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.
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.
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.
following a comment on my last post, which featured a plaque from Holt Church, I am posting some useful links for those who are wondering why a lot of 17-18th century inscriptions and earlier manuscripts have the different forms of the s – known as the long s “ſ” and short s “s”.
I came across this plaque yesterday in St Andrew’s church in Holt.
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.
I have been working on making some videos for my website and youtube channel. These will be a mixture of animations and real time videos relating to my working practice. This process is very much in its infancy.
Following on from my last blog regarding letter spacing, design and layout on old memorials, I thought it worth adding this image of another stone in Eyam, there seems to be no regard for where the words fall whatsoever, with both surnames and first names being split. Surely this means the “designer” worked directly with the chisel, forming the letters as he went. I can’t imagine showing a design for this stone to one of my clients and getting the go-ahead. This is perhaps a shame, as I’d really enjoy the opportunity to make a memorial in this way, the sense of freedom would be refreshing, if a little unnerving!
If you look closely you’ll see that the spacing in general is really poor, for example the HE space right at the beginning of the inscription is very wide and yet the word spacing is relatively very tight for example: here/lies the/body who/died. But despite all this, or maybe because of all this, I like it.
The re’sno way I couldg et a way with it thou gh.
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:
ABELL THE SONNE
OF THOMAS & ALICE
ROWLAND WAS BU
RIED JAN THE 15TH
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.
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 memorialswhich 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.
I have been working towards Bergh Apton Sculpture Trail this month which opens on 21st May. When I visited St Peter and St Paul’s church where my work will be on display I took this photograph of this beautiful 14th Century font there.
It reminds me of the one in Salthouse church in north Norfolk, which may be 13th Century:
I recently spent some time in Bruges and I knew there would be some lettercutting work around the place, as Pieter and Kristoffel Boudens work there. Their father was a calligrapher. There were several I came across, and there are examples below. I have to say I liked some more than others in terms of design, some seem rather dated or not to my taste, but there’s no doubting the quality of the workmanship and cutting. I am unsure if all these examples are Boudens pieces, as there are others such as Brody Neuenschwander working in Bruges (although he is mainly a calligrapher). I suspect from what I know of their work they may be mainly Pieter Boudens pieces, but I’m not entirely sure.
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.