Monumental Brass Society

Simon and Merrial Coates

Date of Brass:
London: Christmas


June 2024

From around the 1620s into the middle of the seventeenth-century a number of memorial slabs substituted white marble inlays for brass, set in in black marble. Although quite a number of inscriptions survive there were few with white marble figures. The prime example of the latter is the slab of Elizabeth Havers, died February 1633/4, at Stockerston in Leicestershire, where the rectangular inlay with her figure takes up most of the slab and has a further white marble foot inscription plus two armorial shields. There are further inscriptions on the black marble to either side of the figure. It is clearly the work of one of the leading London sculptors of the time. The lettering of the foot inscription enables it to be identified as the work of the idiosyncratic William Wright of Charing Cross. Some separately inlaid white marble figures have not stood the passage of both time and many feet and their features are now largely worn away. Some of the inscription inlays have also suffered wear, as at Foxton to Philip Weldone, died 1615, where the lettering is barley legible in places, while others survive well. Occasionally both white marble and brass are inlaid into the same slab, as at Woodrising, Norfolk, for Francis Crane, died 1636, and Worlingworth, Suffolk, for Susanna Barker, died 1622, the brass inlays being heraldic for both. The lettering of the Crane slab suggests that it is the work of the Christmas brothers, John and Mathias, whose sculpted tombs used white marble inscription panels on a number of occasions. They seem to have been reponsible for some white marble inscriptions inlaid in black marble slabs, for example that of William Johnson, died 1640, at Ingham, Norfolk.

There are a small number of white inlays in the form of lozenges surviving in the Thames Valley. Two are found at Sunningwell commemorating Dr Samuel Fell, Dean of Christchurch, Oxford, and rector of Sunningwell since 1625 and members of his family. That for Samuel himself has an incised skull, his initials and date of burial, 2 February 1648, altered to show the year as 1649 which accords to the modern dating. He had died the day before. It is now embedded on a slab of black mosaic, along with a shield bearing his coat of arms, also in white marble. That, also now inlaid on a black mosaic slab, is to three of his children (Thomas, 1632 Elizabeth, 1634, and Martha, 1637 and Thomas Washbourne, 1644) shows their heads at the corners. The latter was presumably the son of Thomas Washbourne, clergyman and poet, and his wife, Fell’s daughter Dorothy. The slab also has inlaid an inscription on white marble to Margaret Wylde, Fell’s wife, buried in 1653 at the age of 56. She has a lozenge of arms on white marble above the inscription. Ashmole described these memorials as being on blue stones, the current arrangement apparently copying the original.

Thame is another church with two white marble lozenges, now on a wall. They commemorate Merrial Coates, died 14 July 1644 aged twelve month, and Simon Coates, died 1 May1644 at the age of three. Both have their heads and shoulders incised above a fictive fringed hanging on which their details are written. Both look rather older than their stated ages and seem to be by the same engraver as executed the heads of the Fell children. Whose children they were is a mystery. However they are attractive memorials. Although Sunningwell and Thame are close to Oxford, aspects of the lettering suggests that the Christmas brothers may have been responsible rather than an Oxford engraver.

Copyright: Jon Bayliss

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