Monumental Brass Society

Anonymous appropriated indents

Date of Brass:
East Anglian but indeterminate


February 2024


The large church of St Peter and St Paul in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, stands in the centre of the town, not far from the South Brink of the River Nene. There was once a castle to the west of the church and the single medieval brass that remains in the church is that of a former constable of the castle, Thomas de Braunstone, d.1401. His very large figure in armour is still impressive, despite being worn and having lost all of its canopy and parts of its marginal inscription. This brass was made in London, and is set in a Purbeck marble slab.

Other medieval brasses formerly in the church are represented by seven indents, two of them effigial, plus a chalice with inscription and two inscription-only slabs. There is also a (presumably cut-down) slab with a shield, and another slab with three rivets and an illegible incised inscription. Only the latter indent is of Purbeck marble, the others coming from the marble quarry at Vaudey Abbey in Lincolnshire. The names of some of those once commemorated can presumably be found in the list of Aldermen of the Guild of the Holy Trinity, the most prominent of the town’s guilds, founded in 1379 and dissolved in 1549.

The Nene is one of the rivers flowing into the Wash along which stone from the limestone belt that runs through Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire was carried to the sea. However that from Vaudey was transported via the Welland to marblers’ workshops in Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds and Norwich, the latter route needing transport by cart from Brandon Ferry on the Little Ouse. The Vaudey quarry closed at the Reformation, Vaudey Abbey having been dissolved in 1536, whereas the Purbeck marblers continued to excavate their marble for a few more decades but were concentating more on Purbeck stone for paving after 1560.

The antiquary William Cole, writing in the 1730s and 40s, recorded two ‘large slabs disrobed of their brasses’. The surviving indents at Wisbech are undoubtedly fewer than in Cole’s time. This appears to be through the activities of a later mason, possibly either John Swansborough, a Wisbech stonecutter, or Jeffrey Earnell, a Wisbech man who signed mural monuments in the church at Long Sutton, Lincolnshire (commemorating Nicholas Wileman, d.1752) and in Peterborough Cathedral (for Thomas Whitwell, d.1759).

Both these monuments have veneers of coloured Italian marbles, and a number of slabs in Wisbech church have also had Italian marble inserted into them. These slabs are again of Vaudey Abbey marble, and so pre-Reformation. Vaudey Abbey marble slabs almost always contained brasses, and so these marble inserts appear to have recycled some of the indents seen by Cole.

A couple of the marble inserts have worn inscriptions, but on others the lettering has completely worn away in the last two hundred years. Those legible are for John Harrison, d.1787, and Edward Warmoll, d.1772, and two of his daughters, the second dying in 1777. The former inscription is a simple rectangular piece of Carrara marble, while the latter, also of Carrara, has a rectangular base with a curved top. The most most ornate and visually arresting slab has nine pieces of marble inlaid and cut to imitate a mural tablet, five pieces Carrara, two Siena (yellow) and two black with white veining. Faint traces of the inscription remain. This could easily cover an indent for a couple of figures and an inscription. Another illegible two-part inlay could cover an effigial brass. The depth of the inlays has probably eradicated all but the rivet holes on these slabs. 

William Watson’s 1827 An historical account of the ancient town and port of Wisbech lists the Warmoll slab among others but gives no indication of its nature or that of any others (there are a number of black Belgian marble ledgerstones in the church). He notes that others were too worn to read. He does not list John Harrison’s slab, but gives other names with dates of death within the approximate date range expected for the illegible slabs.

Seventeenth-century and later black Belgian marble ledgerstones occasionally have white marble insets, but they were made like this from the start. These slabs at Wisbech have been appropriated afterwards..


Copyright: Jon Bayliss, text and photographs

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