Memorial Masonry: Still going viral

A Sapphire Blue granite memorial from Robertson Granite

A Sapphire Blue granite memorial from Robertson Granite.

While the fear of dying from a virus has all but disappeared from most of society, memorial masons and the rest of the death care sector are still busy.

There was another spike in the number of deaths this winter and that has been keeping memorial masons and their suppliers busier than usual again this year.

The number of death certificates mentioning Covid-19 has fallen but was back over 1,000 for the week after the Christmas and New Year holidays at the start of this year (see graph below).

Covid deaths 2023

The figure for Week Two of every year is inflated because there is always a drop in the number of deaths reported during the holidays and a catch up in the week after (other bank holidays also see a fall in reported deaths). This year the number of deaths continued above both the 2022 level and the five-year average for most weeks until April.

weekly deaths

The five year average, by the way, is now being calculated without using the figures from 2020 because 2020 Covid deaths would distort the average upwards significantly.

It was not only Covid that caused the increase in deaths this year, although that clearly contributed. Other viruses and/or germs were also involved, with ’flu, pneumonia and other diseases of the respiratory system appearing on the death certificates of more than 11,000 of Week Two’s 17,381 deaths reported in England & Wales. With Covid, that accounts for 70% of all the deaths registered.

(Deaths reported to the General Register Office in England & Wales are published weekly and, as they account for most of the deaths in the UK, provide a convenient weekly snapshot of mortality in the UK.)

Although the number of deaths in 2022 was below the rolling five-year average, you can see from the graph below that the total was still significantly above the pre-pandemic level and memorial masons were also busy last year.

Deaths 2018-22

It is speculated that it was because they were so busy that 100 or so of those who had registered to visit the NAMM Tradex exhibition in September 2022 did not turn up. It was an unusually high number of no-shows for the exhibition, which caters for a small, niche market, although exhibitors seemed generally happy with the outcome.

There is disagreement among the exhibitors about the preferred frequency of the show, with the memorial wholesalers saying it should be every three years rather than its current two yearly frequency. They like to use the show to introduce new ranges in new catalogues but do not want to do that every two years. Other exhibitors like the two-yearly frequency because the show boosts their sales.

In 2019, the wholesalers showed their disapproval of the two-year frequency by not attending. The show went ahead without them.

There was to have been a show in 2021, but with Covid restrictions still being imposed it was decided in conjunction with exhibitors to wait until 2022, and to move the show to September from it’s usual slot at the Warwickshire Event Centre in June.

The wholesalers were back this time, but with the disruption Covid had caused some still did not have new catalogues to show. Some still don’t, which could be part of a new post-Covid normal.

There is no doubt that Covid accelerated and expanded the use of digital technology. Those who might have been reluctant to use it before Covid had to get used to it during the restrictions and have not looked back. Memorial masons who had resisted setting up online accounts with their wholesale suppliers before Covid got used to the idea during the pandemic. The wholesalers are also making ordering online easier by updating their websites.

And although there is a direct correlation between age and the likelihood of dying, the bereaved who are buying memorials are usually younger and are more likely than ever now to be familiar with viewing products they want online, perhaps making printed catalogues of memorials less important as a sales aid.

Wholesalers that did not have new catalogues for last year’s show say they will have them for the next Tradex, which the organisers, the National Association of Memorial Masons (NAMM), have scheduled for 2025 – three years after the previous show – again in September at Warwickshire Event Centre.

Tradex 2022
Part of NAMM’s Tradex exhibition last year. In the foreground is the Armorgard stand. Armorgard has bought Matt Bridges’ electric sack truck business, MGB Easy.

Peter Hayman, NAMM’s National Executive Officer, says the three year gap is in recognition of what the wholesalers have been asking for, although it is also to give NAMM time to move into new premises that it has bought with a mortgage that costs no more than the rent it is currently paying for its offices in Rugby. 

The property it is buying is near to its current offices. It is just a shell in need of renovation, as you can see from the pictures below.


The premises will clearly require a lot of work and Peter Hayman did not feel it was realistic to be carrying out that work and moving into the new premises at the same time as organising the next Tradex exhibition, which is another reason it will be held in 2025.

NAMM is also vacating the piece of land it has been renting on an allotment for carrying out the testing of memorial safety systems and for training. It is hoping to come to an arrangement with the council whereby the association will keep a nearby cemetery tidy and safe in return for being allowed to carry out its training and fixing system assessments there. “It has some nice old memorials in there that we could refurbish as part of our training,” says Peter.

NAMM has also been involved in discussions with the Church of England about standardising churchyard regulations regarding memorials. BRAMM (the British Register of Accredited Memorial Masons) has also been involved in these discussions.

The Church set up an Ecclesiastical Judges’ Working Party on Churchyard Memorial Regulations. Its report, which is imminent, will set out its views about what needs to be done to bring about greater consistency between dioceses. It cannot insist dioceses comply, but it says it hopes its proposals will be persuasive enough for most, if not all, chancellors to follow them, even if there are minor diocesan variations in the light of discussions, which should include local masonry companies.

BRAMM, like NAMM, provides training for memorial masons on the correct way to fix memorials and then keeps a register of those trained so cemeteries can be sure they are allowing only trained masons into their cemeteries to fix memorials safely.

Last year, BRAMM took the decision to create a new position of Executive Officer and appointed Yvonne Colverston, who had been on the BRAMM Board for several years, to the post. She stood down shortly afterwards “for personal reasons”, although she is still involved with BRAMM. It is now felt there is no need for an Executive Officer.

Following Yvonne’s departure, BRAMM administration has been carried out by an agency, although a new administrator has been recruited and was due to start from the beginning of August.

BRAMM also sponsors the Cemetery of the Year contest, which has contributed so much to the improvement of cemeteries. BRAMM provides a prize for the Memorial of the Year category, but that category is now being included every other year only and is not included this year.

A mini trade show at The Blast Shop 21-22 September

The Blast Shop

This is the Tripod Gantry The Blast Shop introduced at last year’s Tradex. Handles adjust the legs so headstones can be positioned on dowels with ease. It is aluminium (so lightweight) but strong. It fits into the back of a Transit and has wheels attached for easy manoeuvring through a cemetery when folded. You will be able to try it out at The Blast Shop open days on 21-22 September.

Although the next NAMM Tradex is not until 2025, The Blast Shop, which regularly exhibits at Tradex, is having open days that are a mini-exhibition at its premises in Pendlebury, Manchester (M27 8SS), 21-22 September. They are full days from 9am to 5pm.

When The Blast Shop held its first open day in 2015 it only expected it to be one day, but so many people wanted to attend it was extended to two days. All its open days since have been two days – although there has not been an open day since before the Covid lockdowns started in 2020.

This year three presentations are lined up for each day. They concentrate on ‘The Customer Experience’, with the first one looking at how information gained from feedback forms can be used to implement new processes and technology for increased customer satisfaction.

The second presentation is of MOMS – The Blast Shop Memorial Order Management System. The demonstration will explain how Google is used to increase a presence online.

The third presentation will be more interactive, dealing with training and development. The Blast Shop wants to know what courses masons think would be useful as well as talking about current courses and those planned for the future.

There will also be a discussion about stains and how Stone Clear products are suitable for stain removal as well as stain prevention.

As with any such event, a main benefit is the opportunity to talk to fellow masons as well as The Blast Shop staff. It will also give masons a chance to try out products for themselves – like the Memorial Designer software package; blasting and painting PhotoBlast stencils with the dustless Goldmann machines; and the Tripod Gantry that allows you to manoeuvre memorials into position so easily with the turn of a handle on each of the legs.

But it’s not all about The Blast Shop. There are also other companies showing their products. Odlings will be showing its memorials in the main warehouse, while C J Imports will show its memorials in the rear stock room next to the dustless demonstration area.

Armorgard will be outside with the electric sack truck it now sells after buying MGB Easy Handling. Next to it will be the Tripod Gantry.

Hodge Clemco will have a blaster and PPE (personal protective equipment) package; Graphtec will be talking about its masking tape cutters; PFM Design Consultancy will cover all matters to do with drilling; and the National Association of Memorial Masons (NAMM) will be represented.

There will be bargains aplenty, with staff in the Blast Shop offices throughout each day delighted to take your orders.

And they could be long days, so tea and coffee will be available throughout and lunch will be served from midday until 1:30pm.

Odlings’ memorial for Blitz victims in mass graves

Odlings memorial

This is a memorial wholesaler Odlings supplied to Northern Cemetery in its home city of Hull to commemorate those who were buried in mass graves following the Blitz bombing of the city in World War II.

The cemetery contains the unmarked mass graves of more than 300 men, women and children who were buried there after Hull had been Blitzed in air raids on 7, 8 and 9 May in 1941.

The memorial was designed and sandblasted in black & white with images representing people in Hull during the Blitz.

And at Odlings’ factory, where the memorial was made, the company is stepping up its contribution to tackling global warming by installing more solar panels. 

It already has a 30kW photovoltaic panel array on the south facing roof of its main factory, which saves around 14,874kg of CO2 from entering the atmosphere each year.

In July it added panels that generate a further 71kW. This is forecast to produce an extra  57.55MWh of electricity each year, which equates to about 27% of Odlings’ total electricity usage.

It has been calculated that the two arrays together will offset 40.5% of the company’s total energy usage.