Monumental Brass Society

Unknown civilian

Date of Brass:
London G


January 2009

January’s brass is one of many now anonymous memorials.

Not all brasses are large and magnificent memorials representing the rich and powerful. Many are relatively small and apparently insignificant but represent a cross section of middle-class England; the small trader, yeoman, craftsmen and so on. Sometimes even their identity does not remain in either the brass or in other records.
One such is this unknown civilian, now mounted on a block of Iroko wood and bolted to the North Wall of St Mary¹s Church, Godmanchester, Huntingdonshire. It is one of relatively few brasses remaining in the county of Cromwell.

The figure is dated around 1520 and was engraved in London. It portrays a civilian in a long fur-lined gown with a gypciere (purse) hanging from his belt. The brass formerly rivetted to a Purbeck marble slab, now unfortunately broken, on the south side of the Memorial Altar Sanctuary. This was hidden for many years under wooden steps but when these were renewed in October 1999, the slab was moved to its present position. The indents on the slab into which the brasses were originally recessed shows the additional figure of his two wives, one on either side of where the surviving figure was set. Beneath are two groups of children, probably one group for each wife and a foot inscription. This would have identified the figures, given the dates of deaths and requested a prayer for the souls frequently the purpose of such memorials.

A manuscript by the Antiquary Richard Gough (died 1809), now in the Bodleian Library notes that one of the wives (who was shown wearing a pedimental head-dress) and a plate of twelve sons then remained ­ probably about 1750. By 1765, the Cambridgeshire antiquary, Rev.William Cole noted in a British Library manuscript that only the plate showing the sons remained. Even this had gone by 1831 when Robert Fox published his History of Godmanchester in 1831 ­- the drawing is taken from his book.

By 1981 a small part of one of the feet had broken off. A photograph of a rubbing in the Inskipp Ladds Collection at the Norris Library and Museum in At Ives, shows the missing foot. When the brass was removed to allow for new flooring, the opportunity was taken to have the brass repaired, cleaned and mounted in its wooden mount by Bryan Egan in his workshop in Milton Keynes. It was returned in 1983. This was not the first trip the brass had made to a repair workshop as there is evidence on the back of a bodged 19th Century repair.

Copyright: Peter Heseltine

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