A mother and daughter’s last good-bye?

Welcome to 2019! and we begin with an unusual variation on a common funerary symbol which I recently discovered in Brompton Cemetery


The shaking hands symbol on the Chesterton memorial in Brompton Cemetery. Note the male/female cuffs.
©Carole Tyrrell

One of the most common symbols in a large Victorian cemetery is that of the shaking or clasped  hands.

Usually, most of the hands illustrate the right hand in a grasp with fingers overlapping the other hand while the left hand is open. This is often interpreted as a man holding a woman’s hand which could indicate marriage or a close bond between two individuals. Clasped hands are also symbolic of a farewell or last good-bye. If you look at the cuffs of each hand you can soon guess who is the man and who is the woman as the latter usually has a frilly cuff.

There are also several other explanations of this image: the clasped hands may mean ‘Farewell’, marriage, or the that first one to die holds the surviving spouse’s hand guiding them to heaven. If on a family tomb they can mean either hope or reunification in the next life or simply ‘see you soon’ which may not be as comforting as it sounds with the Victorians high mortality rate.

But, while pottering about in Brompton Cemetery over Christmas and New Year, I found this variation on the theme.  It’s undoubtedly two women shaking hands in farewell as each has a frilly cuff and is remarkably well carved.

The cross and hands in full.
©Carole Tyrrell

At the base of the cross there is an inscription saying ‘In Loving Memory of our Beloved Mother.’  Beneath that at the very base of the monument there is a date, a name and the age at death.

It was such a cold day that I didn’t loiter too long except to take photos but I am intrigued enough to plan to do further research.  Brompton Cemetery’s burial records have been digitised which is very helpful and once I have the name and date of death I should know more.

Watch this space….

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell



3 thoughts on “A mother and daughter’s last good-bye?

  1. Linda Trimm

    So… any explanation of the finger pointing down? I read today that someone heard that it meant sudden death. However, I have looked at dates on the graves of those with this symbol and many of them were so elderly that to call that sudden is disingenuous at best. Thank you, now I know that there is something of significance regarding the sex of the two. I wonder if they were Shakers? I’m no expert but I did learn a bit after discovering here https://www.newspapers.com/clip/38454711/the_heraldledgerrussellville/ that my husband’s grandfather and his brother, orphaned, escaped from Shaker Village in Kentucky. His brother was found but he never was. He married a girl, couple years older than him, whose mother took her to Shaker village after she went from Quaker to full Shaker. I don’t know if Emma escaped too, or if he waited for her. Anyway, I wonder if this is a Quaker/Shaker symbol.


    1. Dear Linda
      Apologies for the delay in replying. The headstone on which I found an example of a downard pointing finger cerainly indicated an early and unexpected date. You make an interesting suggestion regarding a possible Shaker/Quaker connection and I will look into it.
      Many thanks


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