Friday, 7 July 2017

Friday 7th July 2017
I returned from holiday a few days ago and naturally spent some time photographing gravestones – as you do!

We were on the lovely Hebridean islands of Islay and Jura, where there are many old burial grounds and chapel ruins as well as still-active churches with graveyards. 

The ruined chapel of Kildalton, Islay - with several medieval grave slabs on the ground, and more modern memorials planted inside the chapel ruins
The population of both islands fell dramatically from the mid-19thC and the result is that many chapels are now abandoned for lack of a congregation. Some of their graveyards continued to be used for many decades, however, sometimes until very recently indeed. 

The Scottish weather and geology of the local stone used for headstones has resulted in a large number of the gravestones now being badly eroded or otherwise illegible – the lichen covering many of them is lovely to look at, but is often so thick it completely obscures the inscriptions. 

Typical Hebridean headstone style - now mostly illegible due to lichen coverage.
Perhaps RTI could help?
Still, some admirable work has been done by others and many of the inscriptions are freely available online.
Regional Victorian style popular across Islay & Jura - with domed overhang moulding.
This example shows signs of extensive erosion due to weather & quality of the stone
There are certainly regional forms and styles here which I haven’t seen in Yorkshire, or even in Sutherland in the far north of Scotland, but I know can be found across the Argyll region, including the mainland.

And of course, there are many examples of mass-produced designs from the Victorian and more modern periods which you can find anywhere across England and Scotland. Nevertheless, even on the modern memorials there are some distinctly Scottish trends. 

Clan name in large letters prominently shown on the plinth

For example, the practice of proudly displaying the family surname, either prominently on the plinth, or as an initial letter within a crest or shield at the top of the headstone. 
"C" for Campbell - typical use of initial letter of surname
Celtic revival motifs are also, of course, very popular, especially from the late Victorian period, and continue to be to the present day.

The Scots are very fond of engravings on their modern headstones to individualise the person being commemorated. In the Highlands I have always found many touching and beautiful depictions of favourite motifs, scenes, pets and hobbies which catch the eye and sing out to you that here is someone who was loved, and was a unique person worthy of remembrance. We find these in many English graveyards, of course, but the Scots seem to be more free and uninhibited with them.
Modern headstone - the inscription does not refer to the meaning of the motif,
because the image says it all
Over the coming weeks I shall be looking closely at my hundreds of photos of Islay & Jura headstones to see how they compare to those of the Yorkshire Dales.

Jane Lunnon. 

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