Belvoir Angel Gravestones : Nottinghamshire 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 Nottinghamshire travels during 2020.

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Above and below, photographs of Belvoir Angel stones from the church of St John of Beverley, Whatton In The Vale. There are ten stones of this type listed here, with several of them being to members of the Carpdedale family, with all dating from the first half of the 18th century. One of these, to Thomas Carpendale, who died in 1718 aged 58 years, has the following epitaph to him and his wife 'A loving husbands and a courteous wife, here lies confined both to leave this life, and tho their bodies they are turned to dust, their souls I hope are dwelling with the just'.

Below is a headstone to John Oliver, again from Whaton, who died in 1723 aged 50 years. This, as mentioned above, has death in the form of a skeleton, holding an arrow/dart with which he will take the life of the deceased. This is quite weathered but it looks as if the skeleton is holding a trumpet in its other hand. If this is the case, then this is an often used symbol of the resurrection and would be a reflection as to the faith of the deceased. He had lived a good life and would be resurrected on the final day. These gravestones often had symbols of the mortality of man on them such as crossed bones or an hourglass, or wording such as 'Be Ye Also Ready' but this is the only time that I have seen this design on one of these stones.

The idea of remembering your own death was important at that time and gravestones were often used as a means to get that message across. Life expectancy was low and an illness that is treatable easily today could kill you back then. In Bingham churchyard, a Belvoir Angel stone to one Thomas Whales reads 'Remember man as thou pass by, as thou art now so once was I'.

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The photographs below are from the church grounds at Hickling. There are many here, leaving some to believe that the craftsmen who created these worked from here or close to here. The church grounds here are a wonderful sight. The gravestones here are mainly of slate and are, given that they are of slate, are in good condition. There are 33 Belvoir Angel gravestones listed here, with a few having the details of more than one person on them, such as the names of children who deceased before the parent. 

With regards the point made earlier that many died earlier in life in those days I thought that it would be interesting to look at the ages of the deceased on these graves. Remarkably, only seven people made it past 50; the longest lived being 74 (on two occasions). No fewer than 18 were listed as having died before they reached 30. In a society that placed belief in God more strongly, to be fair, than most do today this would explain why this message was so important. Death was a part of every day life for these people. Short, hard lives. At least be prepared and be at peace with God when your time comes!

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A gravestone at Hickling to Margaret Gill, who died at the age of 51 years in 1740 has the following epitaph 'She that lies here interrd was in her life, a tender mother and a loving wife, A quiet neighbour, to the poor a friend, happy is she that such a life doth end'. This stone is also interesting as it shows another trademark of this firm of stonemasons... spacing problems!  On many of these gravestones the stonemason runs out of space, with letters, or sometimes complete words, fitted in above or below the line. Here, it looks as if the mason realised that he was going to struggle to fit in the name Margaret, having taken a great deal of space is carving out the word 'body'. The letters became scrunched up, with the final letter 't reduced in size and just fitting in. All part of the rustic charm of these!

Note the different style of the gravestone included above left. The same Belvoir Angel design but different in style and probably by a different firm of stonemasons.

Sometimes, looking at some small print on a grave can lead to a greater understanding of how hard, people's lives were at that point in history. A double angel grave reads 'for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven'. This is part of Matthew Chapter 19 verse 14. The full verse in the NIV reads 'Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Looking at the details for this grave brings out some depth to this text. The gravestone records the deaths of four children born to John and Margaret Daft in the first quarter of the 18th century. Anne, age not recorded, died in 1713; Robert died in 1719 at the age of three years. Anne, who would have been named after the previous deceased daughter of the same name also died in 1719, with age again unrecorded. Margaret died in 1723, aged four years.

With regards the unrecorded ages; it is more than possible that both were very young children, and possibly were still born. A partial Bible verse brining back the heartache that hit a family around 300 years ago.

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 There are five recorded Belvoir Angel stones in the church grounds at St Mary, Staunton In The Vale. A grave to Thomas Musson, who died in 1722 aged 67 years reads 'Remember man that to die thou must and like to me return to dust'.

A gravestone to William Brown, who died in 1725, at the age of 49 years reads 'all you who do behold my stone, pray think how quickly I was gone, death does not always warning give, therefore be careful how you live, repent therefore no time delay, I in my prime was snatch'd away'.

A gravestone to Hannah Musson, wife of John, who died in 1722 aged 37 years has an epitaph at the bottom, Some of this I couldn't read but it starts off by saying 'Hard pangs of labour...' This almost certainly meant that she died in childbirth. One important message as to how to live your life with death around you; one message of personal tragedy personal tragedy. Historically and socially fascinating but hard to look through to be honest.

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There are more than 20 Belvoir Angel gravestones in the church grounds at the church of All Saints, Granby. Photographs immediately above and below. Looking at the inscriptions on some of these, it is noticeable how they affirmed their faith, and their belief in God, despite the hard lives that they led.

Script at the foot of a grave to Robert Peet reads 'work thy salvation out with care and fear, that thou with joy maist meet thy saviour dear, blessed are the dead that die in ye Lord'.  Robert Willomet, who lived to a very old age of 84 years before passing on in 1722 has the following 'Spectators all who ere you be, see that you live and die as he, see here he is laid in the dust, waiting the rising with the just, as he'll be judged so must we all, when God almity (sic) pleased to call.

William Orston died in 1728, again at the advanced age of 81 years. In his epitaph it reads 'with conscience pure I hope to see God's face and rise again to glorifie his grace'.

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Immediately above, the church grounds at Granby (left) and Staunton In The Vale (right). Immediately below, the church grounds at Hickling

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