Thousands of people have been buried in the Abbey over the centuries, and many of them are commemorated by the beautiful memorial stones which dominate the interior of the Abbey. The wall memorials have frequently been moved around in the Abbey; so that an individual stone may not be near the spot where a person was buried. Sadly, some of the stones which are recorded in early lists of memorials have been lost, probably during the ‘restorations’ which took place in the 19th century.
Until then most of the memorials were fixed rather haphazardly to the nave pillars; however, Gilbert Scott took the opportunity during his great restoration of the 1860s to move them back to the main walls where they can be seen today. He also lifted the ledger stones in the floor in order to put in a central heating system, but relaid many of these in different positions. If you look closely around the South Transept you will see that some ledger stones have even been chopped in half to make them fit the available space.
Not everyone commemorated on a memorial stone was actually buried in the Abbey. Many people came to Bath to take the waters for their health and died in the city; and it was not uncommon for a service to be held for them in the Abbey, after which the body would be taken back to their home for burial.
Many of the ledger stones in the floor are hidden by the pews, or are so worn that they cannot be deciphered. Fortunately, a record was made of all the inscriptions in the 1870s when the present pews were built, so it is possible to check the wording of a particular floor stone even if it is not physically accessible.
Top Five Facts
- The Abbey has 617 wall memorials and 847 floor stones. Many of these commemorate more than one individual; and often an entire family. There are also a number of war memorial plaques which commemorate soldiers who died in the First Anglo-Afghan War (1841-42), the First World War (1914-18), and the Second World War (1939-45).The earliest memorial is to Richard Chapman, an Alderman of the city; who died 1 May 1572. It can be found in the north choir aisle next to the Alphege Chapel.
The last memorial to be installed in the Abbey is in the north choir aisle and is to Sir Isaac Pitman, who died in 1897. A plaque commemorating the famous inventor of the phonetic alphabet and shorthand system was dedicated in 1958.
Not all the memorials are to the ‘Great and the Good’; and you did not have to be rich or from the aristocracy to be commemorated in the Abbey. People from all walks of life are represented - from the Chilton family who were plumbers in Bath in the early 19th century to sugar plantation owners from Jamaica and Barbados.
In 1676 the historian Anthony Wood visited the Abbey and reported that the memorial stones in the south aisle floor were already wearing away, due to people using the Abbey as a short cut through to the bowling green at the east end of the church.
Memorials Database project
We are currently working with volunteers to create a database of all the wall and floor memorials in the Abbey. This will replace the typewritten indexes which are used at present; and will for the first time include transcriptions of the ledger stones as well as those of the wall memorials. As part of this project, photography of all the wall memorials is in progress. A great deal of thought, time and effort, more than eighteen months of work so far, has been spent on this project. However. once complete, the database will make it easier and quicker for anyone wanting to find an individual stone and to answer related queries about whoever you are trying to find whether it is for academic research, to complete a family tree or purely out of interest.
Transcriptions and photographs
Inscriptions from wall and floor memorials are available on request from the archives. We can also supply photographs of the wall memorials for personal and research purposes. There is no charge for this but donations towards the cost of our work are always welcome.
There is also a small section about the Abbey’s memorials in the Archives section under Family History. Please click here to view.