Hand-carved Headstones




Commissioning a hand-carved headstone is a unique way of commemorating a loved one's life. Of all the varied commissions I complete, I consider this the most important work I undertake.

Workshop Visit

To start the process, I always recommend a visit to my workshop so that work in progress can be viewed, examples of previous headstones can be seen and the different types of stone and slate can be touched and experienced. 

It is also a good opportunity to speak about the person being commemorated as this often brings

out ideas for the design of the stone. You may of course come with a good idea of what you may want or you might be unsure about where to start or what words to include. I can provide ideas for epitaphs or for motifs and ideas for

suitable layouts of the lettering.

Lettering & Stones

During the visit we can also discuss ideas for the lettering and the type of stone to be used. The style of lettering can be influenced by the type of stone being used. For example, Welsh slate will take a very fine line and hardly weathers, in contrast, York stone will need a bolder letterform more deeply carved to allow for weathering. 

I have developed a workshop style of Roman capitals, Roman lower case and italics I can also create

other lettering as needed.

In terms of cost, either Welsh or Cumbrian slate can be the most expensive, but it is also very hard wearing and will last for centuries. Limestones such as Purbeck or Portland stones, or sandstones such as Woodkirk Yorkstone are cheaper but these will eventually weather. A basic Yorkstone headstone, with just name and dates, could be made from £4,000 upwards. A slate headstone could cost from £5,000 upwards. The cost will be dependent on the material used, the shape of the stone, the amount of lettering and other carving required and where the stone will be installed.

Scale Drawing

Once the various design decisions have been settled and the type of stone and style of lettering have been chosen, I will make a scale drawing. This can be altered as needed. Included with the drawing will be the cost of the memorial,

cemetery fees, expected time it will take to make the memorial and the terms. My charge for making a scale drawing is £300.

Approval of Design

The design then needs to be approved by the relevant authority. If the memorial will be in a C of E churchyard then I will complete a CR1 form, currently the cost is £150 for a headstone, this changes each year. Local authority charges for a permit are usually higher. At this point I will ask for a 50 per cent deposit of my costs, plus the cost of the stone. If the design is within the regulations then approval will be granted.

However, if something different is required this will be referred for further decision, which can take a long time and be expensive. It can

be worthwhile speaking with the incumbent or local authority in advance to check if a design will be acceptable.


When the design has been approved the stone can be ordered. This usually takes between 6-8 weeks to be delivered but sometimes this can be longer if a hard to obtain stone has been chosen. 


The next stage is to draw out the lettering and any other elements to be carved on to the stone. This is often the longest part of the process as this is when I grapple with the spacing, letterforms and overall layout. Once I am happy with all of the aspects of the layout and design, I invite clients to come to the workshop to see the design for themselves as this is the last chance to make any alterations before carving begins. Alternatively, if travelling some distance, I can send photos if you are not able to come in person. Any adjustments can then be made.


As the hand-carving progresses, the stone begins to come to life and it is a chance to further check letter spacing and to make small refinements. Some clients like to see photos of the carving as it progresses, while others prefer to wait to see the stone in place.


I am able to install most headstones stones, but in locations where a NAMM or BRAMM qualification is required, I can arrange for the stone to be installed by a qualified person.

My preferred type of headstones are monoliths. These have around 1/3rd of the

stone buried beneath the ground and sit in a pre-cast concrete shoe, which is heavy and provides stability. This type of headstone is more in keeping with churchyards.

I can also make base and dowel stones, where the plinth sits above ground. Both the headstone and plinth are drilled and fitted with stainless steel threaded dowels which are then held in place with a strong adhesive.

Properties of different stones


Slate is a very popular choice for headstones and memorials. Slates from Cumbria are particularly hard wearing, take small lettering and fine lines, with colours such as dark grey and green.

Welsh slate will take even finer lines

and like Cumbrian slate, has a very pleasing contrast between the cut letter and the surface. While it is softer than Cumbrian slate, Welsh slate will weather well and will be legible for centuries.

It is recommended to paint inscriptions carved in slate as the carved surface, when wet, returns to the same colour as the un-cut surface. Eventually, the natural contrast of the inscription will disappear.

Cremation plaques, which are flat on the ground, are exposed to the full force of the weather. Slate is highly recommended for this purpose as it is so hard wearing.

While slate is an excellent choice for memorials and headstones, it is expensive compared with some limestones and sandstones.


Several limestones in the UK are suitable for headstones and memorials, such as Portland stone and a variety of Purbeck stones. Italian limestones such as Nabresina and Aurisina are also an option.

Various types of Portland stone can be used for headstones such as Jordans Base Bed and Whit Bed. Intitially very white, the stone soon weathers in so that the legibility of the lettering increases. Bold lettering is needed so that it can be cut deeply to allow for weathering.

Purbeck stone comes in varieties such as Pond Free, Thornback and Inland Free stone, Purbeck green marble. These tend be hard wearing stones but they can be hard to source in large pieces. When these are available, they are more expensive than Portland stone.

Nabresina and Aurisina are harder stones than UK limestones. Nabresina is whiter than Aurisina, which tends towards beige, it can take smaller lettering and is less brittle than Nabresina.



Like limestone, sandstone needs bold, deeply cut lettering to allow for weathering. Good choices for headstones are Morley Grey and Woodkirk from Yorkshire and Swinton stone from Northumbria. All these types of sandstone are fine grained and carve beautifully. They are hard-wearing and like limestones it is best to avoid placing headstones made from these materials near trees as they can stain. However, they are very attractive stones and are very reasonably priced compared to slate.

Choosing stone

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the stones available. The decision of which material to choose for a memorial or headstone can be influenced by a number of

factors, including the amount of lettering, location of stone, colour of stone, other headstones in the cemetery and cost. I am always happy to advise on the type of stone to use but ideally I would say that the amount and style of lettering required and the location of the headstone should be the main factors in deciding which material to use.