If your church was built before 1800 it may well be that you’ve got some ledger-stones, those large black (or white) marble slabs set into the floor inscribed with the names of those deposited in the grave beneath. The majority seem to have been laid either in the sanctuary – where they may commemorate former incumbents, Lords of the Manor or patrons – or down the centre aisle of the nave. Some of them can be quite elaborate, with armorial bearings or a funerary motif such as a skull and cross-bones or an hour-glass, though most are simply incised with a legend, which is why they are called ledger-stones.
What are ledgerstones?
It was during the Commonwealth (1649-1660) that the middle classes took advantage of using the church building for intramural burial, marking their graves with ledger-stones. Indeed, these graves were jealously sought after as they were considered to be a statement of social status within the community. Much can be learnt much from the inscriptions, such as what the deceased did for a living, where they lived, and the marital relationship their children had with others in the community. They are in fact the nearest that we have to guaranteed genealogical information.
How to look after your ledgerstones
Caring for them is not at all difficult. The best way is to vacuum them and then to apply a thin coating of non-slip pure bees-wax polish, thus allowing the stone to “breathe”. Others type of polish will make the stone sweat during the damper winter months. After that all they will need is the occasional 'go over' with a dry mop, to revive the polish.
Try to avoid placing anything on the stones as heavy furniture and flower-stands can scratch the surface and damage the lettering and sculptural motifs.
Why clean them?
Cleaned ledger stones can be so elegant after cleaning that there is no need to cover them with carpet. A long sweep of polished black marble ledgers running the length of the nave will be far more visually impressive.
Recording ledger stones
You may like to make a record of the ledger-stones. There are notes on how to do this on the web-site of the Ledgerstone Survey of England and Wales . Ledger-stones went out of fashion when the Burial Act of 1854 forbade further intramural burial, but those which survive are fascinating records of how churches were used for intramural burial between 1650 and 1850.