What to consider when buying a memorial

What to consider when buying a memorial headstone

There is a lot to consider when ordering a memorial for a loved one. From the design and inscription, to the stone and finish, every aspect is equally important as you’ll naturally wish to the memorial to reflect your loved one and the life they led.

To ensure you’re completely aware of everything buying a memorial entails – including maintenance, restrictions and what type of memorial is most suitable – we’ve put together this guide.

Here’s what you ought to consider when ordering a memorial:

Which type of memorial is appropriate?

Memorials are available in a variety of different forms and your choice will largely be based on the deceased’s religion, age and whether they’re being cremated or buried, as well as personal preferences. The different options include:

Upright headstones: This is the most traditional form of memorial, and is therefore accepted in all churchyards and cemeteries. It is fixed to the ground with a concrete base.

Flat headstones: These can either be flush with the ground or slightly raised. The latter will help prevent water from gathering on the stone, which may damage it over time.

Kerbed headstones: Kerbed memorials are full-length headstones that lie flat at ground level. They are minimum of four inches thick and are preferred by families who wish to add a bit more personality to the memorial, as there is more room to create beautiful flower arrangements. They are not, however, permitted by most churchyards.

Cremation benches: These, heavy stone bench-style memorials are typically used in place of a headstone and can hold cremation urns or ashes. Unlike a headstone, though, they do not require a concrete base. Oftentimes, cremation memorials are used to improve the look of memorial gardens.

Cremation memorials: These are very similar to headstones, except they have containers either side for cremated remains.

Children’s memorials: Memorials for very young children are often carved in the shape of a teddy bear or an angel, but some people prefer to have a headstone featuring a particular character, the child’s favourite toy or something simple.

How to maintain your memorial

How to maintain your memorial

It is the owner of the grave (who will have a Deed of Grant for the plot), and not the churchyard or cemetery, who is responsible for maintaining the memorial. It’s important to do so, as the stone will be exposed to rain, wind and extreme changes in temperature, which can cause the memorial to become worn and damaged over time.

Bear in mind that some stones are easier to clean and are more hard-wearing than others. Here’s how to care for each different type of stone:

Marble: Marble is susceptible to staining, especially if the memorial is in a woodland area, and therefore requires a special treatment to return it to its former glory. However, if you need to remove moss, mildew or algae, you can clean light-coloured marble with a cup of ammonium hydroxide mixed in a gallon of water.

Remember to clean from bottom to top to minimise streaking, and to rinse the stone off with clean water when you’re done.

Granite: Although granite is a very tough material, it still requires periodic cleaning. A damp cloth or paper towel is all you need to bring the shine back to a granite headstone. Avoid using a pressure washer to clean granite, as the strength of the water flow can end up stripping the paint off the engraved areas.

If you need to remove any calcium deposits, use a soft-bristled brush instead.

Limestone/sandstone: Limestone and sandstone are soft materials, so extra care needs to be taken when cleaning them. We recommend mixing a cup of non-ionic soap in a bucket of distilled water and using a soft-bristled brush.

Avoid pressure washers, household cleaning products and acidic cleaners, as these could cause the stone to crumble away.

Slate: Slate is tough stone and headstones can be both carved into different shapes or used in its ‘natural’, jagged form – as it would have been mined. It’s easy to scratch slate, so it requires careful cleaning with clean water, a non-ionic detergent and a soft cloth.

How long will a memorial last?

Memorials are designed to last forever, but naturally the appearance of your chosen stone will alter over time. Granite is one of the best options to go for, as it is the most durable and adaptable of all the stones.

Marble, while tough, can alter in appearance if not properly cared for. White marble in particular is prone to staining and its frailty means it should not be placed in damp areas. Limestone is even less durable than marble or granite, but it is a very attractive looking stone and is incredibly easy to carve, thanks to its softness.

Slate is dense and tough, but it is a slightly porous material. It is also susceptible to delamination.

Your chosen finish can also impact the ‘lifetime’ of your memorial. For example, polished stone needs regular cleaning and maintenance if you want to retain its shine. The colour of the lettering will naturally fade too, but it is easy to redo. The actual engraving itself will never disappear.

How long your memorial lasts ultimately depends on how often you’re willing to repair and maintain the stone. The better looked after it is, the longer it will retain its original condition.


Depending on the deceased’s wishes and religion, you have the choice of erecting their memorial in a cemetery or churchyard, but each final resting place specifies its own restrictions and rules. Failing to adhere to them could lead to a memorial being removed.

Cemeteries allow much more freedom than churchyards when it comes to the design, size, shape, material, inscription and the colour of memorials. They are owned by the council and therefore are open to everyone, regardless of faith – though you may find parts of the cemetery are dedicated to certain religions, however.

Churchyards, on the other hand, tend to have more rules. Your chosen inscriptions must be compatible with Christianity, headstones may not be reflective, kerb-sets are not permitted, and nor are ceramics or painted colours. Restrictions do vary across the UK, though, so it is always worth contacting your local churchyard for clarification before making any decisions.

Memorial design – what are my options?

Church with gravestones in churchyard

There’s a huge amount of choice when it comes to memorial design, allowing you to create something that truly represents your loved one or complies with their wishes.

White, grey and black are the most popular memorial colours, though there are other options available, such as green slate and ruby red granite. Just remember to check the churchyard or cemetery’s restrictions first.

If you’re opting for a traditional headstone, be aware that you can choose from more than 20 different shapes. These include open books and crosses for those who wished to show their dedication to their faith.

Almost all memorials have a small symbol or image engraved onto them. Not only do they make the memorial look more attractive, they can represent the personality, faith or hobbies or the deceased. Doves, crosses and flowers are popular choices; however, providing you aren’t breaking any rules, you are fairly free to choose whatever you like. You may, for example, decide to have a few bars of the person’s favourite piece of music instead.

Photo plaques are becoming an increasingly common feature on memorials. Whenever you go to visit the person’s memorial, you’ll be able to see them at their happiest. It’s a great way to remember and immortalise a truly special person.

Choosing an inscription

It is almost impossible to sum up someone’s life in just one passage, which is why writing an inscription can be so difficult. At the very least, it should include the person’s name, date of birth and date of death, but most memorials will say something simple too, such as ‘beloved mother and sister’ or ‘sadly missed’. You’ll also need to decide on a font.

A short epitaph is a nice, personal edition to a memorial. If you’re struggling to find the right words, consider including a passage from the bible or a line from a favourite poem or song.

Churchyards do not like the use of slang or abbreviations, and the epitaph will need to relate to Christianity in some way. The church also recommends you keep your inscription simple and dignified.

The installation process

Once you’ve chosen the memorial, its lettering and paid the deposit, you’ll need to obtain authorisation from your chosen churchyard, crematorium or cemetery for installation. In the application form, the layout of the lettering on the memorial will be finalised, and the permission fee will be confirmed.

You should receive a response to your request within a few weeks, but sometimes it can take longer. If your memorial has been approved, it will be ordered for you. This process can take anywhere between four and 20 weeks. The lettering will be completed upon the stone’s arrival.

Finally, the memorial will be installed. Please be aware that the ground of your chosen plot will take around six months to settle following interment. This waiting period does not apply to cremation memorials, as there is no danger that the stone may lean as the earth settles.

We hope the above has given you a more informed idea as to the process and the choices available to you when buying a memorial. We would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have either by submitting an enquiry or calling 01243 544770.