Victorian and Edwardian cemetery memorials were varied in their lettering, ornamentation and form. Most would have been chosen from pattern books and yet still, through their original inception and personalisation, through their augmentation with additional texts, via their maintenance, weathering, wear and fracturing over the decades, they become more distinctive from each other still.
In our memorial survey at Overleigh Road cemetery, Chester, my students and I intended to conduct no vegetation clearance and certainly no digging. Our aim was to simply view and record what could be seen. Still, we occasionally brushed aside leaves and pulled back grass and moss to inspect text and ornament.
In one instance, we got a bit over-enthusiastic and peeled back the turf covering a near-subterranean ledger to reveal its text. The result was fascinating. Protected by vegetation, the text was clear and fresh. Moreover, the rhizomes of the roots covering had crept into the spaces created by the incised letters, leaving a pattern of letter-shaped roots. These positive features created by negative spaces are a fascinating dimension to the interaction of memorials and vegetation. I have discussed other aspects of the ‘agency’ of cemetery plants here. Trees, plants are flowers are integral elements of mortuary environments, and they act upon, and interact with, human-made memorials in a variety of different fashions.
In this case, the roots create a rhizome mirror-image of text and ornament. It begs the further question: how many more inscriptions are to be found in root-form yet hidden from view beneath the cemetery?