- Date of Brass:
Mendham lies on the south bank of the River Waveney, the boundary between Norfolk and Suffolk. In the time of the Norfolk historian Francis Blomefield the parish was a large one and had parts which lay in Norfolk on the north bank of the river, namely the hamlet of Needham and parts of the town of Harleston. For this reason Blomefield included Mendham in his History of Norfolk. Needham had a chapel of ease, now its parish church.
The Freston family was one that benefited from the upheavals of the Reformation. Edward VI granted Wichendons manor in Mendham and all the tithes and glebes in Mendham, Needham and Metfield, another part of Mendham that had its own parochial chapel, now a church, to Richard Freston, esquire, who was already the tenant. He came to live in the manor house at this point and the family continued there until the death of the last in the senior line of the Frestons in 1761. Richard Freston and his wife Anne acquired Denston's manor in Mendham in 2&3 Philip & Mary (1555-6), it having come to the crown from Mendham Priory in 1539, then granted to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Freston was the duke's treasurer by 1534 and acquired other property formerly belonging to Mendham Priory including Mendham Priory Manor. He also had a lease of the site of Thorneholm monastery in Lincolnshire for 21 years from 28 Henry VIII (1537-8). Richard Freston was knighted by 1553 and was made cofferer of the household to Mary I. He died in 1557 and was buried in Mendham church alongside his wife Anne, a member of the Coke family.
Freston was succeeded by his son Richard, who married Cecily, daughter of Thomas Felton, esquire. She died in on 6 September1615, he on 27 November 1616. Both were provided with figure brasses from the same workshop, laid in black Belgian marble but it seems likely that his figure has been removed from its original position on the slab and repositioned on it below the inscription, which has necessitated the addition of a narrow strip of black marble of a slightly darker hue at the base of the slab. The top of the slab is covered immediately above the inscription. Assuming the format matched Cecily's there would have been a shield above the figure. Richard's figure is of a man in civilian clothing standing on a distinctive base. Such bases were introduced i early years of the century by a workshop based in Southwark and probably run by the Cure family. The figure design differs little from that introduced in the second half of the 1580s except that the figure is less bulky. A similar figure is found at Luccombe in Somerset, commemorating a gentleman named William Harrison, who died in December 1615. The base his figure stands on, like Richard Freston's, has a straighter front edge than examples of the previous decade, a characteristic shared by the bases of the figures of Cecily Freston and John Worth of Thorne St Margaret, Somerset. Such Cure-designed figures become much less common in the second half of the 1610s, perhaps reflecting the difficulties that William Cure was experiencing as Master Mason to the Crown in keeping up with the demand for his work. The other major Southwark workshop of the period was also in decline after the death of its founder, Garat Johnson, in 1611, producing cruder versions of 1590s designs. It is at this time that designs for monumental brasses that take Cure's as a basis but were clearly by someone else become established.
Reference: Blomefield, An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, volume 5 (1806), 372-385
Copyright: Jon Bayliss
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