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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, by Bernard and Pauline Heathcote, with the results compiled in to a hard to find, out of print book which is well worth getting hold of if you are fortunate enough to come across one.

 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 an 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.  Traditionally, it is thought that an angel motif on a gravestone symbolises the flight of the soul to heaven after death. A close look at the angels’ faces show a variety of facial expressions.

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; symbolic of the sudden appearance of death!

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 two murder victims!

Our Leicestershire Belvoir Angel crawl took place on a sunny June day, not too long after the first national covid lockdown had ended. Churches were open again for private prayer, but at that time had not yet reopened for public worship. We started at Grimston, some six miles north west of Melton Mowbray, moving on to nearby Old Dalby and then on to Long Clawson.


Church Post Code LE14 3BZ

Closed on June 2020 visit but open on subsequent visit.


The first three month national covid lockdown had ended and things were starting to open back up, at least for a time. Churches were allowed to open up for private prayer but it was to be a week or two before they were allowed to open up for communal worship. It was quiet and peaceful in Grimston, a world away from the stresses that the news delivered on a daily basis; our only company being two ladies on horseback. Apart from that, it was simply birdsong, with no traffic at all in the time that we were there.

The church of St John the Baptist dates back to the 13th century, with additions during the15th century and a restoration during the mid 1860’s. This ironstone church consists of west tower, nave with south transept, south porch and chancel. The church here was closed to visitors on the day, but was open a few weeks later when we were next in the area.


Stone to Em Burton


Stone to Mary Henson

The Belvoir Angels here are to be found in the south west corner of the grounds. A finely carved double angel stone can be seen to Mary wife of John Henson who died in 1735 aged 63 years. Two beautifully carved angels were at the top of this stone, with sadly the angel on the right being badly damaged. The angel to the left has beautiful, intricately carved wings and a rather started expression.

Four lines below detailing the details of Mary’s passing are carved in relief. Rather than simply carving out the letters, the background around the letters is carved away leaving the letters themselves standing proud of the grave. What a skill! Here again though we see an error in spacing, with the mason running out of space when trying to fit in the surname of the deceased. The letters suddenly change from capital to lower case and he still does not quite make it!

This stone reads 'Here lyeth the body of Mary ye wife of John Henson  who died August 23rd 1735 her age 63 year' 'Pale death will hardly find another so good a wife nor kind a mother In all her actions so discreet as she who here lies at your feet.

It is suggested that Pale death could refer to a disease, such as cancer. It is worth proposing though that this could refer to the four horsemen of the apocalypse from Revelation in the New Testament. The fourth horse was pale in colour and signified death! It appears that Biblical knowledge was far greater in those days than today and this certainly would have been an image that would have been recognised.

Again, to reinforce how hard the lives were for people at that time, an inscription at the foot of the grave reads 'John & Mary near this stone do lie who died both in their infancy'

A stone to William Morris, who died in 1721 aged 53 years, is also damaged, with the angel lost completely. Below this it reads 'Remember man as thou pass by as thou are now so once was I' A warning to those looking on that they will go the same way as the deceased; therefore live a good Christian life, trust in God and do not be caught short when your own time comes. In days of low life expectancy, it could be later than you think!

The oldest Belvoir Angel here is to Em, the wife of Richard Burton who passed away on Christmas Day 1695 aged 47 years; this stone having a Grade II Listing in its own right.


Church Post Code LE14 3LB

Open to visitors

We moved a short distance to the North West, to the church of St John the Baptist, Old Dalby. The present church is not all that old, dating from 1835 with considerable alterations in 1894. However, it is believed that there was a church on this site from Norman times and the Knights Hospitallers had a preceptory in the village from 1206. There is certainly plenty inside the church, and in the church grounds to indicate that there was a previous structure here.

Interestingly, the church is built from non local sandstone due to the poor weathering of the local ironstone. The present structure consists of west tower, nave with south aisle, north porch, organ chamber/vestry and chancel.


 The Heathcote study recorded 12 Belvoir Angel Stones here, with the majority of these not in situ, but to be found propped up against the perimeter wall, and sadly covered in nettles and brambles. One though, is still standing, close to the path leading to the north porch. This double angel stone dates from 1743, to one Edward Purdey, who died aged 28 years. In between the angels’ wings is a stark warning for anyone looking on ‘Be Ye Also Ready’ 

The epitaph below reads The inscription below continues... 'Through a woman I received the wound which quickly brought my body to the ground   It's sure in time that she will have her due   The murdering hand God's vengence will pursue The debt I ow'd that caused all the strife (one half penny) was very small to cost my sweet life She threatened to give me a mark and made her cause look very dark'

The story is that after drinking at the Durham Ox public house, Purdey was unable to pay the full bill for his drink. The landlady turned her dog on him, which legend has passed down was rabid, the luckless victim dying soon after.


Stone to Edward Purdey


Stone to Mary Davies

Leaning  against a wall, ivy encroaching and the bottom broken off is a  finely crafted double angel stone to Mary Davies; highlighting how hard and sometimes tragic lives the people living at that time went through. The inscription reads…

'Hard Pangs of labour gave Benoni birth the child of sorrows caused ye mothers death  Mary & Anne Davies wife & daughter of Thos Davies and granddaughter of Rob Barnes & Ann his wife lies here interred  Mary died Mar 17th 1725 aged 35 years Anne aged 7 weeks'.

The term Benoni birth is Biblical. In Genesis Chapter 35 verses 16 - 18 Jacob's wife Rachel dies soon after giving birth. Just before she dies she names her son Benoni, which means son of my suffering or son of my sorrows.

Laying flat against the ground and partially buried is the stone to Joseph Welch. In its day this was of fine quality, with the top two lines again being carved in relief. This is a stone of great quality for a family of some means; and again illustrates the harsh conditions that people lived through.

                                   This one reads 'Joseph Welch died Feb the 7th 1722 aged 71 years

                                   Also Will the son of Joseph Welch died Aug 20th 1720 aged 28 years

                                   Also Samuel the son also of Joseph Welch died Octr ye 27th 1721 aged 23 years

                                   Also Alice the wife of Joseph Welch above died May 6th 1703 her age 43 years'

With a little guesswork the inscription below reads ' 'Those who doth behold our stone pray think  how quickly we were gone   Death does not always warning give so be careful how you live' The same warning to the onlooker, which you will find time after time!


Stone to Joseph Welch

william lovett2.jpg

Stone to William Lovett

The stone to Elizabeth Bishop was beautifully crafted but is a little battered and bruised now. 'Come Ye Blessed' was originally carved across the top. Just the word 'blessed' remains now with the angel's left hand wing as we look at it also missing.​

It reads 'Here lies ye body of Elizabeth (the wife of Thomas Bishop) who departed this life November the 15th 1718 her age 38 years'​

The inscription below reads 'Though death has parted you and I our bodys to dust must turn I hope yt (that) we shall meet again you have no cause to mourn Dear friends do not lament for me chere up now your heart  and hope yt you may come to me where we no more will part' By the way 'yt' which is used her a couple of times is an abbreviation for 'that'.


Stone to Elizabeth Bishop

Stone to Elizabeth Harris

Life was really tough during the 18th century; short hard lives and it has to be remembered that these gravestones were for people of some means. Things would have far worse for those who had less and lived in poverty.

A further stone reflects on the loss of another young person 'Here lies the body of Eliz daughter of Charles and Elizabeth Harris she died February 15th 1722 in the 19th year of her age' This have a very moving epitaph  'Sleep thou blessed creature in thy vine my sighs & tears will not awake thee I must live my appointed time and then O then I'll overtake thee'

Looking at the epitaphs on some of the stones, there is a definite trust in God, and an acceptance as to what happened in their earthly lives. A stone to William Lovett, records that he died in April 1694 aged 44 years, along with the wording ‘'Grieve not for me my glass is run it is the Lord his will be done'

Close by a gravestone to one Sarah Elte, who died in 1731 at the age of 52 years, instructing those left behind not to mourn as her death will have given her eternal rewards

'To grieve for me alas it is in vain for your great loss will be my eternal gain  My peace is made with God I hope before I'm gone from hence & shall be seen no more'.


Church Post Code LE14 4ND

Open to visitors


We are deep in to Belvoir angel country here; with around a third of the surviving angels to be found in a triangle of villages, Nether Broughton, Upper Broughton and Hickling. A page will be created covering these three churches at some point. We went through Upper Broughton on our way to Long Clawson, with Nether Broughton and Hickling a short distance away to the north west and north respectively.

Long Clawson is probably most noted for the dairy that can be found in the village, which makes 65% of the total amount of Stilton Cheese sold according to Wikipedia. The beautiful ironstone church here can be found central, alongside the main road which runs through the village. Cruciform in nature, it consists of central tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north and south transepts, north and south porches and chancel.

The church dates from the 14th and 15th centuries, and was restored in 1893. The church has earlier origins although there was no church mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086.

I spent a very pleasant few days in a bed and breakfast here back in 2018; a pleasant village with friendly locals and an open and welcoming church. Memories of excitedly making my way back to the bed and breakfast with a small pack of local speciality cheese from the village shop, to find that I had lost it somewhere on the way back. Am still coming to terms with this loss all those years later!


The Heathcote study recorded 12 Belvoir Angels here, with sadly several of these being quite badly damaged and weathered.  To take a look at a few; the epitaph on the stone to one John Parnham extolls the benefits of living an honest Christian life. He died in January 1709 aged 74 years. 'Marke and behold the upright man how God doth him increase for the just man shall have at length  all joy with rest and peace'

'Come Ye Blessed' is carved across the top of the stone, with the 'ye' carved in to the forehead of the angel itself. The hourglass and crossed bones are to be found top left and right.

He lived to what would have been a good old age in those days. It is incredible to think that this man would have lived through the English Civil War and the Bubonic Plague.

The gravestone to one Elizabeth Fawkes, who died October 31st 1725 aged 61 years, is unusual in that the angel, along with hourglass, crossed bones and heart symbols can be found part way down the stone. The hour glass and crossed bones each remind the onlooker in symbol form that Man is mortal and will die; with the onlooker going the same way as the deceased. The epitaph also passes on the same message which reads 'Reader stand still and shed a tear think of the dust that lyeth here and whilst thou dost read this of me think on the glass that runs for thee’.


Stone to John Parnham


Stone to Elizabeth Fawkes

A double angel grave to Mary and Richard White would have been another wonderful piece of work in its day; but this is another to have suffered damage. The left hand angel as we look at it is all but gone, and the right hand angel appears to have suffered deliberate damage at some point, with the face looking to have been deliberately erased.

It is possible that some of the Vale of Belvoir Angel gravestones were defaced by those of a Puritan nature, who objected to the angel itself. Impossible to tell, but perhaps this is what we have here?

This couple died within two days of each other in February 1727, Mary aged 34 years and Richard aged 41 years. 'A loving husband and a virtuous wife here lies confined both to leave this life Even though their bodys they return to dust Their souls I hope are dwelling with the just'.

The gravestone to Ann Morris is another that is fairly basic by the standards of this firm of stonemasons. There is less detail in the carving, particularly in the wings. There is a single heart against the angel, who appears to be asleep in this depiction!

This stone reads 'Here lieth the body of Ann wife of Francas Morris who departed this life May 16th 1753  her age 36 years' 'Pale death will hardly find another so good a wife and kind a mother A sore disease my body siez'd that pierced me to the heart  Till death gave ease as God did please to cure me of my smart'

As mentioned earlier, 'Pale Death' here could be either a name given to the disease that killed her or perhaps it is from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse where death is said to have ridden a pale horse.


Defaced stone to Mary and Richard White


Stone to Ann White

A gravestone to Ann Smith is battered and bruised. A large amount of the top has been broken away, leaving just the lower portion of the angel's face and one small section of one wing remaining. The stone reads ' Here lieth the body of Ann wife of Richard Smith who died September 2nd 1752 ages 39 years'.

An interesting inscription at the foot of the grave begins by saying 'Farewell vain world I had enough of thee Nor do I value what you think of me' The inscription gets harder to read as it goes on; with the last of it now being sunk below ground level.

This was actually quite a popular epitaph in those days with the full verse reading  roughly along the lines of  ‘Farewell Vain World I have Enough of the and now I'm Careles what thou sayst of me What Fault thou seest in me Take Care to Shun There worke within thy Self That Should be Done Thy Smiles I Court not nor thy Frowns I fear My Cares are past my head lies quiet here'.

A double angel stone to William Fawkes is of great quality; probably my favourite Belvoir Angel stone from these three churches. The three lines of text under the angels being carved in relief, the area around the letters being carved away, leaving the letter itself standing proud of the stone.

It is not in question that the stonemasons who carved these stones had problems with spelling and spacing, what is beyond doubt though is the skills that they possessed in other areas of their craft and the carving on many of these is exceptional.

This stone reads (in relief) Here lies interr'd the body of William Fowkes who departed this life Oct ye 31st 1732 aged 28'

(not in relief) 'You young men all repent in time for I was call's just in my prime   It's much lamented mongst us all so rare a plant so soon should fall for all the country tis their cry O pity he so soon should die'


Pictured left is the area of the church grounds, to the east of the church itself, where several of the Belvoir Angels can be found. Due to their close proximity and positioning it is reasonable to assume that they are not in situ. 


If anyone is interested in taking a look at the site that I set up to look at Belvoir Angels, please click on this photograph to be taken there; with the new page, opening up in another window.

To complete this brief look at the Belvoir Angels to be found in these three church grounds, below are three close ups from Long Clawson.

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