Monumental Brass Society

John Eldred

Date of Brass:
Great Saxham


July 2006

July’s Brass of the Month is to John Eldred, Citizen and Clothworker of London, at Great Saxham in Suffolk. Attributed to Edward Marshall, Master Mason of England from 1660 to 1675, who worked in Fetter Lane in the City of London, the brass was commissioned by John’s son Revett at the time of his father’s death in 1632. Originally on an altar tomb, the brass and its original slab of dark marble are now set in the floor of the nave not far from his complementary monument of painted clunch stone on the South side of the chancel whence his life-sized bust gazes down (photograph below, reproduced by permission of The Clothworkers' Company).

At the top of the brass are shields establishing his family: left, Eldred; right, Revett; and centre, Eldred impaling Revett. But Eldred was an important figure in the City of London and by his feet are (left) the arms of the city and (right) those of his Livery Company, The Clothworkers’ Company, while below the inscriptions lie shields of (left) the East India Company; (centre) the Levant, or Turkey, Merchants’ Company; and (right) the Russia Merchants’ Company. Interestingly a drawing of the brass from 1806 shows the East India and Russia shields transposed which leads one to think that the transposition may have occurred when the altar tomb was demolished and the brass re-laid.

John Eldred was born at New Buckenham in Norfolk in 1552. He was apprenticed Clothworker in the City of London in the 1560’s and in 1583 two other eminent Clothworkers, Sir Edward Osborne and Richard Staper, sent him on a pioneering voyage to the Middle East in the ship TIGER. She went to Tripolis (now Trâblous in the Lebanon) whence the expedition went overland to Aleppo and down the Euphrates to Felugia. From there they went to Baghdad and on down to Basra, names that are all too familiar today. He returned to Aleppo a year later with a vast cargo consisting mainly of nutmeg and cinnamon. He then stayed another three years in the Middle East, travelling widely and setting up various trading bases, before returning to London in 1588, having made himself a very rich man: not only that, but famous, too. It had been a pioneering voyage of outstanding importance for English trade such that Shakespeare alluded to it in Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 3: “Her Husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’ the TIGER”). More conventionally it was recorded in Hakluyt’s “Principal Navigations” of 1599, and some more of Eldred’s letters of that time are in “Purchas his Pilgrimes” of 1644.

Meanwhile Eldred continued his career as one of the great merchants of the City of London. He received a Grant of Arms in 1592 and bought the manor and advowson of Great Saxham in 1597, where he built a large house known locally as “Nutmeg Hall”. Sadly, it was burnt down in 1779. He had become Treasurer of the Levant Company in 1592 and, along with another five Clothworkers, he was a subscriber to the first voyage of the East India Company, whose Royal Charter of 31st December 1600 conferred upon it the sole right of trading with all countries lying beyond the Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Magellan.

In March 1604 he was elected an Alderman of the City but soon afterwards paid the fine of £500 to be excused the duty of that office, citing pressure of work, a common practice in those days. In the same year he was elected Master of The Clothworkers’ Company.

By now he was 52 years old but he would continue to be active for the rest of his long life. He was on the Court of the East India Company for over ten years; he had shipping interests including the ownership of privateers; he invested in Henry Hudson’s voyage in search of the North-West Passage; he was a contractor and commissioner for the sale of lands, and a farmer of Customs.

In his Will, dated 8th October 1630, he desired to be buried in the church of Basinghall, London, where his wife was buried and in which parish he had lived for many years. But that was not to be as he died at Great Saxham on 8th December 1632 and was buried there, his alternative choice.

© Michael Harris

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