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St Leonard, Swithland, Leicestershire

07/03/2017: (Locked). The village of Swithland gave us the inimitable Swithland slate and the headstone industry which grew up in the area from the late 17th to the late 19th century. Leicester University hosts a page with a lot of background detail on Swithland headstones with images and links to further reading.

St Leonard's church, being in the village which produced much of this fine slate, might be expected to have a good collection of headstones from local makers, but not so. There are fewer headstones here than other churches nearby, but there are a number of interesting early examples, made before the more decorated local style developed.

The churchyard wall is made of and capped with pieces of Swithland slate. As you can see it tends towards boulders rather than readily cleaved beds like Welsh slate. One mark of a Swithland headstone is that the back is often rough, showing tool marks where the boulder has been worked.

These are the earliest dated Swithland headstones I have seen. The first is inscribed on both front and back, for Dorathie Hall who died in 1673. Early Swithland stones are rectangular and without decoration. The lettering tends to be uneven and naiively worked. However, within a few years the quality of design and workmanship is transformed. Swithland is in the Vale of Belvoir and the angels which often appear at the top of the later stones are known as Belvoir angels, though similar designs appear widely in the UK, USA and Canada.

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