memorial carvings from Heath and Reach cemetery

I recently installed two memorials in Heath and Reach cemetery near Leighton Buzzard. They were both really great pieces to work on, both stones were commissioned by the same client, one for his wife and one for his brother. This client was very interested in ancient carvings and artefacts, a subject I’m very interested in too. This is reflected in my two designs, shown below.

While I was there I had a look around (as usual) and I found several interesting stones from the 1850’s-1890’s. This is not always a good period for memorial design and carving but the workshop that made these obviously enjoyed shaping stone and making really nice carvings.

Cley Churchyard: memorials to die for

I recently installed a plaque in Cley churchyard and took the opportunity to photograph some of the amazing 18th century memorials there. There is a really good collection there with many beautifully carved examples. I have shown a few examples below and there are more on my flickr pages. The carving on some of these memorial stones in and around Norfolk has obviously been carved by the same carver/mason. See the four examples in the collage at the bottom. Two are from Cley one from Holt and one from Barningham.

The shapes of the stones are similar too, but I’ve noticed the shape is often quite free. The two on the right for example are obviously drawn by hand and then masoned. The one on the bottom right is asymmetrical and seems to fit around the carving almost. It was a great period for carving in my opinion, and the York stone examples have weathered really well, much better than the limestone examples from the same time.

Swithland Slate

This slate was quarried until the early 1900’s in the Charnwood Forest area,  and was used for a lot of the Vale of Belvoir Angel memorials as well as for earlier slates and memorials all around the east midlands. There were several small quarries as far as I can tell and here’s one I found on the outskirts of the village of Swithland. I had hoped to bring a little piece back as a souvenir but it was extremely dangerous……….basically a pit filled with possibly very deep water edged by sheer “cliffs” of slate.

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The village church has many wonderful slate memorials, some very accomplished pieces of carving and some more crude. The earliest was from 1673.
here are a few examples but there are more on my flickr pages.

Vale of Belvoir Angels

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I recently travelled through Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire on my way back to Norfolk from Worcestershire and took the opportunity to visit the Vale of Belvoir (pronounced beaver). I have known for years that there were many slate memorials in the East Midlands and recently became interested (if not obsessed) with them, especially those from the late 17th and early 18th century. There are many ornate and beautifully carved examples and due to the longevity of slate they are amazingly well preserved.

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There are bascially two different kinds to my eye, some more crudely carved and “naive” in appearance, and others that are beautifully executed and show the carver/designer’s knowledge of different typefaces, and the masons use of type sample books. I think both these kinds are beautiful but I am more drawn to the cruder ones which include angel carvings known as “The Vale of Belvoir Angels”. There’s a great book studying these memorials written by Pauline and Bernard Heathcote (available at amazon). It lists the memorials and locations and has many photographs.

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What I find particularly interesting is that these stones were not set out or drawn up before the carver started work and you can see this by the way some words are truncated or split and some letters carved really small above the line to fit in. What seems really odd to me is that some of the lettering is raised and therefore the background is being carved away leaving them proud, and even the carving of these was just started on the left hand edge and made to fit, one way or another. It is worth having a close look at some of these. Below is a detail from one.

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I have uploaded some more pictures on my flickr pages. Click here to see them.

18th Century lettering in Holt

I came across this plaque yesterday in St Andrew’s church in Holt.

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I haven’t seen anything quite like this before, it is stunning. The inscription states at the top that “This table is erected in memory of William Briggs”. I am not sure exactly what this refers to but perhaps an altar table that is no longer there. At the top there is an iron fixing lug which has nothing attached to it. I’ll try and find out more……

I think this is a beautiful and impressive piece of design and carving.

Eyam – plague village

On our recent trip to Derbyshire, we visited the village of Eyam which was very close to where we were staying. Eyam is known as “the plague village”.

In 1665 the village tailor received a parcel from London and it contained some bundles of material and with it plague infected fleas. He was dead within a week. The disease spread rapidly. Some people wished to flee but the rector, the Rev. William Mompesson introduced precautions to slow the spread of the illness, including the arrangement that families were to bury their own dead and the relocation of church services from the church of St Lawrence to outdoors at Cucklett Delph to allow villagers to separate themselves, reducing the risk of infection. The best-known decision was to quarantine the entire village to prevent further spread of the disease. The plague raged in the village for 14 months, taking at least 260 lives.

We visited the small yet packed Eyam museum, which was very informative, and well laid out and brought the tragedy that fell upon this village to life very well.  Then we visited the parish church with its rich array of lettering and stone carving. There are some pictures below, including a plague grave from 1665, some wonderfully bold stone carvings taken from tombs and also some images of the Saxon Cross in the churchyard, of which Pevsner says : “notable for the survival of the head, coarse vine scrolls and interlace on the shaft, of which unfortunately the top two feet or so are missing. The date is probably early 9th Century”.

Note for lettering nerds: on the plague memorial pictured above, which reads:






it is well worth a look at the rich abundance of “ligatures” (the joining of letters) the THE and NN and AL and WA and more TH’s. I think it’s a lovely stone. It seems nicely spaced overall and yet the fact that the word BU – RIED is split onto two lines makes one wonder if it was just carved directly with no preliminary design, despite the strong overall balance of the inscription.

See my flickr pages for more Eyam pictures.

Derbyshire treasure

I recently spent a few days away with the family in Derbyshire, near Cressbrook Dale. As well as the amazing landscape I took great pleasure in studying the limestone there. If you look closely the rocks, paths and even the footpath stones set into the walls are full of fossils. One day we took a walk on the White Peak through Sheldon. I knew there would be fossils as I’d seen and bought some small pieces from Lowes Marble Works in Middleton, near Wirskworth some years back. See below.

The limestone there is a carboniferous limestone. There is also sandstone and millstone grit in Derbyshire. On this walk I spotted these slate memorials which were obviously to a very important family with the surname Sheldon. The letter-carving is impressive. There seems to have been some very high quality slate carving through the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire/Newark area in the 18th and 19th centuries, I’ve seen numerous examples.

Ditchingham visit

I installed a memorial in Ditchingham cemetery this week and had my customary wonder around looking at the church and old stones while the foundation I had prepared was going off. There are a lot of good examples of memorials here from the 18th & 19th Centuries and into the 1930’s too which was refreshing. I have uploaded a few to my flickr site but my favourite is below. It was carved in 1717, in York stone, and is a beautifully balanced design incorporating skull carving, a good shape and spacing and really deeply carved lettering. It looks like it will last a few more hundered years yet. This stone would be completely illegible and worn away had it not been designed and carved so well, I feel the carver really understood this material, and what weight to carve the lettering and the right boldness of shape and sculpting of the carved elements. It was a little difficult to photograph as it is in a dark, sheltered spot near the church entrance.

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Morston stone with a story to tell

This memorial is in Morston churchyard, near Blakeney. It is both unusual and powerful. It is unusual in that it is slate, which is rare in Norfolk. The power lies in the wording of the inscription.

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“In memory of Wm Luce son of Wm and Anna Luce. Drowned from a perventive boat * Febry 26th 1854 leaving a tender mother to lament an only son. Aged 22.

Death no warning to me gave, but quickly sent me to my grave, when far from friends remote from home, the depths received my last sad moan. Drowned without a tender mother’s care to sooth my cold heart nor hear my parting prayer.”

*  A “perventive boat” was a kind of anti-smuggling vessel.

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There is also some interesting tall ship graffiti scratched into the stone, and some initials, which remind me of the ship graffiti scratched into the choirstalls in Salthouse Church down the road from Morston. Perhaps this graffiti was carved by other families whose loved ones travelled on the tall ships in those days, and they wanted in some superstitious way to try and ensure safe passage.

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an old friend in Holt Churchyard, Norfolk

I installed a memorial today in Holt churchyard and revisited one of my favourite stones from the early 19th Century (1809). It has a wonderful carving at the top featuring images relating to “passing on” with the trumpeting angel, skeleton and coffin. The vicar told me that the choirmaster used to insert two matchsticks in the eyes of the small skull, light them, and warn the children that if they couldn’t run right around the church before the matches went out that the Devil would get them. Charming.

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