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The Sleeping Beauty of Shropshire

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the frequently life-sized carved effigies of the long-since departed, who lie atop their tombs in many English churches; from heroic knights in armour to bishops in grand regalia, these figures are a tangible record of history, although for the most part they represent the favoured, the prestigious and the wealthy. With high levels of child mortality it is by no means unusual to find effigies of children on such monuments, as swaddled babies, or older children dressed in miniature versions of adult clothes.

Occasionally such a monument may be found that speaks of more than past glories, battles won or honours gained, with which it is possible to feel a more personal and intimate connection. One such example is the tomb of Alice Mary Egerton in Condover, Shropshire, which is a beautiful work of art; she is a Pre Raphaelite Sleeping Beauty with flowing marble locks, forever at peace. Her feet rest by an empty cradle, indicating the manner of her demise in childbirth, whilst tucked in by her side is the baby daughter who was to follow her to the grave just a fortnight later; described on the tomb as “pitiable”, this tiny scrap of humanity has here been transformed into a plump cherub. Alice herself is wearing an up to the minute gown, with medievally-influenced slashed sleeves and square neckline, her left hand resting on a prayer book.

Quite apart from the striking and dramatic depiction of a lost Victorian woman and child is the remarkable fact that it was sculpted by her bereaved husband Reginald, obviously an artist of considerable skill. It must have been an extraordinarily demanding labour of love to have created such a tribute in the aftermath of such a loss. Sadly they had been married for only thirteen months.

As far as I can discover, Reginald did not marry again, and died twenty eight years later. It is to be hoped that by creating this memorial, he managed to find at least some sense of peace.

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