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Grave concerns : David Francis

28 November 2017

David Francis.

David Francis is a hands-on mason who has specialised for many years on the memorial side of the stone industry. If you have an issue regarding any aspect of memorial masonry, David is happy to help. Send your questions or comments to [email protected].

Through this column I receive various questions from a variety of people about cemeteries and memorials.

The painting of letters seems to be one area that causes some problems, especially as the paint weathers or fades over the years.

One of the enquiries I have received lately came from a member of the public who wanted to re-paint the letters on a Portland stone memorial. I could not recommend her to carry out the work herself.

This is a job that requires some significant skills and a lot of practice. An experienced lettercutter familiar with painting letters is the best route to achieving a good result.

A few hints. Portland is a porous limestone and before incised or sandblasted letters are painted the first thing to ensure is that they are absolutely clean. The stone must also be dry.

The letters must first be undercoated. I have used an exterior quality acrylic paint for this. The top coat must be enamel paint – Humbrol or signwriters’ One Stop, for example. The paint should be applied using good quality artists’ brushes, sizes Nº2 or Nº3.

Do not use black, it looks stark. Grey is better, or a light to mid blue.

My advice to the public is to ask a memorial mason to carry out the work. The cemetery should be able to supply the names of several who work in that cemetery. And a memorial mason should be confident enough in his work to provide a 10-year guarantee.

Another enquiry came from a cemetery manager regarding foundations. She said: “The reason I am asking is because I manage cemeteries and memorial permits and the regulations state foundations are fitted level with the ground. Recently, a mason has been fitting the sub-foundation level with the ground then fitting a terrazzo base on top under the headstone. Fortunately the memorial still complies within the size of the regulations, albeit the permit application was incorrect.”

The British Standard is being updated regarding fixing. The proposed changes are currently out for public consultation. Anyone can submit their observations about the proposals. If you would like to see what the changes are, refer to the story above this column, which includes a link to the British Standards Institution website where you can view the new proposals in the standard and comment on them.

Basically, though, a foundation should be set with the top edge at ground level. It should be level, with drainage provided to resist water accumulation at the base of the memorial, because all stone is porous to some extent and capillary action can lead to water rising up the stone and causing damage. Foundations should be concrete reinforced with steel.

Although I have heard people say foundations should be set below the frost level, it makes no difference or sense.

The use of a sub-base made of terrazzo has been around for many years, largely because it impresses the customer. A ground anchor should be fitted to the lowest part of the structure (the foundation) and all subsequent layers must be dowelled together.

It is good practice for the foundation to be larger than the rest of the memorial to prevent damage from grass cutting.

  • David Francis is a hands-on mason who ran a craft-based business in South London for many years. He moved out of London in the 1990s and since then has been concentrating on memorial masonry, being Technical Advisor and Trainer for the National Association of Memorial Masons (NAMM) for several years, writing training manuals and City & Guild Qualifications. He has now left NAMM but would like to continue to advise and assist masons to help and improve skills in the sector.

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