Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens

Gravestone Conservation 2019: Week 8ish

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Dear reader, can you hardly believe that it’s been a full 2 months of gravestone conservation work and training? Because I definitely can’t! It both feels like I started this job yesterday, and that I’ve been doing it forever. It’s what the heart wants! I’m happily writing this post on a Wednesday, that also happens to coincide with #AskanArchaeologist day! So at the end of this post, if you have any archaeology-related questions about historical burial archaeology, gravestone conservation, what else I research, etc., please don’t hesitate to ask!

Lets jump right into the last week+ at Woodland, shall we?


Good evening, from one of Woodland’s fawns!

To start, I’m saying this is the last *week* because our last day was meant to be Friday, but there were some leftover hours due to stat holidays to use up, and then we have a monstrously large gravestone to finish up, so I’m doing a few extra hours this week too!

This last week was about what you’d expect from a team who started five projects simultaneously every other day…hustle to finish the list! As you might expect (hi, I always have at least 3 writing projects on the go), there was on that list, and we actually managed to get it finished…while only starting 2 extra projects along the way!

Firstly, an ode to D2! I’ve talked about it before, but it is actually amazing. I knew that the substance works on the surface of the stone after you are finished the actual cleaning, but when we came back to the Winslow stone several weeks after cleaning, we were more than ecstatic to see just how much our hard work had paid off! Mind you, there was a lot of scrubbing involved in this one, but I still can’t believe how well it came out! Winslow’s, I hope you like it!

Another important aspect of our wrap-up list was two gravestones in Section R. One of the gravestones was buried and broken at the base, and the key was tilted, and the other was simply tilted but broke at the base when we were attempting level the base. Unfortunately, this can happen when moisture builds up in a stone, weakening sections. The stone of Mary Cridland was one such casualty, and we knew that we had to reset it before our time at the cemetery was up! (the same day her stone broke, the Winslow stone crushed my finger a bit, so we have been joking about Mary taking revenge on us) ((finger is fine!)).


Brienna and Joey aligning the stone.

For both of these breaks, one old, one new, we had to drill into the base of the stone while it was still secure in the key, and then call in the big guns in order to raise the gravestones themselves. Due to their size and weight, two people still probably wouldn’t have been able to safely lift them vertically in order to lower the stones onto the wood pins, so a back-hoe was much safer.

We had a wood mixing stick to poke the pins into place, to make sure our fingers didn’t end up under the stone! It took a couple tries per gravestone, but we got them mounted and secured in place after about an hour. It would have taken so much longer without the machinery!

With these two gravestones, as with all stones that we have pinned over the summer, we used a combination of wood dowels and construction adhesive. As I continue to work in monument conservation, I will be changing the type of adhesive to something that is much more conservation friendly, such as a conservation-approved masonry epoxy or other materials, such as those suggested here. I’ll need to do more research into the best kinds of adhesive to use, but the ideal would be something that does not turn ‘butterscotch’ coloured with exposure to UV light…like the construction adhesive we are currently using does. Eep. It’s a learning process, right?

Mary Cridland’s stone was a curious one. As you can see in the above photo, half the stone is missing an inscription. Mary’s husband, Thomas, has his name inscribed on the stone below her’s, but it appears he was never buried beside her. We checked Stone Orchard, the cemetery’s burial record database, for more information, and while Thomas Cridland purchases both plots, he was never buried there. Curiously, a woman by the name of Annie Cridland was, instead, interred beside Mary. We are assuming based on her age (30 years old, died 1886)that she was Thomas’ sister or cousin. Why she was buried there, but her name never added to the stone we can only guess about (read: wildly speculate about what their relationship might have been), but it does suggest something interesting may have been going on! Thomas himself was never buried at Woodland…or if he was, we have no record of him.

20190709_151923The tours on the previous weekend went very well, and we started and finished a new portion of Section K as a result! This area was very odd, and almost seemed to be a dumping ground for broken or otherwise unwanted gravestones that had been moved over from St. Paul’s after Woodland opened in 1879. The photo to the left shows the new area we worked on over the course of last week, setting 12 stones in limestone screening and resetting one upright. Several of these stones were kept laying down due to the broken state of them, and the others due to lack of resources to make new keys for them all, which is an unfortunate reality. The large stone in the foreground is actually a ledger, and is meant to be laying down like that! That ledger was very interested actually, in that it was being bent by the roots of the tree! When we went to move it, very carefully with 4 people, supported with two straps…the crack on the back where the bend was broke. We ended up moving it a few inches to the west, just to keep the ledger away from the tree, so it is more stable now…even with the break.


Can you see the slots of the 2 buried sandstone keys?

Curiously, there were several gravestones in this area that were missing their bottom half, and one missing the top half. Below the ledger, were two buried keys that must have been purposely buried before the ledger was even moved over, indicating that it was a potential dumping ground! It was very odd to see. We ultimately decided to leave these keys underground, as we did not know exactly which gravestones they would have gone with (potentially none!), so unearthing them would have just been a future conservation problems.

There were so many things to wrap up last week! We did a lot of mortar pointing where gravestone cracks still needed some protection from the elements, cleaning of other stones that needed a little attention, and writing tons and tons of forms! There are sheets for us to record gravestones on, as well as all the conservation treatments that we carried out, so there is a record of what was done for future. At the end of the week, we ended up with 78 completed gravestones in total! For two people over only 8 weeks, I think that is a pretty good final count!

Of course, if I were to post about every single thing we did over the last few days, this post would be closer to 5000 words and probably use all your phone data to view the images, so I’ll avoid that. Let the highlights reel continue?

As many of you may already know, the laws of archaeology are that you find your most interesting thing/finds/whatever at the end of a project. This rule seems to be holding true for gravestone conservation as well! At the end of last week, we decided to just do a few *easy* raises, where we would lay the gravestones on the surface in limestone screening again so people can read them. We did one, and moved over to what appeared to be a fairly large stone. While digging the pieces out of the sod, we realized that there was an entire base below the stone…encased in concrete! It just kept going down!

Luckily the nearby tree roots had helped pull some of the concrete away, and we were able to break it apart without too much trouble. However…what we thought was a key-less stone from 1853 actually turned out to have a key..buried in situ below the concrete?? And the best part was…it was stuck in more concrete! I’m not sure exactly what happened to this gravestone, but it seems like they tried to set it upright at some point in the future by…burying the key inside concrete and it sunk quite a lot because of the weight…and broke somewhere in there. We are currently in the process of getting the stone back upright.


Nearly there! 

This is where the ‘Week 8+’ comes in, because both Brienna and myself are coming back every day until this gravestone, to Maurice Baker who died at age 38 in 1853 and is buried with his four children, is repaired! Currently we are 50% finished…or 3/4 finished, depending on whether you are counting this by height or by the number of pieces we are reconnecting!

Really looking forward to finishing this stone in particular. It’s difficult to tell scale in a photo where I didn’t include any scale bar..but the stone is currently standing at my hips, and when we get the top up, it will be approximately 5’7! That is one huge piece of marble! Expect an upcoming Woodland blog post specifically about this stone.

Well, I think that’s all from me! It has been an absolutely pleasure to work at Woodland over the last 2 months, and I’m so glad I have to opportunity to learn everything I have, meet the wonderful people who work there, and get involved in some more contemporary forms of death care than I’m usually studying! I never thought I would get to spend so much time is this field of historical archaeology that I love so much, much less get to spend time shadowing in the crematory. Thank you to everyone involved, including the Canada Summer Jobs Program, for the funding!

I can’t wait to update you all on where my historical burial arch adventures take me next.
As always, thanks for reading! (and support if you can!)







Author: Robyn S. Lacy

Archaeologist / Cultural Heritage / Burial Ground Restoration

One thought on “Gravestone Conservation 2019: Week 8ish

  1. Pingback: When Repairs Fail: Maurice Baker’s Gravestone | Spade & the Grave

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