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Memorial headstones

To commemorate a loved one who has passed away, you may want to consider fitting a headstone or memorial stone on their grave. There are a wide variety of different types of memorials for graves. This guide explains how to choose a memorial headstone, from the shape and design to the commemorative message.

What is a headstone?

A memorial headstone is a grave marker set up at the head of a grave, often bearing details of the person who has died. Also known as a tombstone, gravestone or memorial stone, this type of memorial usually shows the deceased's name, date of birth, and date of death, as well as other inscriptions or poems.

How to choose a headstone

When choosing a memorial stone, you may wish to consider:

Cemetery rules and regulations

In the UK, there are certain rules and regulations cemeteries put in place regarding memorial headstones. Whether the cemetery is owned by the council or is private property, it’s important to get an understanding of the regulations before you choose a headstone or look at gravestone designs.

How long do you have to wait before you can erect a headstone or grave memorial?

There is usually a gap between the burial taking place and the headstone being fitted on the grave. Although the time will vary from site to site, it is usually between 6-12 months. The waiting time will be influenced by the site conditions and climate, but it is important that the soil is given time to settle fully before a grave memorial or headstone is added.

What material is most suited for making headstones for graves?

You may be restricted on the type of memorial stone available depending on the location. Often, cemeteries will have restrictions or preferences about headstone designs and materials. If you want to find out more about your chosen cemetery’s regulations, your local Funeral Director can advise you.

Marble, limestone, granite, and bronze headstones are common choices. When choosing the material, consider how easy it is to maintain and the overall finish you’d like it to have.

  • Granite: A durable material that can withstand the test of time and harsh weather conditions. If you choose a granite headstone design, you aren’t limited to grey and white colours in the design. Ask your local Funeral Director which colours are available.
  • Bronze: This material will darken over time and can be more costly than granite but is a good choice for grave memorials because it is easy to maintain.
  • Marble: A strong material with a luxurious and pleasing appearance, but not as hard-wearing as granite.
  • Limestone: A durable, lightly-coloured material. Portland Stone and Nabresina are popular choices.

How do I choose the right gravestone design?

Once you’ve decided what material you would like, you’ll need to think about the design of the headstone. Your Funeral Director will be able to talk you through the options, which will include the following:

  • Upright headstones: A traditional choice, this type of memorial stone can be made in a variety of sizes and finishes and is fixed to the ground with a concrete base.
  • Flat headstones: Sometimes known as flat grave markers, this type of gravestone is laid flush or slanted on the ground.
  • Kerbed headstones: These are laid full length on the ground, they are a minimum of 4 inches thick, and offer more room for floral tributes.

What finish is available for a headstone?

You can then think about what finish you would like the headstone to have. There are a few options:

  • Polished: Gives a smooth, shiny glass-like appearance. Polished headstones require more maintenance to keep clean.
  • Part polished: You can choose to have the face of the headstone as a glossy finish, and the rest of the headstone unpolished.
  • Honed: Non-reflective, this design is made by removing the polish using dust, and it’s often used if the headstone will have colours on.
  • Pitched: The most rustic of all the finishes, a pitched finish gives the stone a textured surface with jagged edges, meaning it’s easier to plot into older surroundings.

What shapes are available for headstones?

Next, you’ll need to think about which headstone design and shape you’d prefer. It’s completely up to you which shape you choose. There are lots of options:

  • Peon top
  • Offset peon top
  • Oval or arch
  • Oval with shoulders
  • Square top with rounded shoulders
  • Round top with rounded shoulders

How can I personalise the headstone design?

You may be able to add text and visuals to the headstone designs. Ask your Funeral Director what your limitations are depending on the size and shape of the one you choose. For example, if your loved one was musical, you might like to have an engraving of the instrument they played. It’s completely up to you if you choose to add an image or not.

When it comes to adding text, you’ll need to choose the style of font for the message and what it will actually say. Your local Funeral Director will be able to provide advice and guidance on gravestone designs, should you need it.

Read our guide on what to put on a headstone.

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