This page was updated on 16th September 2013.
Care of Memorials
The people who erected a memorial obviously intended that it should endure. There are several 'data fields' in the CMIAR Record Structure that encourage reporting of the condition of memorials. This is to facilitate the long term care of memorials by those who have some association with the persons listed on the memorial, or who live nearby.
When transcribing memorial inscriptions it is sometimes necessary to remove vegetation. Gardening tools may be be all that is necessary, but great attention must be paid to the type of stone. Some limestones and artificial stone are particularly vulnerable to damage while cleaning. This is where some knowledge of geology is useful.
Lichen and moss present the most difficult cleaning problems. Never use any acidic cleaning products. Start with a plastic scraper - the sort sold by motoring shops to clear ice from windscreens. Avoid using any metal scraper unless the stone is harder than the metal - geologists have a scale of hardness which is useful in this context.
If further cleaning is required after gentle scraping then use a mild washing up liquid in cool water. Never use commercial cleaning fluids, sprays or aerosols. Scrub with a nylon or old fashioned scrubbing brush. On no account use steel wire brushes.
Remember, the purpose of any cleaning is to reveal the inscription so that it may be successfully transcribed. Don't destroy that which is being sought! Memorials are there for subsequent generations.
Naturally occurring weak acid rain - carbonic acid - is responsible for many limestone memorials in churchyards being severely weathered so that inscriptions are barely readable. Limestone became popular for headstones in Victorian times but some varieties, although easy to inscribe, do not stand the test of time. Memorials in urban areas or near main roads now experience accelerated weathering from the increased atmospheric acidity resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. This is one of the major reasons for archiving memorial inscriptions while they are still readable.
Many groups are now interested in the state of churchyards and cemeteries. Their interests range through religious tradition, archaeology, history, biology and ecology. Their interests often overlap but occasionally compete.