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Church Post Code LE14 3ET

Church closed to visitors

Visited April 2021

A Look At The Belvoir Angel Gravestones To Be Found There

I revisited the church of St Mary at Nether Broughton on a fine sunny spring day in 2021; with this being part of a Belvoir Angel crawl which took in a dozen or so churches.

 There is a description of Belvoir Angel gravestones on the page entitled ‘Leicestershire Belvoir Angels’ on this site; just to briefly recap here though, these are a particular type of gravestone, carved in slate, with the central motif, the Belvoir Angel, consisting of an angel, with wings outstretched, with finely crafted wings, wearing a ruff. These date from the very late 17th century to the mid 18th century.

Little is known about the stone masons who carved these but it is suggested that it was three or more generations of a firm which worked out of or close to Hickling. These stones were studied in the 1970’s by Bernard and Pauline Heathcote; who recorded over 300 of these stones still standing with around a third of these to be found in a triangle of villages, Nether Broughton, Upper Broughton and Hickling, on the Leicestershire/Nottinghamshire border. The Heathcote study recorded 34 Belvoir Angel stones in the church grounds here and I will take a look at some of these here.

I wanted to take a look in a little detail at one of these three churches, picking Nether Broughton of the three; but either of the others would have made an equally interesting study.


The village of Nether Broughton can be found on the main road which connects Melton Mowbray to Nottingham, with Melton being five and a half miles or so to the south east. In those long ago sepia tinted days there used to be a bus route which ran from Peterborough to Nottingham, which ran through Nether and Upper Broughton; which some might recall was run by Kimes, then CentreBus and then it was no more; going the same way as many other bus routes seen as unsustainable. I often used this and spent a few pleasant afternoons in the Broughton’s.

The church here is dedicated to St Mary, and can be found at the very northern tip of the village; on the junction of roads which leads to Long Clawson to the east and Hickling to the north. The village was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, but no church or priest was recorded here at that time. The church that we see today dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries, with clerestory added and chancel rebuilt during the 15th century. There was restoration here during the 1880’s, at which point the south porch was removed with the visitor now entering through a door in the west face of the tower. The church, which is built of ironstone with limestone dressing, consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories and chancel.


The church grounds at Nether Broughton are quiet and peaceful; the sun was blazing down, pleasantly warm with the Ironstone church of St Mary looking exquisite. There is a fairly long path which leads from the south to the entrance in the west face of the tower; the Grade II Listed war memorial close by, with a bench set under the shade of a tree facing east. The church grounds are fairly long and there are large parts of the church grounds where there are no gravestones at all. The main interest here is in the mass of slate gravestones closer to the south of the church, with several leaning against the south wall of the church itself.


Just to mention a couple of other slate gravestone first, which are not Belvoir Angels; The first depicts Old Father Time, with impressive wings, holding an hourglass and a scythe. One foot is resting on a plinth, upon which is written ‘Prepare to meet thy God’. Close by is a depiction of a human skull with crossed bones. The other stone is also rich in symbolism; with a winged skull rising up towards Heaven, with a cross and hourglass to either side. A crown of glory can be seen above the clouds; two trumpets emerge from the clouds symbolising resurrection.

The skull and hourglass are symbols of Man’s mortality, the cross being an obvious symbol of Christian faith. The skull being winged symbolises the safe escorting of the soul towards Heaven and their final reward as they claim the crown of glory with resurrection on the final day.


As with these stones just mentioned, the Belvoir Angel stones here also have symbols and epitaphs which remind the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die; the onlooker will go the way of the deceased; therefore be prepared! Live a good Christian life, trust in God and do not be caught short when your own time comes. In hard times such as those were, with low life expectancy, it might be later than you think! This is very much a Biblical concept with Matthew Chapter 25 recording one of Jesus’ parables; the wise and foolish bridesmaids, which tells of the importance of not being caught lacking when Jesus returns!

The stonemasons here used two main symbols to denote the mortality of Man; the hourglass and crossed human bones. The hourglass symbolises the passing of time ‘tempus fugit’ time flies whilst the crossed human bones are an often used symbol of mortality.

john bird.jpg

Before I take a look at the church grounds here in a little detail, I am picking an epitaph from another Belvoir Angel stone, this one to be found at the church of St Margaret at Owthorpe in Nottinghamshire, just to emphasise just how hard the lives were for people at that time.

'Memento Mori' is carved across the top of the stone to John Bird. Remember Death! The script continues 'John Bird who departed this life Jan 29th 1724 aged 35 year'

'A loving husband and father dear  He was the same yt (that) lies interred here  Also Eliz ye daughter of John Bird afore by Ellin his wife died Jan 6th 1724 aged 5 year  Also Garvis son of John Bird also by Ellin his wife died Sept 20th 1724 aged 5 year Also Ellin the wife of John Bird first mentioned above died March 22nd 1729 aged 41 y  Also Ellin the daughter of John Bird like wife died October the 2nd 1730 aged 20 years'

Gravestone to John Bird, Owthorpe, Nottinghamshire

'Nigh to this stone these children lies their race was short yet won ye prize Do not for us in tears remain your loss we hope will be our gain'.

What terribly hard lives these people led. On many occasions short lives as well. I have come across several very sad stories whilst compiling this; but this stone really got to me! Three family members passed away within nine months with two more following a few years later. Daughter Ellin would have been around 14 years old when her father, brother and sister died. She would have been 19 when her mother passed before dying herself a year later aged 20. Death was all around them, as the stone says 'Memento Mori' Remember Death!


Stone to William Wright Senior


Stone to George Browne

Back to the church grounds at Nether Broughton, 'Come Ye Blessed' is carved across the top of the stone to William Wright Senior, which leans against the wall of the church, along with the hourglass and crossed bones.  Heart symbols can be seen either side of what must be said is a rather perplexed looking angel.

This is a beautifully crafted stone; which is in wonderful condition.  It reads 'Here lies the body of William Wright Senior he departed this life the 6th day of Sept 1719 in the 67th year of his age' The stark epitaph below follows…'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 me return to dust'.

The same symbols, along with the script ‘Memento Mori’, remember death, can be seen across the top of the gravestone to George Browne who died in 1720. This stone has sunk down with any epitaph below now below ground.

A finely carved double angel stone to one Richard Wright is leaning over and partially sunk in to the ground, it passes on the same message : be prepared for death could come suddenly. It reads 'Here lies the body of Richard Wright who departed this life Sept ye 20th 1728 aged 43 years'

'All you that do behold this stone pray think how quickly I was gone Death does not always warning give so be carefull how you live Repent therefore no time delay I in my strength was call'd away'


Stone to Elizabeth Goodbourn


Stone to Dorothy Man

The stone to Elizabeth Goodbourn is another of very high quality; the majority being carved in relief, with the area around the letters being carved away, leaving the letters themselves standing proud.

There is no symbolism on this one, with the date of her passing occupying the spots where the hour glass and crossed bones would often be placed. The script, although mostly lost, gives an indication as to the manner of her death 'Here lies the body of Elizabeth the wife of John Goodbourn who departed this life Nov ye 25th 1729 aged 34 years.

The epitaph at the foot of the grave is mostly lost under the ground, Just the first line can still be seen, which says 'Pale death will hardly find another'

Pale Death here is thought to be a reference to illness such as cancer but there could also be a second meaning; with pale death being Biblical, with Revelation Chapter 6 verse 6 reading ‘I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death’ possibly therefore, this could just be another way of saying death.

These were tough times and death could come swiftly and in a number of ways. Sadly, many mothers and babies were lost in childbirth. The stone to Dorothy Man tells another sad tale. Much of the epitaph at the foot of the grave is lost now below ground level but the Heathcote study recorded the first line as saying 'Hard Pangs of Labour'

This indicates, sadly that the lady died in childbirth.  A few have epitaphs which read ‘Hard Pang of Labour Gave Benoni Birth. Which implies that the mother died but the baby lived.

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.

This stone is inscribed 'Dorothy wife of Henry Man Junior departed this life the 17th day of December 1727 in ye 25th year of her age  Hard pangs of labour...'


Stone to Rebecca Whitcary and her daughter Elizabeth

A gravestone to Rebecca Whitcary and her daughter Elizabeth could well tell the same tale. Rebecca, the mother died in 1728 ages 25 years. Elizabeth her daughter followed her 14 months later in her second year. Perhaps Rebecca died in childbirth with her daughter surviving but following her those months later.

The stone itself here has two Belvoir Angels and is unique among those that I have seen as the angel to the right of the grave is smaller than the one on the left; Rebecca having the full sized angel with her daughter having the smaller angel.

Passed over for nearly 300 years at the time of typing this, but it is still hard not to feel for these people. Death would have surrounded them for their entire lives. Those who survived childhood were not guaranteed to live to their 30's.  A married couple who each lived to their late 60's would have been the exception rather than the rule. People could still live to an old age, but life expectancy was low!

It is worth noting as well that the people commemorated on these stones had disposable income to be able to afford one! These would have been the relatively well off . How much worse things would have been for those families living in poverty!

This beautiful double angel stone, divided in to two columns, reads 'Rebecca the wife of George Whiticary departed this life the 15th day of February 1728 her age 25 years. Also Eliz the daughter of George Whiticary by Rebecca his wife departed this life April the 7th 1729 in the 2nd year of her age'

The epitaph is sunken in to the ground a little but the first three lines read 'Twas Gods command that I should not live with thee To obay his wish that thou'st come to die by me In this vain world there is no certain rest...


Stone to Mary Palin

Stone to Anne Man

God’s wishes on a person’s life, or death in these cases, are sometimes mentioned in the epitaphs, the belief being that the deceased had lived out their allotted days and gone on to their eternal reward; even if the person died young. 

With regards the belief that Man’s days are allotted, tt says in Job Chapter 14 that ‘A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed’.

Given what these people lived through it is not surprising that there is a Bible quote from Job on one of these stones. This comes in the form of a stone to William Browne, with script across the top of the gravestone reading 'In the days of my appointed time will I wait until my change comes' This is from Job Chapter 14 verse 14.

Underneath are the hour glass and crossed bones, the former now lost through damage. This one is inscribes 'Here lies the body of William Browne senr who died Dec 10th in the 78th year of his age 1720'. This stone is sunk in to the ground a little and any epitaph is lost as a result.

A gravestone to Elizabeth Widowson, who died in December 1742 aged 18 years has the following epitaph   'Grieve not for me my glass is run it is the Lord his will be done To grieve for me alas it is in vain for your great loss is my eternal gain So do not weep but to the Lord do pray that we may meet again another day' This stone is another to be propped up against the church itself and, by the standards of the others, hasn't weathered so well.

The theme of death heralding an eternal reward is continued with the stone to Anne Man having 'To Die Is Gain' written across the top, much of this text now weathered away. This is a quote from Philippians Chapter 1 verse 21.

This is a high quality stone, with the top two lines being carved in relief; the background around the lettering being carved away leaving the lettering standing proud of the rest of the stone.


Stone to William Browne

Stone to Elizabeth Widowson

A stone to another William Wright is hard to read, being surrounded by other gravestones. If we see acceptance in many of these stones, in the harshest of conditions, here we see a message from the deceased, advising those left behind, and those looking on in the years since this stone was carved and set, not to mourn or grieve, but to simply keep their eye on eternity; live a good Christian life and trust in God.

I struggled to decipher the epitaph at the foot of this stone but it was recorded by the Heathcote's in their study.

'Here lies the body of William Wright who departed this life Mar the 4th 1733 his age 58 years' 'Farewell my wife and children dear which in this world I've left behind Do not lament nor shed a tear eternity be sure you mind'

Reading these epitaphs, there is a real feeling of acceptance of death; a person’s days being numbered and the deceased meeting up with their loved ones again when they also pass on. The closest that we see to any real rage here comes on a stone to Rebecca Browne with the anger directed at death itself.

This stone is sadly split in half from top to bottom. In the Heathcotre's listing they have a full inscription so I am assuming that the damage happened in recent years. They recorded this stone as follows...

'Here lies the body of Rebecca the wife of Richard Browne senr She died Mar 10th 1726 aged 62 years 'O cruall death yt |(that) could co cruall be to take ye fruit & then cut down ye tree  Hard hearted death thou was yt wod not spare a kind a loving wife & mother dear' This script appears out of keeping with the other inscriptions here.


Stone to William Wright


Stone to Rebecca Browne

 Belvoir Angels are fascinating; both in terms of the gravestones themselves and what we can pick up of the lives that these people lived around 300 years ago. I have had a great interest in them since seeing my first one at Muston in Lincolnshire several years before. The craftsmanship is superb and each in its own way is a little work of art. I have tended to concentrate here though, as hard as it is at times, on the social aspect of how these people lived during the first half of the 18th century, told in the gravestone epitaphs.

We see a people who lived, for the most part, short lives by our standards. We see death as a part of their everyday life with their days numbered beforehand; trusting in God and confident that they will be reunited with their loved ones On Jesus’ return.

This was to be the last church visited of the day; with some beautiful churches visited in fabulous lighting. We headed home, travelling south east back to the west of Peterborough. A very successful churchcrawl!

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