Introduction The status of children in society has changed significantly and this is reflected in their memorials. The literature suggests that parents in the 19th century did not sentimentalise their children often regarding them as economic assets. Modern views of childhood started within the more affluent classes who began to treat children differently by providing them with toys, clothes and their own bedrooms.
Method Burial practice, epitaphs and iconography were examined over two 50 year time periods in two cemeteries.
Results 1864–1937 There are few memorials and no separate area for children’s graves. Where gravestones exist it is evident that children were often buried with adults.
Epitaphs were generally religious and illustrated an acceptance of mortality rather than expressing sadness at the loss of the child.
Few graves had carvings or images associated with them, and where they exist they are angels, cherubs or flowers
1937–today Stillborns and miscarried infants are buried in the ‘butterfly area’, which has masses of colour and a variety of icons including hearts and teddy bears with a great array of additional adornment, generating a feeling of love. Some epitaphs were of a religious nature, often referencing angels, others expressed love and personal remembrance.
In the children’s section of the cemetery, many of the graves were also bright and colourful, decorated with windmills, chimes and toys - trains, animals and fairies. Iconography was unique and varied, headstones came in all shapes and sizes, many including a photograph of the child.
Epitaphs have personal statements reflecting the importance of the life of the child and saying how much they are missed. Some have religious verses and others have prose from favourite children’s poems or stories.
Discussion Today children are encouraged to participate in end of life planning, giving preferences for their own funeral and suggesting memorials to celebrate their lives.
Conclusions The evidence from this small study is that cemetery memorials for children have changed substantially over the last hundred years.
Epitaphs and icons in the earlier period were generally of religious origin, whereas those in the later period were more secular and contemporary.
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