Hundreds of memorial inscriptions (‘MIs’) on graves marked by ‘heraldic ledger stones’ in Kent parish churches, Canterbury Cathedral and Rochester Cathedral can now be accessed on-line following the completion of a transcription and digital imaging project by Kent Archaeological Society volunteers.
Stones of this type were favoured by middle-class families who wanted to bury their dead beneath church floors, near the more grandiose memorials erected by their wealthier fellow-parishioners.
The practice peaked in the 18th century and ceased in the 1850s when burials within churches, except in existing family vaults, were banned.
A typical Kent heraldic ledger stone is cut from bluish-black Belgian limestone and decorated with the deceased’s ‘armorial achievement’ (aka ‘coat-of-arms’) carved into a roundel above an ‘MI’ or epitaph detailing his or her date of death, age, spouse, children, occupation and other information of vital interest to today’s family history enthusiasts and professional genealogists.
Over time the foot-traffic of generations of churchgoers and visitors has rendered many of these MIs illegible. Others were destroyed by war damage or during church restorations, or have become concealed, virtually inaccessible, under pews or new flooring.
But all is not lost thanks to the KAS’s project, in which volunteers Ted Connell, Ann Pinder and Pat Tritton have brought to light pioneer antiquarians’ comprehensive records made up to 250 years ago, when the stones were still in pristine condition.