A history buff is pursuing a grave hobby – by attempting to photograph every single tombstone in her home county.
Lou Cocker, 48, has so far photographed over 220,000 gravestones and memorials in more than 700 cemeteries and churchyards around Norfolk.
But Lou reckons she is only about 70 per cent of the way through completing her unusual project – and with new gravestones being added to Norfolk’s cemeteries every day.
Her photo collection so far dates as far back as the 1600s – and Lou and her mum, Angela Parke, even clean up some of the older gravestones to make the inscriptions more visible.
Lou, from North Walsham, has spent over a decade putting together her photo collection – and keeps spreadsheets documenting the gravestones she has photographed so far.
And as she documents each gravestone, she sends the details to ancestry website Findmypast – to help people who may be trying to track down their family members buried in Norfolk.
Lou said: “I just think that this is really important to do for future generations, so that they might be able to trace their family back.
“It’s becoming so popular now for people to want to know where they came from – hopefully this will help.
“I have had people contact me through Ancestry.com about some of the photographs I’ve taken.
“But because I’ve got so many photographs, I haven’t really had a chance to put names to all of them yet.
“In some of the places I’ve been to, there are thousands and thousands of gravestones in just one cemetery or churchyard.
“I don’t think it’s something I will ever be able to actually complete, because sadly people die every day.”
Lou, who works as a shift manager for a supermarket, said her “weird” hobby began around 12 years ago, when she started to research her own family tree.
She said: “I was never really into history when I was at school, but when I started trying to trace my own family tree, and track down their gravestones, I just found it absolutely fascinating.
“Most of my family has been based in Norfolk back to the early 1800s – but I’ve been trying for years to trace down my great-grandmother.
“I haven’t been able to find her, or get to the bottom of what happened to her.
“Then when I started photographing other gravestones, my own family tree took a bit of a back seat, and this kind of took over. It became a bit of a weird hobby.
“I just find cemeteries are actually quite lovely, peaceful places to be. You get lots of wildlife coming through them.
“And some of the stones you see are so decorative and ornate, they’re like works of art.
“They’re all done by hand, and some of the verses you see on them are just amazing.
“You can find out a lot of history from a gravestone – sometimes it will say who that person’s father and mother were, or their occupation, or whether they lived abroad for so many years.
“It’s such a shame when you see that some of these stones have been completely grown over by grass and have disappeared.
“But if I come across something like that and it’s still accessible, I will do my best to clean it up and photograph it.
“You’d be surprised what a bit of water can do for some of these stones.”
Lou added: “It can be quite heartbreaking when you see young children who have been buried, or when you see whole families that are wiped out. I do try and switch off from that.
“But it also makes you realise that we are really, really lucky these days to have the medical and scientific advances that we do today.”
Lou said that she has some cemeteries and churchyards on her list that she needs to revisit later in the year, when they are not so overgrown with summer blooms.
And she is also looking forward to being able to travel again once Covid restrictions allow – so that she can photograph war graves and war memorials abroad.
She said: “I tend to plan a lot of my travels around visiting war graves abroad – in cities like Hamburg, Cyprus, Krakow, and Berlin.
“I’m hoping as soon as lockdown eases I can get back overseas and go and visit some more of those.”