A Curious Headstone


I’ve long had a fascination with gravestones.  It’s the stories of those who lie there which fascinate me.  I always wondered who they were, what were their lives like, what happened to them.  It is no wonder then that I became a historian though I view it as a collector of people’s stories.  I came across this headstone in Burton Overy in Leicester.  It is made of Swithland slate and has a story to tell in its inscription and the most amazing carvings on the headstone.  The inscription reads:

Here lyeth the bodys of two, aged 24 and 22

Thomas Dyer, schoolmaster of this place

For pious and virtue two

We hope his soul’s at rest, and William Simpkin’s two

These flowers of youth were swept away

By accident as we may say,

Death met them in the deep

And Caused us to weep

and here they lie like two that are asleep

Water is powerful by them it shows

Venture not where you not knows

Two brothers like within they lie, together liv’d

All you that pass us by

Take care, in time prepare to die

On June 20th this accident was done

In one thousand seven hundred and twenty one;

Here you see we are born to die

When God sees good, we cannot put it by

P1040870There are strange symbols inscribed on the headstone.  There is a curious skull and crossbones representing death.  There is a spider’s web and flowers and perhaps a tree (or is it a leaf?).  One type of flower represented looks very much like a tulip.  There is a symbol which looks, to me, like an hourglass representing the passing of time.  You can see where the stone mason has made lines to keep the inscription in a straight line and you can see where the end letters are squashed as he realised when he was getting near the end that he was running out of space.  I was recording gravestones at St Helen’s, Gumley where I came across and example of the mason running out of space.  This stone is dated much later in 1805 and is a ledger rather than a headstone.  The lettering is less fancy and compared to the 1721 Burton Overy headstone, really quite plain.


Back to the Burton Overy headstone: the lines ‘Death met them in the deep’ and ‘Water is powerful by them it shows venture not where you not knows’ indicates that they met their death by drowning in a place which they were unfamiliar with.  The inscription doesn’t say anything about their parents.  We know Thomas was a schoolmaster and they were close friends, ‘like brothers’ but very little else is given about them apart from that fateful day when they drowned.  We cannot know today what prompted such an elaborate and expensive headstone to be made for the two young men but it would suggest they were well liked within the parish.  The cost of headstone was dependent on: the size; the material used (usually sandstone or slate in Leicestershire); the amount of lettering and pictures or symbols.  The bigger the headstone, slate and the amount of lettering and symbols would have been an expensive one.  Perhaps the two families of the young men both contributed to the cost of the headstone, so a more expensive one was able to be afforded.








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