Tired war memorials and headstones are restored and new ones created by Derek Tourle Memorial Masons in Uckfield.
Derek and Amanda Tourle run their business from The Cemetery Chapel in Snatts Road, working locally and further afield too when their specialist skills are needed.
They use granite, sandstone, limestone, marble (a type of limestone), and slate. The business offers a design service encouraging families to visit the workshop where they can be assisted with their choices of shape, size and style of wording.
Amanda said: “They are able to take away a copy of the finished design so they can think about, and discuss with friends and family, the choice of words before finalising their decision.”
She added: “There are different regulations relating to what can be fixed in churchyards and cemeteries. They vary from place to place too and are regularly changed but we make sure people know exactly what is permitted before we begin work.”
One of the proudest moments for the couple was seeing a memorial they made fixed at the National Aboretum in Staffordshire.
It was made five years ago to commemorate the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps and this year the couple have been invited to an anniversary service at Lichfield Cathedral followed by lunch.
“We will go the day before to check the memorial and make sure it is looking its best,” said Amanda.
The couple have also restored many war memorials in villages around Uckfield, such as at Danehill where a lot of the letters were re-cut by hand, Cade Street, Framfield, Fletching, and Horsted Keynes.
They have also worked on Lewes War Memorial, where they added a new name, and they prepared an inscription for the new memorial at The Highlands Inn, Ridgewood, to Spitfire pilot Flt Lt Eugene George Achilles Seghers who was killed when a V1 flying bomb blew up as he steered it away from crashing on Uckfield.
Traditional hand-cutting methods are still used by Derek when requested but the firm also has a machine which enables the work to be done much quicker, three stones in an hour, instead of the three days it would take to carve one by hand.
The whole process of preparing a memorial is a lengthy one, not least because of the length of time it takes for the stone to come through after being ordered – at least 12 weeks.
Derek started his working life in 1976 as a builder after his father persuaded neighbour Roy Fuller to take him on as a labourer. Roy was also a funeral director and Derek was asked to drive the hearse and then to help with making the stones.
Eventually he started his own business and for some time was based in a small building in Old Timbers Lane before moving briefly to Cross in Hand and then eight years ago to The Cemetery Chapel in Snatts Road.
Health and safety was slow to catch up with this trade and it was only in recent years that Derek was asked to take an exam enabling him to join the Register of Qualified Memorial Fixers. The business is also licenced with The British Register of Accredited Memorial Masons.
Derek said: “It is very satisfying to know that when a stone is finished it is going to be there for a long time – it’s not like making a cake which is eaten very quickly. Many headstones here go back to the 1800s.”