Best Maker of Hand Carved Memorials in an Indigenous Material


Hannah Wessel of Stoneletters

Fergus Wessel, founder of Stoneletters, is a master of his craft, and provides a personal, sensitive service for bereaved families. He operates from his workshop in the Cotswolds with his small team, and prospective clients are encouraged to go and meet him there to see his work up close and discuss the options.

Fergus believes in a personal service and that the best ideas for wording for a headstone come through talking and learning more about the person the stone is to commemorate.

Slowly, through exploring choices of the different materials, ideas for wording and different designs, Fergus and the client together create a memorial that is totally unique: “As the maker, I feel a strong obligation to talk through every aspect of the inscription with the client so that every mark we make on the stone is purposeful and deliberate.”

Always using British materials wherever possible, every headstone is made with love and care from conception to completion, in close collaboration with the client, and with no limitations on the size or shape of inscription.

Stoneletters believe in choice without boundaries, and that almost anything is possible, but at the same time Fergus and his team have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the necessary requirements of local authorities and Diocesan regulations.


Runner Up in this category: Bierton & Woods Stonemasons

Best Internet Bereavement Resource


Jonathan Davies of

MuchLoved, the UK’s best and most ethical memorial website, is ten years old this year, and has facilitated more than £25 million of donations to charities. The award celebrates these achievements together with the unpaid input of co-founder Andy Daniels.

Andy Daniels, who founded with Jonathan Davies, and is the technical brains behind the platform, is stopping day-to-day work with MuchLoved this year after more than a decade of unpaid volunteer work helping to create and then develop the service. He’s lost thousands of hours of sleep in the meantime. Andy has played a leading part in getting to where it is today.

MuchLoved was conceived and founded by Jonathan Davies after he suffered the sudden death of his brother Philip aged just 21 whilst at University in 1995. MuchLoved is the working name of the MuchLoved Charitable Trust which was awarded registered charity status early in 2007. It is run by a board of trustees.

Jonathan Davies said: “In the mid and late 1990’s I lost both my brother and mother in quick succession. My brother’s death at the young age of 21 was in particular sudden, unexpected and overwhelming in shock.

“I was keen to create some sort of online memorial to him, a legacy that could show many of his happy years and make it easy for his school and university friends in particular to view, make contact and send in pictures and thoughts of their own. After some research I found however that there was no appropriate service available and I also felt that the technology and cost needed to create the type of tribute I wanted was prohibitive.

“I was also preoccupied with my own grieving and sense of loss and imagined that people were maybe not yet ready for the idea of an online memorial. After a few years my life started to move on again in a positive direction, with marriage and children, but the idea did not go away. In March 2000 I registered the domain name and a couple of years later started to meet with my friend and computer programmer Andy Daniels to discuss actively making the idea a reality.” is a labour of love. Andy’s volunteer work is matched by the commitment, hours of unpaid work and thousands of pounds of his own money that Jonathan Davies himself has poured into this project.


Runner Up in this category: Funeral Stationery 4U

Continuing bonds

From the ever-excellent Kenny Farquharson’s latest column in The Times:

There were just two drinkers at the bar when I walked in. Once they had established I was not from “the social” they were warm and engaging.

One stood nursing a whisky under a sign that said “Nicky’s Corner”. Would you happen to be Nicky, I asked him.

“No, no, no,” he said. “Nicky’s dead. Four years now. That’s him there.” He pointed to a sun-bleached photograph pinned to the wall. The photograph was in a plastic sleeve, along with some white stuff I couldn’t immediately identify.

What’s that white stuff, I asked.

Seagull feathers, he said.

The barmaid explained. The Creel being next to the docks, it was always surrounded by seagulls. Often, when the door opened, a single seagull feather would blow in and float around the bar a little while before finally coming to rest.

“The boss says that’s Nicky coming in to see how we’re doing. So we’ve always got to pick up the feather and put it in there,” she said, nodding toward the plastic sleeve.

A seagull feather floating in a shaft of sunlight and stoor*. Nicky, still a regular. A soft-hearted story in a hard man’s bar. Magic realism in the Blue Toon**.

*Dust  **Peterhead

How to stay alive after you’re dead

Posted by Thomas Staley

“All living things seek to perpetuate themselves into the future, but humans seek to perpetuate themselves forever. This seeking – this will to ‘immortality’ – is the foundation of human achievement; it is the wellspring of religion, the muse of philosophy, the architect of our cities and the impulse behind the arts. It is embedded in our very nature” Stephen Cave

So if it is embedded in our nature, what potential do we have to perpetuate ourselves as humans in the 21st century?

In 2011 Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov employed leading Russian specialists in the field of neural interfaces, robotics, artificial organs and systems, proposing the transfer of personality to an advanced non-biological carrier at the end of an individual’s natural lifetime. The ultimate objective of this project is the development of a hologram-like avatar with an artificial brain to which human personality is transferred.

Whilst many remain sceptical, and are concerned by the ethical implications of such technological developments, our physical presence in this world remains limited, for the time being, and is set to remain indefinitely so.

This is why the emergence of online digital legacy tools, that provide us with the opportunity to record our lives online and leave an everlasting legacy, provide a meaningful solution to the aforementioned conundrum concerning ‘immortality’.

Such tools have the potential to capture every aspect of our lives, enabling future generations to obtain a complete understanding of who we truly are; including what we achieved, the values we upheld, the causes we represented, and what we held dearest during our time on this earth.

Loggacy is one such digital legacy tool; founded with the intention of connecting generations of family and friends, so that our most precious memories and experiences may be preserved perpetually.

Loggacy was very much born from a personal desire to never be forgotten, as I find it a sad reality that I am only able to remember my ancestors through snippets of physical information, such as photographs or writings that were supplemented by short narratives from living relatives. I hope that my vision now means that when I pass this won’t be the case, and that my children, grandchildren and beyond will be able to learn about everything that I embodied throughout the course of my lifetime.

I contend that this feeling extends well beyond myself, and indeed, I believe that there is an innate human desire within us all to create a personal narrative, to leave something behind, to pass something on and make a mark on this world; which is as much future-oriented as it is an immersion in the past.

As such I created a platform that is available for all to use; because it is a fundamental right to be remembered, to achieve some form of immortality.

The beauty of the tool is that the account provided by Loggacy is yours to control, manage and share; and therefore you determine exactly what people learn about you and what they are subsequently able to remember you by. Whether it be detailing a romantic getaway, your wedding or your child’s first steps, Loggacy welcomes you to create a log documenting your life from birth through to the present day and share it only with those most precious to you.

Many of us make plans for end of life, whether it be in the form of a funeral or pension plan, but little emphasis is currently placed on how we may utilise technology to record our lives, and as such, preserve our legacies. I intend to change this through the creation of a safe, secure and intuitive platform that allows users to record the most poignant moments of their life; so that future generations may truly know and understand their heritage.

Regardless of how seemingly menial our personal stories or achievements may appear to us on an individual level, we all have memories and experiences that are of interest to others and it’s important that these endure.

I therefore encourage you to consider what you might want your legacy to be, and record it with Loggacy; so that we may all stand the test of time, and satisfy man kinds perennial quest for immortality…

Over to you!

Screenshot 2016-02-29 at 13


We recently wrote to BBC R4’s Last Word programme suggesting they include more ordinary people – local heroes, we called them – here.

We said: “The stories of those of our fellow-citizens who have lived and struggled and won some and lost some are moving and inspiring. All priests and funeral celebrants know this, as do many undertakers. Every day their life-stories are recounted in crematoria and churches and at gravesides up and down the land, and what stories they are. They celebrate the extraordinariness of ordinary people.”

The producer of Last Word agrees and would like the GFG community to help him out. Here’s what he said: 

Dear Mr Cowling,

In answer to your comment I agree, we should do more ordinary people, (whatever that may constitute) and we do try to; take the case of Mick Murphy the cycling brick layer for example.

I believe that for an obituary to be featured on Last Word there must be a story, and the story must be either entertaining or moving in some way, and that is not easy with both the famous and lesser known people.

You may imagine that we have vast resources at the BBC but sadly we do not – in fact it is just me – and often we are dependent on listeners for suggesting people, ordinary or not, to appear on the programme.

I do hope that you will suggest people to me in the future,  I cannot promise anything but I will always do my best to oblige.

Spread the word!

Kindest regards

Neil George
Producer BBC Last Word.
Broadcasting House,
Portland Place,
London, W1A 1AA

Let’s hear it for our local heroes

Friday’s Times had an article about Matthew Bannister of BBC R4’s obits programme Last Word (Fridays at 4.00 pm). You listen to it? Of course you do. Who doesn’t? Here’s what the article said: 

When Bannister, who had been a high-profile radio presenter and media executive for many years, was asked by Mark Damazer, controller of BBC Radio 4, to host Last Word in 2006, his reaction was, “This could be a bit depressing — dealing with death could really get you down.”

The reality was different. “I realised very quickly that it is a life-affirming programme to work on,” he says. “It’s about the stories of lives not deaths. We talk about people in the prime of their lives, we celebrate their lives . . . it’s a tremendous occupation to have, delving into the lives of interesting people.”

You may be surprised that Bannister reckoned he might buckle under the weight of death death death because this is the programme you would most like to front. His concern is completely normal. The term people in the death business like to lob at those who are not loved-up about death is denialists. Call em what you like, the fact is that 99.9% of the population hate death, a stat that hasn’t changed since the dawn of time and isn’t going to change any time before the Rapture. It’s the death-embracers who are abnormal. Quite possibly you’re one of them.

Anyway, the reason why Bannister hasn’t gone under is of course because his programme is a harvest festival. He doesn’t deal in corpses and raw grief, just afterglow-filled life stories.

Not so undertakers and celebrants. Until comparatively recently deathcare was a part-time occupation for all concerned: the laying-out woman, the coffin maker, the carriagemaster, the priest. I wonder if that wasn’t best. Is it really emotionally healthy to spend all day, every day, handling this stuff?

To the point. I think Last Word could be an even better programme. So I have written to Mr Bannister and his team. This is what I said:

Dear Last Word team

I’m writing to ask you to consider including in Last Word the life stories of ordinary people.

By ordinary people I mean those local heroes whose value was measured not by glittering achievements on the national or international stage but instead by human qualities, good deeds and what they meant to those they lived among.

You may reckon such lives insufficiently interesting. You’d be wrong. No one’s life is easy. There is much heroism in the lives of ordinary people, much patient endurance of suffering, much unselfishness, much sacrifice, much incident, much good done, much lovingkindness shown. It’s undetectable in the people queueing for a bus or shopping in a supermarket. The public face obscures we know not what, but this quiet heroism is general.

The point is, life’s ups and downs make heroes of lots of people — heroes, not nonentities.

The stories of those of our fellow-citizens who have lived and struggled and won some and lost some are moving and inspiring. All priests and funeral celebrants know this, as do many undertakers. Every day their life-stories are recounted in crematoria and churches and at gravesides up and down the land, and what stories they are. They celebrate the extraordinariness of ordinary people. They are the stories of people like your listeners, people like us. 

As a nation we set aside space and erect monuments to our glorious dead but not to our ordinary dead. Thus do we lose the lessons they could teach us, the examples that might inspire us and the opportunities to say thank you.

You can do something to redress this. Perhaps a trial period, one local hero a month? The Good Funeral Guide community ( can help you. You’ll be amazed how admired and popular this will be.

In a nutshell, keep up the Them, but let’s have some Us too.

With best wishes, etc

If Last Word writes back I’ll tell you what they said.

Adopt a grave

Your average grave is visited for an average of around 15 years. After that, neglect can leave it looking unloved and anonymous, creating exactly the opposite effect to the one intended. There are those who see a cemetery as a monument to the vanity of human wishes. I’m one of them. Remembrance all too quickly passes into amnesia. Forever in our hearts? Who did you say you were exactly?

An exception to this rule is a military cemetery. Military folk maintain a hold on the hearts of the living longer than everyday heroes who die in civvies. Make what you want of that.

In Europe a number of American war cemeteries have an adopt-a-grave scheme. Local citizens, hundreds of them, adopt the grave of a dead soldier. They bring flowers and keep it looking tended. There are even waiting lists. More here.

Some 65 years ago Mrs Arpots (91) adopted the grave of British soldier Leonard Raymond Allison at the British War Cemetery in Brunssum. Still she is in good contact with the soldier’s family in the UK. “The mother of the soldier in particular was very grateful that we maintained the grave of her son. For us it was the least we could do after having been liberated.”

Just like Mrs. Arpots people from Brunssum have adopted a grave immediately following the liberation. They not only looked after the graves but also continued staying in touch with the family of the deceased soldier. Mrs. Arpots: “The family found it consoling and assuring that we maintained those graves for them. Leonard was their beloved son or brother. We have seen them frequently, and then they stayed with us or we stayed with them. We also received baby clothes and toys from them. We always had a very special relationship. I really enjoyed looking after the grave and maintain our relationship with the family.”

In the UK, Darwen has an adopt-a-grave scheme for its war dead, each grave marked by its Portland stone headstone. At Sutton Veny Primary School near Warminster, Wiltshire, pupils tend the graves of New Zealand and Australian soldiers in the local churchyard.

In Buxton, Derbyshire, an adopt-a-grave initiative was launched in 2011:

Mrs Luton said: “We had an open day and had to approach people with this odd idea of tending the grave of a stranger. “Eighteen people said yes on the day and more have joined since. We let them walk through the churchyard and choose a grave which appealed to them. “I don’t know how they chose but nobody wanted the same grave, it was incredible. “Many have wonderful details on the stones and there are a lot of children, and a lot of people have chosen children’s graves.”

In the same civvy spirit, James Norris of DeadSocial has just launched an Adopt a Grave initiative at Brompton cemetery. The idea is to enable Londoners to commune with death and nature at the same time as tidying up a bit:

Many of us do not visit green spaces on a regular basis due to a not owning a property with a garden and the environmental conditions in which we live. Due to the nature of urban cities we rarely get to ‘work on the land’ or immerse ourselves in an area of natural beauty. By granting participants permission to tend a currently untended, historic grave we hope that the natural relationship between participants, nature and death is addressed and somewhat rekindled.  We encourage those who adopt a grave to find out the story about the person whose grave they are tending. 

Love it.

Remembering the dead

Older readers will recall that, by the 1970s, observance of the two minutes’ silence on 11/11  had declined in the civilian sphere to such an extent that a great many people paid no heed to it whatever and carried on doing whatever they were doing.

There’s been a big revival of observance in recent years.

In an article in The Times shortly before this year’s Remembrance events, Michael Binyon (Laurence was a cousin of his grandfather) asked questions likely to enrage many people who visit this blog. Are we, he asks, “in danger of becoming mawkish in sentimentalising the suffering of our grandparents and great-grandparents? Is Remembrance Sunday in danger of turning into a spectacle of synthetic emotion, paraded in a way that those who actually fought in two world wars would have found distasteful?”

Citing the Wootton Bassett phenomenon and the National Memorial Arboretum, Binyon suggests: “The danger is that we are creating something of a remembrance industry. There are, of course, historic injustices that can today be rectified: the “Shot at Dawn” memorial at the arboretum, for example, mirrors the quiet addition of names of men shot for cowardice to First World War memorials. But now there seems to be a passion to commemorate everything and anything. Dogs and donkeys and horses in the front line are getting their own memorials. Every region, factory or association that sent men to the front will be individually recognised. And to swell the number of those who actually fought, more and more auxiliaries are now included in the parades: nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, mechanics, farmers and land girls — indeed, one could conceivably allow anyone who lived in wartime Britain to take part.”

You can read the whole of Binyon’s challenging article here(£)

Remembrance in Germany is, by contrast, more muted even than, possibly, you supposed. Barely 200 people turned up this year to honour the 1.7 million who died in the First World War and the  5.8 million who died in the Second World War. The act of remembrance was held this year on 16 November at Germany’s equivalent of the Cenotaph, the Neue Wache in Berlin (below), an austere former guardhouse containing an unknown soldier, an unknown concentration camp victim and a sculpture by Käthe Kollwitz titled Mother With Her Dead Son. Gebhardt von Moltke, a former ambassador to London, said: “It is a day of recollection and mourning but it is not a day of pride. In the UK the mourning is always related to pride. So you have a nation-building type of commemoration while we, with our history, commemorate the price we paid and all victims during the wars.” He did not attend.

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Lifting the spirits

Posted by Kitty Perry

When I was a child in the 60s, not a lot happened on 31st October. Casting my mind back and thinking really hard, the only thing I can remember doing is bobbing for apples. Which I did once at a friend’s birthday party. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure that the party was in October.

Fast forward to the 80s. Early one autumn evening the doorbell rang. Three children were standing there wearing cone-shaped hats made from black card.

‘Hello,’ I said, wondering what on earth was going on.

‘Trick or tree-eat?’

I had no idea what they meant.

‘Er, I’ll have a treat – what treats have you got?’

They looked at each other, completely confused. And then went away looking disappointed. Almost as disappointed as me.

By the time I had children of my own I knew a lot more about the traditions of Halloween. Or rather the Halloween that had crossed the pond from the USA: fancy-dress parties, carved pumpkins, green cakes, skull-shaped sweets and half-price offers on bags of fun-size chocolate bars – for the trick-or-treaters. Or as my husband calls them, ‘The spoiled brats who come round wanting something for nothing just as I’m settling down to watch the telly.’ Or words to that effect.

Have we missed our chance to resurrect the Celtic traditions of a night when the ghosts of the dead visit the mortal world? Where are our sacred bonfires and our ghost stories? Is there any hope for a proper ‘Day of the Dead’? Or even a few days of the dead? A time for remembering our ancestors – all of them, not only the ones who died fighting in wars. Culminating in parties and firework displays – incorporation of your dead ones’ ashes would be optional.

Fancy dress? Of course, but not for animals and pets. Sorry Vampire Hedgehog and Freddy Krueger Guinea Pig. You’ll know what I mean if you’re a fan of Bored Panda.

Old traditions combined with new. And, instead of sweets and chocolate, trick-or-treaters would be given fresh locally-sourced produce like turnips and cabbage for delicious home-made soups. And apples for bobbing.

Always alive

“I met the poet James Turner in my twenties: no one reads him now, yet to me he is always alive … You too must have people like that in your lives, people who are not alive in the physical sense, but remain alive in some spiritual way, which you retain in your head, in your whole personality.”