorial using chemicals. Instead just use water and a soft sponge.

The atmospheric agents and retail chemicals (cleaning products) will particularly affect memorials erected close to main roads. Limestone and marble headstones will crystalise and be eaten away. The material over time will become more rough and this will attract more dirt and grime, making the gravestone more delicate. Do not ever use anything abrasive on any headstone as you could cause damage that cannot be repaired. Lettering can also be damaGravestone after cleaningged by cleaning a memorial. Leaded letters can change colour depending on the chemicals used, while painted and gilded letters can be damaged and possibly eradicated, which then means extra cost to you as you will need to instruct a Monumental Mason to rectify the problem.

Please be very cautious, we would not advise anyone to clean their own headstone. Make the correct decision when extending the life of your memorial and remember it is always cheaper to have a gravestone professionally cleaned by a Monumental Mason than to replace it.

At Sarsfield Memorials we have skilled craftsmen who can restore just about any gravestone to a near new appearance no matter what the material is, as the before and after photos on this page show. This service is available throughout the North West and examples of before and after cleaning are shown in the photographs accompanying this article. If you contact us we will be happy to discuss your requirements and give a free no obligation quote.