Identifying Monument Types

Identifying Monument Types

  1. Ledgers
  2. Grave-rails and grave-boards
  3. Low monuments
  4. Kerbs
  5. Chest and table tombs
  6. Crosses
  7. Sculpture
  8. Headstones
  9. Pedestal tombs
  10. Mausolea, partially subterranean vaults and other upstanding structures

Adapted from: Recording and Analysing Burial Grounds © Harold Mytum and the Council for British Archaeology, 2019, 2020

Use this page in combination with the Code Sheets.

Ledgers [back to top]

Ledgers, flat slabs level with or just protruding from the ground, can be coded 0100. Care has to be taken to make sure they are not really parts of dismantled table or chest tombs, where only the top slabs remain, and have been set on the ground. Many tombs which were considered dangerous may have been dismantled. If there is any doubt, it is worth noting this in the comments section. Small slabs which are often used to mark modern cremations come in several forms and have their own numbers (0600, 0700). Ledgers can be raised up on a base which is not substantial enough to make it a chest tomb, but it is often just one course of blocks; this can be recorded by using 5 at the end, so a simple ledger on a base would be 0105. Some ledgers are coffin-shaped (0200). Body stones with a headstone are similar to a rectangular or coffin-shaped ledger, but the inscription is on the headstone, so they are recorded under additional elements (see the guide on recording).

Grave-rails and grave-boards [back to top]

In a few areas of Britain grave-rails with a shallow horizontal (0310) and grave-boards with a deeper horizontal plank (0330) survive, and they are well worth recording; further subdivision may be worthwhile in those few areas where they are numerous. The grave-boards may have carved lettering, though in many cases this was painted. Grave rails and boards were originally in timber, but they can also be found in stone and cast iron. They have the same codes for their form, but the materials codes would be different.

Low monuments [back to top]

If no differentiation within other low monuments is attempted, all can be coded 0500. However, low monuments come in a range of shapes, and some of the most common have been given sub codes. The top may be flat (0510) or have a convex curve (0520) to let the water run off the surface and allow any decoration to be better viewed from a distance. Many low monuments come to a ridge, either gabled (0530) or hipped (0540). Some of the most elaborate take a gabled cross form, looking rather like a miniature church (0550). As with ledgers, low monuments are often raised up on a base or step, which can be indicated by the final digit in the code (***5), thus making a gabled low monument on a base 0535.

Kerbs [back to top]

When kerbs form the monument itself, they are given a code 0900. If they form an additional element, to, for example, a headstone or tomb, they should be recorded as Additional elements (see below). However, many 20th-century kerbs comprise the only feature of the monument and deserve to be recorded in this section of the form as a discrete type.

Simple kerbs should be given 0920, those with raised posts at the comers 0940, and those with three posts on each side 0960. In some cases, the kerbs have railings (0970), even when there is no additional element inside, or chains (0980). The last digit can be used for any filling within the kerbs, for example green (***1), white (***2) or grey (***3) chippings. These same codes are used for kerbs that are Additional elements, so many variations have been assigned numbers.

Chest and table tombs [back to top]

If you do not want to divide up these tombs, or there is only the top slab and it is not possible to tell what type of monument it originally formed a part of, use 1000.

Chest tombs are rectangular box-like monuments with flat slabs on top and closed-in sides, and all have 1100 numbers. They are subdivided on the basis of the decoration on the sides. Those with plain sides (eg those in brick or stone ashlar) are 1110, those with rectangular panelled sides 1120. Further categorisations could take into account vertical elements that may be fluted or plain, or the nature of the mouldings defining the panels. This degree of coding would only be worthwhile if there were enough monuments to subdivide in this way. Some tombs have console ends which are worthwhile coding separately (1130).

Table tombs (1300) also have flat slabs but these are raised up on legs. There can be four legs, in a variety of shapes, of which the most common are straight (1410), baluster or column (1420), with slightly curved animal legs (1430), or those which expand in the centre (1440). Often the rectangular top slab is supported by six legs, which likewise frequently come in the same forms (1610, 1620, 1630, and 1640 respectively).

In some parts of the country, the table top is supported not on legs, but on end panels with a central panel joining them providing support for the horizontal slab (1700); again, in areas where these are numerous they could be further subdivided.

The last digit of the four-digit code for memorials can be used to indicate the type of top on the tomb. The slab on top may be a simple square block (***1), have bevelled (***2) or coped edges (***3) or may have a more complex moulding (***4). There may be additional elements mounted on top of the slab. The Gloucestershire bale tombs, for example, can occur with single or double half-column shapes (or bales) on their tops (***5, ***6). Some cemetery tombs can have a low monument on top of the tomb (***7). If there are common regional types in the area being recorded, these can be differentiated if required using the last digit.

Crosses [back to top]

Crosses as a whole can be numbered 2000, but it is easy to differentiate the main types and give them separate codes. The simple Latin cross (2100) is the most common, but others frequently found include the ringed cross (2200), often with Celtic or other revival interlace, crosses with expanded terminals (2300), and those with Gothic revival finials at the terminals (2400). Each of these categories has room for further elaboration in codes (eg 2210, 2220, 2230 etc for different forms of ringed cross), and all numbers from 2500 are available for further categories. Crosses on top of headstones, even though they are sometimes the dominant feature, should be recorded as parts of headstones.

The bases of the crosses vary considerably. Many are stepped, and this can be indicated by the third digit, where **10, **20 and **30 each indicate the number of steps as 1, 2 and 3 respectively. A rocky base (**50) is also found, and many wheeled crosses and some others have a roughly square base (**60). As the steps can sometimes include one in a diamond shape, this can be indicated using the final digit (***5).

Sculpture [back to top]

Sculpture occurs rarely in churchyards, but is quite common in cemeteries, especially in areas in use in the first few decades of the 20th century. All sculpture, whatever its scale, is coded 3000.

The most frequent figures found are angels (3100). These can be subdivided into angels standing (3110), sitting (3140) or kneeling (3160). Sculpted cherubs (3200) also occur, especially on child graves. In Catholic areas, the Virgin Mary (3400) is often found. Other Biblical figures and saints can be given additional numbers if this is felt worthwhile, otherwise they can be given the general number 3000. Non-religious figures, often in Classical clothing, are also common (3600, 3700) and sometimes the deceased is depicted, though more often as a bust (3650, 3750) than as a full figure, though these do occur.

Just as crosses appear on bases, so does statuary. It is most often found on a stepped base (***3), rocky base (***5), or a cubed base (***7).

Headstones [back to top]

Headstones (4000) are by far the most common form of memorial, and they come in a great variety of shapes. Many of these were only popular at certain times and in a few regions, so providing a national design scheme which would encompass every possibility would be impossible and horrendously complicated. This system is not the simplest, but it does allow a logical development of types to fit most situations. To give headstones the variety of forms necessary, not only the 4000s but also the 5000s, 6000s and some 7000s and 8000s have been allocated to this type.

For traditional headstones, some of the 4000-6000 numbers have been used, with each digit of the code indicating a particular feature. The first two digits indicate the basic shape of the top: round (4100), Gothic pointed (4200), triangular/gabled (4300), pedimented (4400), slightly curved (4500), sinuous (4600), flat (4700), concave pointed top (4800).

Slightly more complex shapes have been given numbers beginning with 5 or 6, leaving some spare numbers. Headstones with flat tops which then have central elements that are semi-circular (5100), triangular (5200), or slightly curved (5300) are often found. An asymmetrical form of headstone (in a variety of shapes) occurs during the 20th century (5800) which is not easily placed in any of the other categories.

Headstones may also incorporate a cross on top (6000). Where many cross forms occur, the Gothic pointed form with cross (6200), and triangular tops with plain (6300) or ringed crosses (6400) are most common. Other top features such as a finial or fleur-de-lys, may occur but these are less common and have not been given codes here. This would only be worthwhile if they were common in the survey area as it may indicate that they are the work of a particular mason or workshop, and their identification as a specific type would be informative.

The third digit in the code is used to define beyond the main shape. Using **1* indicates that the headstone has indents on the sides; these are particularly common on Gothic revival stones but do occur on some others. **2* indicates that the form is repeated twice on the top of the stone, and **3* shows that it is repeated three times. These repeats occur on some stones where separate vertical panels are set aside to record individuals, and tend to be found on older stones. Some headstones have an inset – a cusp – at the centre of the top (**7*), and others can be cut away either side of the top (**8*); ones with a triangular profile (4380) are common, and others with a rounded top – often with raised shoulders (5181) – has been called by some researchers an anthropomorphic shape as it may resemble a person’s silhouette.

The last digit of the number indicates the treatment of the shoulders of the stones. Various shapes can extend up from the top of the stone, or the shoulders can be cut away in a variety of shapes. In particular, the concave shape (***7) can be repeated several times on each shoulder, but in this classification such detail cannot be recorded; it should be noted on the sketch and visible on the photographs. A particularly common profile can of course be given one of the spare numbers (such as in the 5000s) which have not been assigned.

Those memorial types developed during the early decades of the 20th century, some of which derive from the headstone form, have been allocated 8000 numbers. They do not require the various subdivisions outlined above for headstones regarding the indents, repeated shapes or treatment of the shoulders, so these subdivisions can be used differently for these more recent memorials. Many are thicker than headstones, are usually relatively small, and have some element of the design specifically set aside for the inscription often positioned at an angle which is neither horizontal nor vertical.

The desk form of memorial (8100) is quite common, perhaps with an open book (8120) or scroll (8150). The memorial may only consist of a slab with a flat sloping surface for the inscription (8200), an open book (8220), or scroll (8250).

Another common style is the roughly shaped rock, which may actually be just a boulder, but is more often carefully carved with crevices and vegetation to give the impression of a craggy rock (8400); it frequently has a scroll for the inscription carved on it (8450). Sometimes a smooth rock is used, either one naturally rounded from water action, or smoothed by the mason, often accompanied by fine lettering and design (8480).

There are again plenty of additional numbers to be used for other forms which are encountered and thought worth classifying separately. However, it should be noted that local types cannot accommodated within the Burial Spaces Research Database, where local codes will default to ‘broad type’ (headstone, grave marker, grave cross etc.). Consequently if in doubt, place the stone in a general category (such as 5000 for older shapes and 8000 for more recent ones). These can always be reviewed at the end of the survey when all these ‘others’ can be examined together, and if suitable groups can be recognised they can be recoded either within existing codes or with new ones.

To summarise, the suggested classification utilises 4000 for headstones in general (and would be used, for example, where the top has broken off and been lost and so it cannot be given a typological form). 4000-6000 has been given to traditional headstone forms, and 8000 to more modem forms not otherwise represented; only 70** numbers have been allocated – to external monuments placed on the wall, which were not coded in the previous version. The remaining 7000 numbers are left completely free to be used if required; in some regions distinctive forms occur frequently and deserve to be noted. Thus, there is plenty of flexibility to retain this classification and augment it with local types - but remember that these local codes cannot be accommodated within the Burial Spaces Research Database.

Pedestal tombs [back to top]

Though far less common than headstones, pedestal monuments are frequently encountered, and are very common in some burial grounds. The pediment may be solid or hollow, but the classification used here is based on the shape of the main block of the monument. If this cannot be assessed, or all are to be placed under a general number, then 9000 should be used. An upright cuboid shape (9400) is the most common, though a squat form that really is a cube (9300) is occasionally seen. Those with oval or circular cross sections, making a columnar form (9100) or multifaceted, polygonal cross sections (9200) are also encountered. Many pedestal tombs are set on a low base, which can be mentioned in comments but should not be considered part of the monument unless this clearly serves as one or more steps (it can be coded and measured as a base). The third digit is used to indicate the second stage of the monument, as there is often more than one; this can be the same shape as the first, or may be of a different form, whether a cube (**10), gable (**20), Gothic structure (**30), obelisk (**40), pyramid (**50), dome (**60), column (**70) or broken column (**80). The fourth digit indicates any feature on top of the pedestal tomb. This can be an urn (***1), draped um (***2), finial (***3), sphere (***4), or neo-classical sarcophagus (***5) goth cross(***6), plain cross (***7) or ringed cross(***8).

Mausolea, partially subterranean vaults and other upstanding structures [back to top]

All upstanding structures can be just labelled 9500, but some obvious subtypes deserve separate coding. Mausolea occur occasionally in churchyards and more frequently in cemeteries. They have been given the code 9800 as a general heading, but can be further subdivided; some common forms are already allocated codes – simple Classical revival form (9840), an Egyptian style (9850), and a Gothic revival structure reminiscent of a chapel (9860).

More recently upstanding structures (9600) have begun to appear, largely in cemeteries, often associated with immigrant groups who are transferring their commemorative traditions from, for example the Mediterranean. They may have a flat top (9620) but often have additional features which can be given codes: a scroll (9622), open book (9625), vertical headstone on top of the tomb (9630), a cross lying on the top (9640) and upright (9650) or sculpture (9660).

Partially subterranean vaults (9900) occasionally occur, and sometimes only just protruding above the surface (9910), though others have walls visible but with various shapes of roof (9920, 9930). Occasionally, more elaborate end facades create more impressive structures (99*5).

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