Gravestones at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery, Oxford sculpted by the Grimsley family

Here are some of the gravestones in St Sepulchre’s Cemetery made by local sculptor Thomas Grimsley and/or his sons Frederick and Henry.

Hewlett grave
Thomas Hewlett (1862)

Susannah Mills
Susannah Mills (1874)

Von Ellrodt
Ferdinand von Ellrodt (1873)

Walton Muncaster (1862, believed to be by Thomas Grimsley)

Anonymous grave

Susannah Mills

Von Ellrodt

Above: The above three Grimsley graves are anonymous, as the plaques that were once stuck in the recesses have been lost. The one in the middle is identical in style to the von Ellrodt grave above, but has sunk down into the ground.

Grimsley mark

: This very special grave in the form of a
church is probably that of Stephen Reay, whose
vault is described as being near the chapel door

Grimsley mark

Left: “GRIMSLEY OXFORD” appears on the side of many of the grave markers

Right: This fallen grave shows that the terracotta is hollow

Terracotta church

Grimsley advert 1880Above: Advertisement placed by Frederick Grimsley in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 3 July 1880

Grimsley advert, 10 October 1885

The advertisement on the left appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 10 October 1885, and gives useful information about the standard Grimsley terracotta gravestones. They were all of stone colour, about 4 feet high (or 3 feet 3 inches out of ground), and were the same on both sides. They cost 30 shillings each, and were reckoned to be more durable than stone or iron. It clarifies that Henry Grimsley was the sculptor, chief designer and supervisor of the ecclesiastical marble, stone, and granite department, and his brother Frederick Grimsley was the sculptor, chief designer, and supervisor of modellers and the terracotta branch.

Grimsley offered sixteen different styles of basic terracotta headstone, costing thirty shillings each, with an incised and coloured inscription costing 1s. 6s. per dozen letters. His last advertisement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal appeared on 13 February 1886:

PATENTED TERRA-COTTA 30s. MEMORIALS (Stone Colour). Acknowledged, after 25 years, to be more durable than stone or iron. Height about 4 ft., alike both sides. Christian artistic designs. Illustrated sheets and testimonials free. The Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of Oxford, after visiting the works, writes — “There are may persons who are unable to erect Monuments in stone to whom your Memorials will be of great service. In most respects they appear to me to be very good, &c.” HENRY GRIMSLEY, Sculptor, Designer, & Supervisor of Marble, &c., Department. F. GRIMSLEY, Sculptor, ditto of Terra Cotta Branch. Orders, &c., to WINDETT WOODS, Managing Director, Oxford Artistic, &c., Co., Limited, Walton-street, Oxford.

At an Extraordinary General Meeting held at the company’s Walton Street office on 4 May 1888, the following resolution was passed, signed by the Company Chairman, William Windett Woods: “That the Company be wound up voluntarily, under the provisions of the Companies Acts, 1862 to 1886, and that William Windett Woods, of 68, St James-road, Tunbridge Wells, be and is hereby appointed Liquidator for the purpose of such winding up.” Thenceforth there were no more Grimsley gravestones erected in any of the Oxford cemeteries.

Extract from John Ashdown’s article
“Grave markers, terracotta, and the Grimsley family of monumental masons of St Giles, Oxford”

Grimsley was a competent but not inspired sculptor, able to work in marble, stone, or clay. He also understood the firing technology of converting clay casting into hard ceramic terracotta. In addition to creating quality church monuments and memorial tablets, he had interests in fireproof construction, the supply of terracotta building materials, garden ornaments, and grave markers.

Cross from price list

The design, detail, and Christian symbolism of the Grimsleys’ terracotta grave markers, of which a large number exist in some 18 forms, enables their distinctive style to be recognized in a number of sandstone memorials. This visual assessment is reinforced by fragments of a photographic price list of memorials probably issued in 1863. This illustrates terracotta grave markers but includes two stone examples. One is a plain white cross, the other more importantly is a sandstone form dated 1862 nearly identical to a common Grimsley terracotta marker, the shouldered decorated headed cross with vines.


Left: Drawing of terracotta shouldered decorative cross before 1856, taken from price-list. The cross has “IHS” in the centre and is decorated with vines.


Other features other than a shape associated with the St Giles’s workshop are winged heads and Jesus as the Good Shepherd [as seen on the grave of Susannah Mills].

At the lower end of the Grimsleys’ memorial price range, terracotta grave markers had been made since the 1840s in small numbers. They were sold to purchasers located all over southern middle England from the River Severn to Kent, and between Birmingham and Southampton. The majority were produced in the 1870s and were products of Thomas Grimsley’s sons Henry and Frederick. Distinctively the markers can have an impressed mark on the side near ground level: this generally read GRIMSLEY OXFORD, and the sons often added H + F in front or used the words GRIMSLEYS PATENT alone or with OXFORD below.

Terracotta is a coarse heavy fired ceramic with a smooth external surface, generally in Grimsley’s case, a buff or pink colour. The markers were cast in moulds, made in parts, and bonded together. The dedication inscriptions are cut into the terracotta or placed on an applied stone tablet in recessed panels. The appearance of the markers reflects the character and symbolism of the Christian tradition as developed in the nineteenth-century Gothic Revival.

The Grimsleys’ terracotta markers may also be found in Holywell Cemetery and in Oxford churchyards, including SS Mary and John, Cowley Road Ceramic grave markers are not common in England and the Grimsley series is the largest. The only comparable but smaller series comprises the grave markers, often with kerbs, made at the Compton Pottery in Surrey in the first half of the twentieth century.

There are also Grimsley terracotta grave markers in places outside Oxford:

  • Berkshire (Beenham, Kidmore End, and Shinfield)
  • Gloucestershire (Miserden), Kent (Ramsgate)
  • Oxfordshire (Mapledurham)
  • Somerset (Frome)
  • South Yorkshire (Tickhill)
  • Warwickshire (Stratford-upon-Avon)

Biography of Thomas Grimsley and his sons

Grimsley gravestones in Mary & John churchyard in east Oxford

© Friends of St Sepulchre’s Cemetery 2012–2017