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Page last updated 17 April 2017

April 2017 -  Thomas, 1458, & Margery Hesketh, Rufford, Lancashire


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Copyright: Jon Bayliss

The incised alabaster slab commemorating Thomas Hesketh and his wife Margery Mytton lies in St Mary's church at Rufford, which was rebuilt in the nineteenth century. The home of the Hesketh family was the attractive late fifteenth century half-timbered Rufford Old Hall was possibly built by Robert Hesketh, Thomas's son. Thomas's slab has been broken into four but is otherwise its condition is quite good.

    It is difficult to say whether the slab was made close to the alabaster quarries in Chellaston near Derby which were producing fine effigial tombs and slabs in the earlier part of the fifteenth century or in Burton-upon-Trent, to which alabaster tomb-making seems to have switched during the latter half of the century. There is evidence that the Chellaston sculptors were finding it difficult to locate good quality alabaster in large blocks by the 1440s. This comes in the shape of a court case of 1443 concerning the use of impure alabaster to make an expensive monument for a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Thomas Comberworth. The defendants were Robert Sutton and John Sutton of Chellaston and John Chalener of Duffield, a village north of Derby. Robert Sutton is named with Thomas Prentys in two contracts of the late 1410s, one for the splendid surviving tomb of Ralph Grene and his wife at Lowick in Northamptonshire, and another for the effigies of an earl and countess of Salisbury for their tomb in Bisham Abbey. The badly damaged effigy of a lady of this date was removed from Bisham at the Reformation and survives at Burghfield, Berkshire.  The switch to London brasses by a number of East Midlands patrons from around 1460 onwards may be a reflection of the decline of tomb-making at Chellaston, particularly as the earliest surviving example and the one that may have set the trend is the brass of Robert Staunton and his wife of 1458 at Castle Donington, Leicestershire, only a couple of parishes away from Chellaston.

    F A Greenhill, the great authority on incised slabs, listed only two effigial examples in Lancashire, at Radcliffe and this one at Rufford, which he described as “very interesting, especially the civilian dress of the sons”but the latter are not very clear on the rubbing. An earlier Lancashire alabaster slab at Samlesbury can be added to the list. It is believed to commemorate Sir William Atherton and his wife Isabel - the only part of the inscription not covered records her death in February [1441]. The large number of churches in the county rebuilt following the Industrial Revolution may help account for the lack of other examples.

    The inscription at Rufford reads:

Domine miserere animabus Thome Hesketh et Margerie / uxoris ejus qui quidem Thomas / obijt xviij die mensis Decembris ao dni mcccclviij: a litera dominicali.

Robertus Willielmus Margaria Thomas Johannis / Hugo Willielmus Galfridus Richardus Henricus Nicholas  

This expands the many contractions and may be translated thus:

Lord, have mercy on the souls of Thomas Hesketh esquire and Margery his wife, which Thomas died on the 18 day of December in the year of our Lord 1458 dominical letter A.

Robert, William, Margery, Thomas, John, Hugh, William, Geoffrey, Richard, Henry, Nicholas.

An incorrect date has published elsewhere, Greenhill unfortunately taking the year as 1463 from such a source, where it seems as if v has been read as x, and the day and month were read as 8 October. However the information given on the inquisition post mortem of 1460 records Thomas's death as taking place on the last Monday before Christmas 1458. There is a little confusion here as Christmas 1458 fell on a Saturday, which would make Thomas's death a week before Christmas a Saturday rather than a Monday but the use of the Dominical Letter A in the inscription indicates that the year he died was indeed 1458 rather than 1463 which has the Dominical Letter B. The first day of the year determined the letter used, A representing Sunday.  Thomas Hesketh was born early in 1406. His father Nicholas died in 1416 and Thomas became a ward of his uncle's wife Sibyl. In 1428 Thomas proved his age after reaching 21.  On his own death he was succeeded by his son Robert, aged 31 or more. The names at the end of the inscription is those of the children of Thomas and Margery, all but one sons.