In a previous post I introduced the southern cemetery of Groningen (Zuider Begraafplaats), opened in 1827. As my first visit to an historic Dutch cemetery, I promised to explore further how I felt the individual gravestones differed from British cemeteries of the same period. My initial impressions were that they were just as varied as those of 19th/early 20th-century England and Wales, and many comparable themes including form and motifs. Key features include:

Gothic Revival tombs are rare but traditional memento mori motifs are features of the oldest graves. So traditional funerary themes are widespread, if not in the form of grand replicas of church monuments as happens in some British cemeteries….

Egyptian Revival dimensions are present in the form of obelisks in particular:

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There are also a multitude of neoclassical designs, including broken columns and urns:

There are also a few examples of the crude use of rough stones – megaliths – that might evoke prehistoric forms.

 

Materialities

Local stone, and increasingly imported stones, afford a variety of types of 19th and 20th-century gravestones and ledgers. I don’t know the geological details of the stones exhibited in this Dutch context, but there are distinctive alternative material features, although rare that stand out for a British viewer. Iron in particular is far more commonly preserved than in UK cemeteries. there are some fabulous railings around grave-plots.

Another dimension is the use of glass for signs and other grave features: this is a material almost never deployed in British cemeteries.

And if that wasn’t enough: tile! Not just for bathrooms and kitchens in the Netherlands.

and even a couple of wooden ones! So in summary, while stone predominates, there is a greater range of materialities exhibited in this Dutch cemetery compared with those in Britain.

 

Colours

Painted gravestones are a rare phenomenon the UK, but they are widespread features of the cemetery, carefully maintained to reveal how they may have been originally intended.

Forms

Just so many, but it is safe to say that none looks ‘British’. Beyond that, there is little more to say. The entire range of forms is familiar and yet different. That’s not really good enough, I know, but let the photos pitch this your way.

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Symbols

There are a wide range of funerary symbols as with all other cemeteries. Notably the butterfly is popular in the Netherlands whilst rarely found in Britain. The only occupation symbol I found was a fireman’s helmet.

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Sadly, I have no overarching single statement to make about this diversity, other than to note how much more important kerbs and railings are in this cemetery, contrasting with the situation that has transpired in Britain. Over to you, reader, for your thoughts.

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