Memorial masons reach milestone

By John Maslin

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Jacob Corbett, who started his apprenticeship with Anderson Memorials in October, drills a vase holder in a granite base. Photo/Stuart Munro
Jacob Corbett, who started his apprenticeship with Anderson Memorials in October, drills a vase holder in a granite base. Photo/Stuart Munro

If ever a business in Wanganui can point to a tangible sign of its enterprise, then Anderson Memorials is one of them.

From the historic Heads cemetery to the currently expanding Aramoho cemetery, and in cemeteries in neighbouring districts, headstones made by the company are there in vast numbers.

At the end of this month, Anderson Memorials celebrates its centennial, with an afternoon get-together for current and former staff at Heritage House on the afternoon of May 31 and a dinner at the Grand Hotel that night.

Richard Anderson is a grandson of the company's founder, Andrew Peter Anderson, and although retired still finds himself involved in the business. He spent the last 12 months putting the finishing touches to a book celebrating the company's 100 years, picking up on work started by his father, the late Les Anderson.

Today Tony Anderson, the great grandson of the founder, runs the business and still from the same Aramoho site where it all began.

That the company is at the top end of Somme Pde and right across the road from the Aramoho cemetery is more a matter of luck rather than management.

"AP worked for a monumental mason striking out on his own. But a year after he started the business [1914] the cemetery was created," Richard Anderson said.

Some of the headstones in the old Heads Rd cemetery are the work of his grandfather.

"As far as our business is concerned it spans five generations. It started with AP Anderson, his son Les [my father], then me, then my son Tony and his son Daniel. Daniel served his time with us but is currently in Australia," he said.

While firmly rooted in Aramoho, the family business has branches in Palmerston North and Feilding and that spread has been responsible for its growth.

In his time as a monumental mason, Mr Anderson said there had been significant changes in how the headstones are created.

"When I started it was all hammer and chisel before we went to using a pneumatic hammer. Sandblasting followed even though that still meant we had to mark the letters onto the stone.

"We still use sandblasting today but computers are used to mark out the inscription before we transfer the masking onto the stone and sandblast it," he said.

Very little work is in marble these days, with the majority done in granite.

"The marble was used at a time when we used to beat lead into the letters etched on the stone but after a while the lead drops out. When the NZ Master Monumental Masons Association was formed in 1945 they wanted to get away from the use of lead because they were looking for something that was far more permanent. That's when granite came into vogue."

Years ago a couple of Kiwi firms used to import blocks of granite, cut it, shape it and polish it and the monumental masons would buy it from them. Now Anderson Memorials is part of a group which buys the granite direct from India and China.

"It comes here by the container-load but the group buying power means we can do things cheaper than we used to because it cuts out the middleman," he said.

Mr Anderson said the days of the ostentatious monument marking a grave site are now long gone.

When he started in the family business in 1951, the lawn area of the Aramoho cemetery was yet to be started. Until then graves used to be fully covered with concrete and plaster along with a headstone. But the lawn cemetery limits the headstone to being positioned on a small berm.

"There's a maximum height of about 1.4m for headstones in the Aramoho lawn cemetery so we couldn't put in anything like the big, ornate monuments you see in the older part of the cemetery," he said.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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