Portfolio of Brasses
Each month we feature an article about a brass of particular interest.
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September 2009read more
I have recently been reading, and admiring with great pleasure, the new Shire publication Monumental Brasses by Sally Badham with Martin Stuchfield. Drawing on the rich collection of 3,000 surviving brasses in the U.K., this new book also reminds us of the loss of monumental brasses which took place, especially through iconoclasm and destruction in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (2) My choice for this month’s ‘Brass of the Month’ is one such lost brass, that of Ralph Hengham, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, and later of the Common Bench, (d. 1311) formerly in St Paul’s Cathedral,...
F.A. Greenhill, in his magisterial work Incised Effigial Slabs, notes the presence of a slab to a leper in the Musée Archéologique, Dijon, to one Jehan Martin, ‘dit le Scot’, who was a royal serjeant at Dijon and died from leprosy there in 1583 (Vol. I, p.229; Vol. II, pl.128b). Poignantly, the slab shows the afflicted Jehan without any ears and wearing a bell at his waist to warn people of his supposed contagion. With his usual sensitivity, Greenhill ends his short account with the comment that this slab is ‘perhaps the one surviving monument to show the lugubrious...read more
Most of Charles de Gaulle airport north-east of Paris is in the commune of Roissy-en-France, and both airport and commune are usually called just Roissy. The qualifying 'en-France' indicates Roissy's location in the Ile-de-France rather than the country as a whole. The church has a splendid Renaissance chancel and retains a number of incised slabs. The four remaining effigial slabs now line the walls of the chancel. Among them is that commemorating Gabriel Pluyette, a member of a family whose monuments can be found elsewhere in the area, at Le Mesnil-Aubry and Fontenay-sous-Louvres. Ferdinard de Guilhermy chose to illustrate...read more
The prominence given to the two great periods of destruction that monumental brasses suffered in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries often masks the further losses that came about through neglect in the eighteenth century and church restorations in the nineteenth. As illustrations of the latter two periods of loss, Suffolk has examples of the loss of life size early fourteenth century figures from Letheringham and Oulton. The effigy of the rector Sir Adam de Bacon at Oulton, stolen in 1857, survived long enough to be rubbed, so that a modern replica has taken its place, but that of...read more
May 2009read more
Dorothy Brewster was the daughter of Sir Thomas Jocelyn of Willingale Doe. She was in her mid-twenties when she died on 27 June 1613 and was buried some three weeks later at Willingale Doe amongst her Jocelyn relations. Her husband was Thomas Brewster of the Middle Temple. When Thomas was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1603, he was described as Mr. Thomas Brewster, late of New Inn, gent., son and heir-apparent of John Brewster of the Middle Temple, esquire. He was bound to his father and Humfrey Brewster, the latter being the second son of Humfrey Brewster,...
On Palm Sunday 1942 the historic centre of Lübeck was devastated by RAF bombers. The three most prominent churches – the Cathedral, the Marienkirche and the Petrikirche – were extensively damaged and numerous art works were lost. At the Petrikirche the important Flemish brass of Johann Clingenberg (d. 1356) was reduced to a few scraps. Among the many treasures lost at the Marienkirche were the Dance of Death paintings by Bernt Notke, virtually all the choir screen, both of the historic organs used by Buxtehude, and a multitude of funerary monuments. The Flemish brass of Tydeman Berck was...read more
In 1965 I was between jobs, and was re-training in Bangor to become a teacher. Wales is not rich in brasses, but when my closest friend from university days, Malcolm Norris, heard where I was going, he asked if I could try to get him rubbings of some of the half-dozen brasses at Llanrwst in what then was still Denbighshire. So we made that village our destination for a family outing. The sexton was friendly, but said I might find it difficult to rub the brasses as several were now mounted in wooden frames on the wall. Sure enough,...read more
February’s brass shows a figure in academic dress.
Surlingham is on the south bank of the River Yare, a few miles east of Norwich. It formerly had two churches. That dedicated to St Saviour was treated as a chapel even though it should have enjoyed full parish status. It was abandoned in the early eighteenth in favour of St Mary’s.
John Alnwik was nominated as vicar of St Mary’s by his kinsman, William Alnwik, bishop of Norwich from 1426 to 1436. John was a fellow of New College, Oxford, by 1426 and bursar of the college in 1427-8. He was presumably...read more
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.
December’s brass is one members saw during the excursion to the Nene Valley earlier this year.
The Bacon family is usually associated with East Anglia but a branch was established in Northamptonshire by Edward Bacon, who was descended from the Bacons of Hessett in Suffolk, in the early seventeenth century. Edward's eldest son, Thomas, was recorded in the heralds' visitation of Northamptonshire in 1618 as seventeen years old. Eight years later, he had a monument with a brass erected to his wife, who died on 29 January 1626 (or 1627 by modern reckoning). The brass is evidently of London manufacture,...read more
November’s brass combines a shrouded effigy with a long verse epitaph.
The practice of engraving the deceased in a burial shroud draws attention to the frailty of man. This sombre message is reinforced in the closing words of the inscription on this poignant brass commemorating Ann Tyrell (1638) at Stowmarket, Suffolk:
“And (by her early gravity, appearing
full ripe for God, by serving and by fearing)
to teach the old, to fixe on him their trust,
before their bodies shall returne to dust.”
We only catch a glimpse of the face of Ann who died at the tender age...read more
The Much Married Spycer of Cirencester: the brass of Reginald Spycer (d. 1442)
The parish church of St John the Baptist, Cirencester, contains a number of remarkable monumental brasses from the fifteenth century.1 Together with St Peter and St Paul, Northleach, and St James, Chipping Camden, Cirencester forms part of the ‘triumvirate’ of wool churches in the Cotswolds. The wealth of these churches is not only reflected in the magnificent architectural features but also in the extent of the funerary commemoration of the parishioners, in the form of brasses, within them.2
1. I am grateful to Martin Stuchfield, Rupert...read more
September's brass commemorates a neighbour of the Paston family.
Stokesby is in the area known today as the Norfolk Broads. Nearby is Mautby, where Margaret Paston was buried in 1484 alongside her ancestors, and beyond Mautby are Caister and Ormesby. Ormesby was the seat of William Clere, Edmund’s grandfather. Edmund’s father Robert was a younger son, as was Edmund himself, but Edmund outlived his brothers, who died without heirs, and so inherited Stokesby from his father, who had been left it in his mother’s will. Edmund had a first cousin of the same name, a younger son of John, William...read more
August's contribution is a brass that was engraved engraved c. 1467, c. 1630 and c. 1850.
The remarkable collection of brasses at Stopham, near Pulborough in Sussex, deserves a full and detailed account, but this one is offered as a sample of the difficulties in store when it comes to disentangling just when, why and by whom the Stopham brasses were made. The series of brasses to the ruling family runs from 1428 to 1977 (so far), although there was a period between the late seventeenth and mid nineteenth centuries when they were commemorated by inscribed marble tablets instead of...read more
July’s brass usually resides in a hinged wooden frame on the east wall of the north aisle of the church of St Margaret of Antioch in Rochester, Kent. However it is not there at present as it is currently being conserved. The brass is palimpsest, i.e. it is engraved on both sides and the hinged frame allowed both sides to be viewed. Various vicissitudes overtook it in the nineteenth century and the metal is so thin that it can hardly support its own weight. As R..A..S. Macalister said when he spoke to the Society in 1891 (C.U.A.B.C. Transactions Vol.read more
The memorial brass to John Stonor now lies under the communion rail in the Church of at Andrew, at Wraysbury (Wyradisbury), in its cut down Purbeck stone. The brass “was formerly under the feet of the servants in the pew belonging to the lay rector”; its removal in the mid 19thC was “to prevent abrasion from pressure”. The church stands on a slight hill, only noticeable in time of flood, on the edge of the village of Wraysbury in the Thames valley opposite Runnymead. A bronze-age Causeway camp lies alongside the churchyard. Only half a mile from the river...read more
May's contribution is a brass that set an interesting precedent.
Anyone reading this who is not a member of the MBS may not be aware of the excitement generated by a metal-detector find in the fields a short distance from Merton church in Norfolk a couple of years ago. Part of one of the scrolls that had been missing from a brass in the church for hundreds of years was unearthed and has now been set back into its indent. It was the first time that a find recorded under the Portable Antiquities Scheme had been linked to an...
County: Meurthe-et-Moselle, 54
April's contribution is a French incised slab with some unusual imagery.
Part of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Toul (Meurthe-et-Moselle, 54) incorporates the 13th century buildings of the ‘Maison-Dieu’, a hospital traditionally founded by the bishop Saint Gérard towards the end of the 10th century. The ‘Salle des Malades’ has been converted into a ‘salle lapidaire’ containing a large number of sculpted figures, panels, epitaphs, fragments and other curiosities.
On the floor of this vaulted room are six incised slabs, quite likely in their original positions. Five of them are engraved with figures of the deceased and appear to have...read more
Date: 1578 & 1593
Anne Fitch, subject of March’s brass, is portrayed on two different brasses in the same church.
Anne Fitch was the daughter of John Wiseman of Felsted, a wealthy Roman Catholic landowner. Her first husband, William Fitch, lord of the manor of Little Canfield, died on 20 December 1578, aged 82, and was buried in Little Canfield church. His will provided for his burial in the chancel next to the burial place of his first wife, Elizabeth. His executors were to prepare ‘a convenient and fair marble stone engraved with my arms and the pictures of myself, my wife [sic] and...read more
February 2008read more
February’s brass of the month is from St Botolph’s church, Boston, Lincolnshire. It now appears a somewhat anonymous figure. Of the inlay only the figure remains, although the cut-down slab shows that it originally had a canopy. There is no record of wording of the marginal inscription, which must have been stolen before Francis Thynne visited the church in c. 1605 and recorded such basses as then remained.
The brass has long been thought to commemorate John Strensall [variously also spelled Stransgill or Stranshale], who was rector of St Botolph’s from before 1378 to his death in 1408.