“The time of the singing of birds is come” – a Nottinghamshire gravestone with a bird bath


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Yesterday Karin and I took the day off and explored an area along the Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire border with friends.  In the small village of Normanton on Soar we found a very unusual headstone in the churchyard, carved in granite and surmounted by a bird bath.  Around the bowl some lead text reads:  “The time of the singing of birds is come”

The bowl was empty when we arrived so I filled it: it’s going to be a hot weekend and the birds might appreciate it.

The headstone marks the burial place of Edward Hands and Ethel Maud Hands, presumably husband and wife; the smaller marker commemorates Derek Hands (their son?).  None had a long life; Edward was 42 when he died, Ethel 56, and Derek just 36.  The headstone was erected originally for Edward (who pre-deceased his wife by 20 years) so perhaps it was he who was keen on birds?

I’ve never seen a headstone in the form of a bird bath though I can’t believe that it’s unique: does anyone know of others?

Here’s the full grave; it was only after I took the picture that I noticed the feather.

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The text around the bird bath is from the Bible, the Song of Solomon 2:12.  The fuller version is:

“The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”

We didn’t hear any turtles, but here were plenty of flowers around the village, including a buddleia that was smothered in very fresh looking painted lady butterflies that are likely to have been born nearby rather than migrating over from the continent:

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It was also a time of bees such as this very active feral honey bee colony in a lovely 15th century  timber framed house:

10 thoughts on ““The time of the singing of birds is come” – a Nottinghamshire gravestone with a bird bath

  1. Peter Bernhardt

    I’ve never seen a bird bath on top of a tombstone before. There is an American tradition in the 19th and early 20th century for odd grave ornaments in the older, wealthier, urban, cemeteries in New Orleans and here in Saint Louis. You wonder when was the last time anyone deliberately filled that bird bath? I wonder when was the last time that jardiniere, near the tombstone, had a Pelargonium in it?

    1. Peter Bernhardt

      Jeff: Your readers might also like to explore Bellefontaine cemetery and arboretum (see link below) in Saint Louis. Tomb and mausoleum decor can be… atypical. Dr. Gerardo Camilo takes his students there for long-term studies on urban bee diversity (50 species). He also recommends Calvary cemetery across the street. It contains 23 untilled acres of of tall grass prairie remnant attracting 90 native bee species.


  2. spamletblog

    Also wondering about the vaguely pentagonal brown thing, on the ground to the right? Is the lighter thing next to it a mushroom stalk it’s been knocked off, or is it, by chance, a fossil sea urchin? Either way, it looks a bit out of place. :/

      1. spamletblog

        Any well rounded stone that isn’t part of a whole load of very similar pebbles from a nearby beach is worth closer inspection. It’s possible that there may be a beach pebble wall nearby that it has gone astray from, but one on it’s own is often that shape for a reason: especially if it’s made of flint, which preserves sea urchin fossils beautifully.

        Here’s one from my garden. Luckily there are now good galleries of fossils on line, so, even though I only had the shape, and the position of mouth and anus (peristome, and periproct) to go by, it looks like I got quite close to the right ID:


        You soon get an eye for these shapes. It’s like finding four-leaved clovers, your brain picks them out almost without trying after a while. You’ll also almost always find lots of belemnite guards in the shingle round graves, and paths almost anywhere: the translucent purplish colour of the fossils identifies even small eroded fragments.

  3. Pingback: Why are there camels carved on this late medieval tomb? | Prof. Jeff Ollerton – ecological scientist and author

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