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Remembered Today:

The Use of Portland Stone in Cemeteries and Memorials


Hedley Malloch

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Portland stone was the stone of choice for many memorials and for the CWGC. But why was it preferred over other types of stone? I know weather and soil conditions were sometimes a factor, but were they other influences at work?

 

Many thanks in advance.

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Jim Strawbridge

Portland stone was considered a quality stone, fairly easy to quarry, suitable to work by an engraver and fairly durable (although after a century we have probably all seen weathering on some CWGC headstones). The Portland quarries were well established and benefitted with having a railway link, and, of course, deep moorings so the stone could be moved about fairly quickly by rail, road or sea to almost anywhere. Not all CWGC grave markers were of Portland stone. For instance, in Plymouth, there are many slate headstones probably quarried out of the Delabole slate quarries in Cornwall.

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 There are also substantial aesthetic considerations- the association of "white" with purity and nobility,etc  Just look at the white stone(marble) of the US Cemetery at Maddingley, oustide Cambridge and the aesthetic aspect of white zaps you in the face.

 

    Another factor is standard cost and quality. There was enough Portland Stone to go round- and if quarried by convicts it lessened the cost  (I am not sure whether the quarries themselves are part,for example,of the Crown Estate)  It saved endless contracts with local stonemasons if the end quality was fairly assured.  Different regions have different traditions- eg In my home area, in the South-West, the use of slate headstones-or granite north of the border. Uniformity was an important factor.  My own main local war memorial, not CWGC, was bedevilled by the architect and War Memorial Committee buying a duff block of Portland Stone  that had faults and eroded even before the memorial was opened.

 

     Portland Stone also has the advantage in that there are invented stone substitutes that mimic it very closely, that could be used at a pinch for repairs. Yes, it does has problems of erosion-which is why CWGC has varied the stone used-  Marble instead of Portland Stone where the weather is a factor, or granite up in North Britain.

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Kitchener's Bugle

Portland Stone...... This of course is a soft stone and mainly white in colour however, on occasion the Commission have used a red Portland stone, which tends not look as nice in my opinion. Portland stone tends to weather and, over the years, the names do fade. One benefit though is that the stone cleans up well with the rain. 

If you have ever wondered why the top of the stone is curved - it is to stop water settling. 

 

A lot of the current headstones are being produced by a company called Albion Stone who are replacing about a thousand a year.

 

Another material that has been used is Botticino - a type of limestone although it does look like marble. It comes from Italy.

In Scotland they are often made of grey granite with black-highlighted lettering and in Wales they are sometimes made of grey slate - but the design is the same.

 

The flat marker stones in Turkey and the Far East are entirely different being of the 'Dutch Stool' type, these can be seen in Gallipoli of course.

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I know that North Welsh slate was widely used by the CWGC in Wales from the 1920s, and is very durable (though probably not as hard-wearing as granite).  Many are still extant.  There are civil slate headstones 200 years old which I see frequently, and which look less "worn" than other stones half their age.  When they are replaced, it's with the new white stones from the Arras workshops.  It's probably less costly? 

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Charles Holden, one of the CWGC architects, used Portland stone extensively in his work as he liked the way it weathered. Could this also have been a consideration? 

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Kitchener's Bugle

Cast your mind back to this thread Clive:-

 

 

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On 04/11/2020 at 17:17, Kitchener's Bugle said:

Another material that has been used is Botticino - a type of limestone although it does look like marble. It comes from Italy.

 

 Yes, true. And until two years ago whenever I saw that marble like stone I proudly thought : "Yes ! Botticino !" (For it had taken me a while to drill that name into my mind). But then, at an Open Monument Day in New Irish Farm Cem. (near Ypres) a headstone carver at work told and showed me that I often may have been wrong ! It seems htat Botticino stones are no longer (or less frequently ?) used nowadays when replacing a broken headstone. The new sort is  xxxxxxxx, from somewhere in Eastern Europe. My problem though: for two years that xxxxx has haunted my brain. For I cannot remember the name !...

And the CWGC man showed me what the difference is : Botticino stones tend to have a flaw, some 'vein'  which when it is near the bottom of the headstones makes it more vulnerable, so that the headstone can crack ...

So now when I see a "Botticino" headstone I always look at the bottom, and when I do not see that vulnerability causing 'vein' I sigh : "Sorry, I can't remember your name ..."

 

Who can help me ? Whose memory and knowledge of East European locations (I think the name was a place name) where marble like stones  are cut is better than mine ?

 

Aurel

 

P.S. Added a couple of minutes later ... Just found this on the internet, in a CWGC man's tweet (dated Jan. 2019):

"We are once again buying Portland and are no longer using Botticino in our Western Europe sites. The headstone in question is not faring particularly well and will be replaced with a Portland headstone when necessary. "

But nothing said about that East Erupean kind of stone ...  :-(

Edited by Aurel Sercu
Added P.S.
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Buckingham Palace and St Pauls Cathederal to name but two, Portland Limestone was probably an unquestionably choice, it's traditional and it's very British, in choosing a stone that was quarried from the homeland quicky put many into meaningful work, 

Having letter carved for a few years mainly Welsh slate and pebbles, I have carved samll pieces of Portland from time to time - a quarter of the family come from the Dorset coast and until 2015 great uncle Len still lived on Portland. It's a nice stone to work although it does need to be bolder and more deeply carved for detail hold through the weather, the edges of the lettering 'round over' and we rely on the shaddow to read and see any detail.

After laying an Auresina kitchen and bathrom floor with a friend 2 years ago I took a few pieces to try out although I haven't done much with them yet, I much prefer the softer stones, they're much more forgiving.  An Italian marble that lends itself to memorials and finer detail although slightly darker than Portland with very pale brown flecks, it weathers to a grey beige and certainly would hold the weather back for longer. I wonder if the CWGC has used Auresina or its slightly darker cousin Nebresina over the years for replacements headstones, likewise with Purbeck a very close cousin to Portland, there is also Moleanos, a blue grey limestone from Portugal.

Edited by jay dubaya
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11 hours ago, Aurel Sercu said:

 Yes, true. And until two years ago whenever I saw that marble like stone I proudly thought : "Yes ! Botticino !" (For it had taken me a while to drill that name into my mind). But then, at an Open Monument Day in New Irish Farm Cem. (near Ypres) a headstone carver at work told and showed me that I often may have been wrong ! It seems htat Botticino stones are no longer (or less frequently ?) used nowadays when replacing a broken headstone. The new sort is  xxxxxxxx, from somewhere in Eastern Europe. My problem though: for two years that xxxxx has haunted my brain. For I cannot remember the name !...

And the CWGC man showed me what the difference is : Botticino stones tend to have a flaw, some 'vein'  which when it is near the bottom of the headstones makes it more vulnerable, so that the headstone can crack ...

So now when I see a "Botticino" headstone I always look at the bottom, and when I do not see that vulnerability causing 'vein' I sigh : "Sorry, I can't remember your name ..."

 

Who can help me ? Whose memory and knowledge of East European locations (I think the name was a place name) where marble like stones  are cut is better than mine ?

 

Aurel

 

P.S. Added a couple of minutes later ... Just found this on the internet, in a CWGC man's tweet (dated Jan. 2019):

"We are once again buying Portland and are no longer using Botticino in our Western Europe sites. The headstone in question is not faring particularly well and will be replaced with a Portland headstone when necessary. "

But nothing said about that East Erupean kind of stone ...  :-(

I seem to remember that the stone came from the Dalmatian coast in Croatia/

Richard

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Richard,

And ... I seem to remember that it comes from ... Roumania or Bulgaria ... But knowing that I have far too many false memories nowadays ...

Also : (another false memory ?) that the name begins with a V... ?

Aurel

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1 hour ago, Aurel Sercu said:

Richard,

And ... I seem to remember that it comes from ... Roumania or Bulgaria ... But knowing that I have far too many false memories nowadays ...

Also : (another false memory ?) that the name begins with a V... ?

Aurel

Aurel,

I might be totally wrong, my memory is not as good as it was. One of the problems of getting old!!

Richard

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  • 2 weeks later...

Extract taken from British Geological Survey's contribution to the war. A short but very interesting read detailing several aspects of their involvment. Clearly Portland stone was not a first choice and it may be that its consistent quality and quantity at perhaps an easier negotiated cost won it over in the end.

A recent post from Jan (AOK4) highlights Savonnieres limestone being used as a replacement for a German headstone at Ardinkerke Military Cemetery, France.

 

On 27th June 1918 a request war recieved by the Geological Survey from the IWGC asking if a stone similar to the 'Lunel clair'(Carboniferous Limestone series) of the Vallee heureuse quarry, Marquise, France, could be found in England. In repy it was stated that the only quarries capable of providing a stone appraoching the Lunel clair in quality and appearance were those of Hopton Wood in Derbyshire, England. The IWGC followed on 29th June with an urgent request that an expert geologist be sent to investigate the Lunel clair quarry. A further letter outlined in more deatil the purpose of the investigation, which was to determine whether the stratum containing this stone could provide material of consistent quality for 500,000 heasdstones measuring 38 x 90 x 8 cm and 300 large monoliths measuring 12 feet by 2 feet 9 1/2 inches by 3 feet 6 inches. Mr J Allen Howe, Curator at the Geological Survey and Museum and an established authority on the geology of building stones, was accordingly despatched on 5th July, and on the following day arrived at the quarry and works of the Societe des Carrieres de la Valle heureuse et du Haut Banc.

Howe concluded in his report that the amount of usable stone available in the quarry should be sufficient for the untended purpose, provided it was acceptable to employ the variety Lunel rose in addition to the Lunel clair. Other stones lying wothin the Paris basin were also considered from the point of view of ecconomy of transport. In the meantime, the Geological Survey conducted some tests on Light Grey Hopton Wood Stone (Carboniferous Limestone series) to determine its suitablity for acid engraving. Discussions about a suitable stone were still ongoing a year later, when the adivice of the Geological Survey was sought concerning the suitability of sample stones from Malta (a foraminiferal limestone of supposed Oligocene age), and the Forest of Dean in England (Carboniferous sandstone).

By 1920 a decision had been taken by the IWGC to employ Portland Stone, a white-grey limestone of Late Jurassic (Tithonian) age, which had long been quarried on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. For some years after the war the Geological Survey continued to receive requests for advice on a variety of alternate stones for war graves and memorials. It is clear from the corrispondence that several British stones were employed by the IWGC for individual cemeteries. These include the Grinshill Stone (Triassic sandstone, Shropshire, England: this was used at one cemetery in France, the location of which is not stated), and Robin Hood Stone (Carboniferous sandstone, Yorkshire, England: used at several cemeteries in France and Belgium, though the colour and general appearance did not meet with approval). Other stones are mentioned, includuing Greenbrae, Blue York and Woodkirk, although it is unclear if any of these stones were used for war cemeteries outside the UK. Ultimately, Portland and Hopton Wood stones were settled upon as the IWGC preferred choice.

It is unclear whether the Lunel clair stone was employed by the IWGC, but it is evident from the files that a number of French stones were used. These include Euville Marbrier, Brauvillers Liais and Pierre Romaine de lens, all of which are Jurassic limestones. Other French stones that were being considered between 1924 and 1926 include Crazannes (Cretaceous limestone), 'Montfort' (from quarries south of Grenoble), 'Lecon' (from quarries 50km north of Marseilles), 'Morley Javot' (quarried in the commune of Morley, adjoining that of Brauvillers) and 'Lerouville Moulin a vent' (proposed in May 1926 for the large Indian Memorial at Neuve Chapelle).

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16 hours ago, jay dubaya said:

 

A recent post from Jan (AOK4) highlights Savonnieres limestone being used as a replacement for a German headstone at Ardinkerke Military Cemetery, France.

 

Is that the Savonnieres in the Loire Valley, the home of an exquisite Chenin Blanc wine?

 

Edited by Hedley Malloch
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Two weeks ago I wrote I couldn't remember the name of the sort of marblelike stone used now instead of the Botticino stone (from near Brescia, Italy), which had turned out to be a little too vulnearble, I had heard.

I'm so glad my memory (helped by internet) seems to work better again !

Here we go : Vratza (or Vratsa), in Bulgaria.

(Indeed, as I remembered correctly : beginning with a V-. 

 

Aurel

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3 hours ago, Hedley Malloch said:

 

Is that the Savonnieres in the Loire Valley, the home of an exquisite Chenin Blanc wine?

 

Portand stone is clearly Great Britain's stone of state. It was Lutyen's stone of choice for the public buildings in Delhi, the IWGC and the Cenotaph which he designed. It was built by Cubbitt's and not the IWGC. The white provides a gre

 

No, it's Savonnieres-en-Perthois north of Brauvillers in the Meuse.

 

Well done Aurel, you can rest easy knowing that the grey matter still responds

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we visited the CWGC experience last year , as far as I can remember there were 5 or 6 types of headstone material on display, cant remember the names 

http://publications.cwgc.org/cwgc-in-the-uk-and-ireland/62927460/10#:~:text=TYPES OF HEADSTONE MATERIAL IN,WILL SEE IN THE UK.

 

Edited by chaz
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