It is rare to get a whole batch of beautiful gravestones, and even rarer to be able to spot the hand of real craftspeople at work. This is clearly the case in the graveyard of St Andrew’s Church in Langar, Nottinghamshire. The church is a Grade I listed building, and is quite wonderful inside, and large, too, for a small country parish. But nowhere on all the records of the church does it mention these wonderful stones, such as the one on the right. Carved in slate, the lettering is still as crisp as they were when first made. This one to William James is dated 1809, and although it has little text, the decorative surrounding is quite wonderful. A grieving woman tugs on a rope or swash from an urn, and this is balanced on the right hand side by the same swash being caught up on the branch of a tree.
This early gravestone dated 1720, some 80 years before the one above, is not quite so fine. Here a rather Chinese-looking sad cherub spreads its wings with wonderfully carved feathers to protect Anne James, who died when she was only 42. The curly letters in the words of ‘Here’ and ‘James’ contrast with the fairly restrained lettering of the rest of the gravestone, but see how the letter carver has had a bit of fun by extending the serifs into spirals on some of the ascenders, such as the l of lies, and the B and d of Body in the first line.
This one from 1730 is very interesting, and again not of the same quality as some of the later others. I did tweet about this soon after we had visited the church (follow me on Twitter) as I find it so interesting. This, too, has a delightfully sad angel at the top, with eyes this time that are remarkably similar to those in the Lindisfarne Gospels. There is a great deal to learn from this stone about forward planning and the need to sketch something out to resolve any design issues before you start. So in the larger capitals at the top, there are conventional abbreviations and contractions with the letter e tucked into the v of the y to make ye, the letters h and e conjoined in he, and a slightly smaller letters at the end of the second and third lines. But what happens towards the bottom? Choosing that size of lettering has meant that the letter cutter has not had room to complete the lines, and so the remaining one or two words in each line have been squashed above or below. Charming though it is, it really doesn’t work!
But this one certainly does! A wonderfully vibrant and lively border of swags, foliage and flowers really draw the eye in rather than distract from the lettering. The exuberantly flourished H of Here at the top contrasts with the second line, and the third again with the fourth. The advantage of planning is also shown at the base where the four lines of lettering sit neatly within the left and right borders, although the last two lines have slightly smaller words, but this doesn’t detract from the overall feel. And we have a name! W Barnes was the sculptor. This is rare indeed to have this information.
And the high standard continues. It seems that W Barnes had a workshop where he was able to pass on his skills. The name Wood has been carved near the base on the right of this later stone of 1810. The unusual curved lettering, sitting neatly into the flourishes or just underneath contrasts with the conventional straight lines of the rest of the citation. It is likely that the gravestone was carved in one hit, even though Richard died just a few days short of a year after his wife, but it is interesting to see the two ways in which his named has been carved, once in Copperplate and the second time in Small capitals.
Graveyards can be a rich source of inspiration for letterers when they include stones as fine as these.