Monumental Brass Society

Anonymous appropriated indents

Date of Brass:
C.1450-1540
Place:
Wisbech
County:
Cambridgeshire
Country:
Number:
Style:
East Anglian but indeterminate

Description

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, whose very large figure in armour is still impressive depite being worn and having lost all of its canopy and parts of the marginal inscription from the Purbeck marble slab. He died in 1401. Other medieval brasses in the church are represented by seven indents, two of them effigial, plus a chalice with inscription and two inscription only slabs and one (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 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, although that from Vaudey was transported via the Welland to be distributed to marblers’ workshops in Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds and Norwich, although the latter route needed transport by cart from Brandon Ferry on the Little Ouse. The 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 there were at Cole’s time because of the activities of a later mason, possibly either John Swansborough, a Wisbech stonecutter, or Jeffrey Earnell, a Wisbech man who signed a mural monuments in the church at Long Sutton, Lincolnshire, commemorating Nicholas Wileman, died 1752, and another in Peterborough Cathedral, for Thomas Whitwell, died 1759. Both monuments have veneers of coloured Italian marbles. A number of slabs in Wisbech church have had Italian marble inserts set in them. They, like the majority of the obvious indents are of Vaudey Abbey marble and so are pre-Refeormation. A couple have worn inscriptions, but on others the lettering has completely disappeared under the tread of innumerable feet in the last two hundred years. Those legible are for John Harrison, died 1787 and Edward Warmoll, died 1772, and two of his daughters, the second dying in 1777. The former inscription is simply a 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 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. The faint traces of the inscription remain. This could easily cover a n indent with a couple of figures and an inscription. Another illegible two part inlay could cover an effigial brass. The depth of the inlays has probably ereadicated all but the botthe rivets holes on these slabs. Vaudey Abbey marbles slabs almost always contained brasses.

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 the nature of this slab or any others (there are a number of black Belgian marble ledgerstones in the church) and he notes others were too worn to read. He does not list John Harrison’s but gives other names that have dates of death in the approximate date range expected for the illegible slabs. While seventeenth-century and later black Belgian marble ledgerstones occasionally have white marble insets, they were made like this from the start unlike these appropriated slabs at Wisbech.

 

Copyright: Jon Bayliss, text and photographs

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