Today I came across a sad and neglected relic of the Victorian age, in the shape of what would appear to be a handcrafted memorial stone from 1880.
The churchyard where it lies is large and sprawling, with many of its monuments leaning at perilous angles, through a combination of neglect, subsidence and vandalism. A fine but drenching rain was falling, obscuring the further distance in a pale mist as the ground sloped away to the roadway below. As we briefly sheltered beneath a convenient yew tree, I noticed something lying within the kerbstones of a grave, and went to investigate it further; on closer examination it was revealed to be a small grave marker made of a reddish brick-like material, inscribed in an uneven hand.
Who were H.G. and E.C, the strangely anonymous persons who died on March 22nd 1880 and another date in 1881 which I cannot decipher, as the details are only lightly scratched into the surface?
Was this memorial intended to commemorate beloved parents, grandparents, or sorely missed children? There is an attempt at decoration at the top, with a deeply incised cross and what might be an olive branch or some kind of floral tribute, while most touchingly, as a final thought, is written the perennial funeral platitude “There end was peace”. The spelling error seems to make it all the more poignant.
I’m thinking perhaps that it was made at one of the several brick and tile works that existed locally at that time, by someone whose need to create a lasting memorial and evident inability to afford the services of a monumental mason led them to make their own tribute.
It’s not too difficult to imagine someone all those years ago carefully cutting out the outline in the sticky red clay, before applying themselves to composing the design and wording, being careful to conceal the identities of the deceased, for whatever private reason. Ruled lines to help keep the words level are still visible. Upon completion, perhaps the maker of this item slipped the brickworks fireman a copper or two to add the still-wet slab to the kiln as it was being loaded up with the day’s quota of bricks and tiles, returning the next day to retrieve his work as it lay cooling.
The stone is broken in two now, and I doubt that it lies where it was originally intended. It has a strong sense of pathos, partly due to its humble handcrafted appearance in a cemetery where other, far grander memorials range from angels both weeping and triumphant to gothic arcaded table tombs and baroque urns. It is touching to see the direct hand of the maker so strongly evident in its creation, and for all its modest appearance, the sincerity with which it was made still shines strongly. I do sincerely hope that H. G. and E.C. are still resting in peace some 140 years later.