Monumental Brass Society

Thomas Cawarden

Date of Brass:
Mavesyn Ridware
Jasper Hollemans


August 2011

The decoration of the north aisle of Mavesyn Ridware parish church, which contains Thomas Cawarden's monument, is most extraordinary. This aisle was the burial place of the lords of the manor over several centuries and contained a number of monuments. Stebbing Shaw's History and Antiquities of Staffordshire (1798-1801) has a great deal to say about the successive lords, and has an engraving of the aisle viewed from the west and another looking north from the east, illustrating the Cawarden tomb in its setting in the centre of the east end and showing other slabs on the floor. Stebbing Shaw also has engravings of four incised effigial floor slabs, another effigial slab on a tomb chest and two early armed effigies in recesses under arches in the north wall. All these remain in place today. The rest of the church was rebuilt shortly after 1779 and a number of monuments lost.

What changed in the north aisle was the amount of incised alabaster. Stebbing Shaw wrote: 'This aisle has long been neglected, but the present owner hopes to restore and re-embellish it'. Re-embellish it he certainly did, with incised alabaster panels showing his ancestors and their deeds around the walls. One of these panels is visible in the photograph of the Cawarden tomb.

Stebbing Shaw gives a pedigree beginning with one of William the Conqueror's knights, a member of the Malvoisin family, who was granted lands in Staffordshire and Shropshire. The family held Mavesyn Ridware until Sir Robert Mavesyn died at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 leaving two daughters as coheiresses. The elder daughter married Sir John Cawarden and the manor descended in the Cawarden family until Thomas Cawarden's death in January 1592/3. Thomas's only son had died at around a year old in 1578, and he left four daughters as co-heiresses. One of these, Joyce, married John Chadwicke in 1594. By 1601 Chadwicke, born at Mavesyn Ridware in 1564, had acquired the whole of the manor from the husnbands of the other co-heiresses.

It was presumably his descendant Charles Chadwick, lord of the manor in Stebbing Shaw's time, who was responsible for the embellishment of the aisle. This embellishment extended to some of the original incised slabs. The figure of Sir Robert Mavesyn is certainly suspicious, with what appears to be the ghost of another misericord alongside the one on his hip, while portions of the slab immediately north of the Cawarden tomb have been replaced in stone rather than alabaster.

However I cannot agree with F A Greenhill that Thomas's slab is 'restored, if not entirely renewed'. I identify it as the work of the Hollemans family of tombmakers. Garrett Hollemans, described in the early 1590s as 'a Dutch carver', appears to have set himself up as a tombmaker in the early/mid 1580s at Burton-upon-Trent in competition with the well-established Richard and Gabriel Royley. One of the main products of the Royleys was incised slabs, and Garrett Hollemans needed to compete in this area of the market.

The slab of Henry ffeeld and his two wives, 1584, at Queenhill appears to be Hollemans' earliest surviving slab. It was followed by a similar but improved composition at Packington, Leicestershire, for Ralph Leeson and his two wives, 1587. Once the pattern was established, it was picked up by Garrett's son Jasper, working on his own by 1599, and examples can be seen at Claverley, Shropshire, 1599; Croxall, Staffordshire, 1605; and as far afield as Hornsey, Middlesex, the burial place of George Rey, a man born at Brewood, Staffordshire, who died around 1600.

Of these well-preserved slabs only George Curzon at Croxall is in armour like Cawarden, but the rather worn slabs at Noseley, Leicestershire, of around 1600 to Bertin (died 1565) and Thomas Hesilrige show very similar armed figures. While the condition of the slab at Ridware may have aroused Greenhill's suspicions, the choice of a poor piece of alabaster and the evidently good preservation of the tomb at the time it was engraved for Stebbing Shaw's History strongly suggest that it is entirely original.

Copyright: Jon Bayliss

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