I was strimming the grass of the graveyard in Rayliegh church in Essex today - 16th May 2012. We came upon this grave with a skull and crossbone on. The grave stone is unusually close to the church wall. At first we thought it might be an old plague victim, but there are several of these gavestones in Paglesham in Essex - another parish within Rochford where I work. They (Skull and Crossbone graves) are used inside Paglesham church as floor pavements and are in better condition. They are obviously taken from their graveyard for I doubt people are buried inside the village church beneath the walkway. I have since learnt that skull and crossbone graves were very common in the 1600 to the 1760. The one in Rayliegh Church graveyard is dated 1730, but is so worn it is hard to decipher. I think it is symbolic of the dead person communicating with the reader - a message saying 'the way I am' - as in deceased at this moment. I think some of the words of this grave read: Here Lyeth the Body of Me. REBE KAH MERRYFIELD. WIFE OF THO MERRYFIELD. Departed life March -- 1730.
I presume REBE KAH means Rebecca or a strange spelling of. I am sure she is not a plague victim now and it can't be anything criminal because in 1730 I think criminals were not allowed to be buried on church ground. Therefore, I am of the opinion that it means something personal from the deceased saying the way they are now as you 'the reader' deciphers the gravestone.
I wonder if the same stone masons who made this gravestone, made the ones in Paglesham church too. They look very alike and to see the Paglesham grave stones; click the next link and you may agree. http://www.flickr.com/photos/barryslemmings/194279633/