Headstone Materials – Alternatives to granite and marble

The majority of churchyards in the UK do not allow white marble or black or coloured granites (other than unpolished grey granite in some churchyards). This means that alternative stones need to be considered

Portland Limestone

Portland limestone is the classic headstone material. After a year or two it begins to mellow and weather softly to various tones of grey. The surface becomes slightly harder in time protecting it from erosion. However, Portland headstones need bold lettering. Small flourishes and fine italics will not last as the weathering process will cover them within ten to fifteen years. A capital letter really has a (suggested) minimum height of 30mm. Lettering needs to be cut deeply as one relies on the shadow to read it. Our grey climate in the UK only reinforces this logic.

Purbeck Limestone

Purbeck limestone is a rich looking limestone, honey coloured and full of little shells and fossils. There are
many different colours available. When the texture of a stone is richly pattered it can conflict with the shadows formed by the cut letter, so again bold letter forms are called for.

Nabresina and Nabresina Light (Auresina)

Nabresina and Auresina are two Italian limestones. Nabresina is a buff beigy colour with darker flecks. It is incredibly hard and much longer lasting than say Portland and may be chosen when there is lots of text or small lettering which would be lost on Portland as it weathered. Nabresina is sometimes used interchangeably with Auresina, otherwise known as “Nabresina Light”. Nabresina can withstand the rigors of being lettered with flush lead.


Often refered to as “Nabresina Light ”, Auresina is lighter than Nabresina, almost white with light grey/brown flecks. It carves well and is long lasting, being suitable for small detailed carving and small letters. However it is not best suited for lead lettering as it is too soft.

York Stone

York stone is a sandstone. York stone is a relatively soft but very durable stone. Its density can be compared to a low fired earthenware pot. Whereas Nabresina might be the equivalent to porcelain, York stone is like a gritty ovenproof clay. When tapped it gives off a low thud, rather than a ‘ping’. An ovenproof pot withstands the impact of sudden changes of high temperature; York stone withstands the changes in low temperature making it a perfect choice for headstones in areas susceptible to harsh frosts.

Some types of York stone are fairly grey and bland while others are honey coloured and patterned with lines. Like Portland limestone, it lends itself best to big, bold letters.

Please Note

When using any light-coloured stone, it is worth considering our damp climate. It is a bit like having a white sofa or a cream carpet – they can look stunning when first acquired but they will very quickly show every speck of dirt unless they are kept clean.  If the memorial is under a tree sap can stain the surface and the moisture in the stone can encourage the growth of lichens and mold necessitating a regular cleaning regime.

Passing wildlife and birds can also mark these light coloured stones – as will decaying flower petals and leaves.

A visit to any churchyard or cemetery will reveal many old and dirty looking “grey/brown” stones – they will be likely to be any of the above stones – plus marble – that have not been kept clean.

More Guidance Notes

Memorial Buying Steps

Stone selection guide

Inscription Guide

Portrait and Design Guide

Full Kerb Set Extras

Alternative Materials for Churchyards

Post-Installation and Maintenance

Payment Terms

Contact us

If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to contact us. A member of the team would be happy to discuss your requirements and help you on the way to select a perfect memorial.