Leicestershire Belvoir Angel Gravestones : Summer 2020

Throughout the summer of 2020 I made occasional trips in to Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. During my visits there I came across many ‘Belvoir Angel’ gravestones. This is a particular type of gravestone; carved in swithland slate, and featuring a large stylised angel, wings unfurled; this being the Belvoir Angel.

Little is known about the people who carved these; but it is suspected that it was three generations of craftsmen from the same stonemasons, who were probably working out of Hickling; close to the Notts/Leics border.

A study was undertaken of these stones in the 1970’s. It was found that more 300 of these stones were still standing; of which roughly a third were to be found in Hickling, and the neighbouring villages of Upper and Nether Broughton.  There are isolated examples in Rutland and Lincolnshire.

These stones have a devoted following and a facebook page devoted to them has a small but enthusiastic membership which has 'unearthed' a few more examples to add to the list compiled during the previous study.

The Belvoir Angel design on these stones takes the form of a stylised angel, wings unfurled and wearing a ruff; with the design normally running across the full width of the stone, which is normally but not always at the top.  Mostly, there is a single angel, but sometimes there are two if for a double grave.  Traditionally, it is thought that an angel motif on a gravestone symbolises the flight of the soul to heaven after death. This is probably what we have here!

The carvings are of great quality, and are sometimes accompanied by, in comparison, crude depictions of things such as crossed bones and hourglasses. One example, at Whatton In The Vale in Nottinghamshire has a depiction of a skeleton just about to throw a dart!

Swithland stone was easy to work with and allowed a lot of text to be included on these stones. With great respect to these fabulous craftsmen; their skill with lettering was less good. Sometimes words were started on one line and finished on another. Letters were sometimes missed out or spelled wrongly. What they do provide is a fascinating piece of history where we can learn a little about the deceased; how they lived and died; the latter being particularly applicable to the grave of a murder victim at Rearsby, Leicestershire.

The earliest grave to be found dates from 1681 at Melton Mowbray; with the last being at Old Dalby, dated 1759. So, this is simply a page covering some of the Belvoir Angel stones that I saw on my Leicestershire travels during 2020.

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Two Belvoir Angels from the church of St John The Baptist, Grimston.  The stone on the left is an early example, dated 1695 and with basic details only. The stone on the right, to Mary Henson who died in 1735, is more elaborate, both in terms of style and content. There is a double angel here, and the grave commemorates Mary and two children who died in infancy.

Text below reads ‘Pale death will hardly find another, so good a wife and mother, I all her actions so discreet, As she wo here lies at your feet’.

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Two examples from the church of St Peter, Redmile.  A third gravestone, sadly very weathered, has the words ‘Remember Death’ across the top and the following verse below 

You readers all both old and young, Your time on earth will not be long, For death will come and die you must, And like to us return to dust’.

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Whilst I was at the church of St Peter, Rearsby a lady saw me in the church grounds and we had a chat. When she knew my interest in gravestones, she was keen to show me the following Belvoir Angel stone, which is of great interest. . It is to murder victim Edward Hubbert, who was killed at the age of 22, being buried in October 1712. This one has not weathered well over the years but is still worth showing here. The text below reads

"A Fatall Knife His Mortall Body Slew The murdering hand God’s vengeance will pursue

From shades serene tho justice took her flight Shall not ye Judge of all ye earth do Right

With dolefull Sighs & sad heart rending groans Each age and Sex his innocence Bemoans"

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The grounds at the church of St Remigius, Long Clawson (with photographs above and below) have many Belvoir Angel stones. Some are badly faded and hard to read sadly.  A stone to John Parnham, who died in 1709. aged 64 years, reads 'Marke and behold the upright man, How God doth him increase, For the just man shall have at length, Great joy with rest and peace'

A double grave to Margaret and Henry Marriott, who passed away in  1727 and 1753 respectively reads 'Grieve not for us dear friends our glass is run, It is ye Lord and let his will be done, With confidence pure we hope to see God's face, And rise again to glorifie his grace'.

A further grave simply reads 'Memento Mori' at the top 'Remember Death' in the same fashion; others read 'Be Ye Also Ready'

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Above left, Belvoir Angel from the church of St Andrew, Twyford. Note that this had a crude depiction of an hourglass on either side of the angel. This is to symbolise the passing of time, 'Tempus Fugit'. Man is mortal and will die. Above right, Belvoir Angel from the church of St John The Baptist, Old Dalby. There are several Belvoir Angel stones here, with one having the inscription 'To grieve for me alas it is in vain, For your great loss is my eternal gain, My peace is made with god I hope before, I am gone from here and shall be seen no more'.

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Above and below, photographs from the church of St Peter, Saxelbye. The Belvoir Angel stones here are close to the path which leads to the south porch. Close examination saw a couple of quotes from scripture. 'Blessed are they that in the Lord they die from their labours they rest eternally' is a substantial part of Revelation Chapter 14 verse 13 and Philippians Chapter 1 verse 23 which reads  'For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better'. This is right at the very bottom of one of the gravestones, nearly lost as it sinks in to the ground. Fascinating to think that this might be a verse that was especially important to a person 300 odd years ago as they neared the end of their earthly life.

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So, here we have a small selection of the Belvoir Angel gravestones seen in Leicestershire during 2020. Fascinating things; each one a little work out art and the majority still sending out the same message that it sent out on the first day that it was set in to the ground. They speak of what we need to do to gain eternal life; in days when this was important to a higher number of people than it is today. They speak of the earthly sufferings that we go through but also of the reward that is at the end of that suffering for those who persevere. They also speak of the people; their character, their lives and their deaths. Wonderful things!