It’s a debate they never had before the technological advancements of the 20th century – back in the day a community would have a stonemason and it was their job to hand cut the headstones for the parish. Indeed, their work, much of it beautifully ornate, and clearly of the very highest standard, still stands testament to their skill across the churchyards of Britain.
In more recent decades, however, the situation has changed. Machine cut memorials are a common option – and understandably so. A machine lettered memorial can retain beauty and meaning. They are also quicker and easier to produce. Cost is an underlying factor.
A lost skill?
Thankfully not. Hand-carved stone has mesmerised people for millennia. One only has to look at the hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians. The urge when faced with such brilliant intricacy is to reach out and touch the work – there is a deep human connection with hand-lettering. One can almost feel the craftsman stood afore it, chisel in hand, face furrowed in concentration. So while the skill is clearly not as widespread as before, there remains those whose hands remain linked to those great craftsmen of the past.
What does hand lettering deliver?
More than anything a hammer and chisel will deliver a smooth finish with the letters having a ‘v’ cut groove. Machine cutting tends to deliver a rounded channel. It’s a matter of personal taste, but there is an undeniable grace and elegance to hand cut lettering.
Repairs and renovations
Also worth remembering, is that older existing memorials may become damaged. That old stonemason’s work needs to be replicated. The machine has yet to be invented that can deduce what was going through the mind – and hands – of a craftsperson from another age. The most skilled modern day hand carver will recognise subtleties of technique, quirks of design. Incredible.
Who knows? In times to come, there may well be craftspeople seeking to replicate the work of the stonemasons of today. Every letter carved by a mason today remains unique to them and, therefore, to that memorial. It’s spine-tingling stuff. And so it should be. A memorial should be a living reminder of a loved-one.