Brass of the Month
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Page last updated 04 March 2015
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 Sir William de Boville, died 1320, at Letheringham is represented only by its indent, now half covered, and by three sketches made by eighteenth century antiquaries. The effigy of Sir William's great great grandson, Sir John Wingfield survives at Letheringham but was at one stage removed, as D E Davy reported:
This brass, having been for nearly thirty years in the possession of the late Rev. Richard Turner of Yarmouth, has since his death, through the means of Mr. Dawson Turner and the Marquess of Northampton, been restored to the church, and is now fastened against the south wall, though the stone still remains from whence it was removed.
This church was formerly very rich in brasses, but they have all been lost except the above : this was in consequence of the chancel being allowed to become dilapidated, when idle people tore them from their places, and carried them away.
In 1966, another brass, representing one of Sir John's great grandsons, probably Sir Thomas Wingfield, was returned to the church as was also a shield from Sir John's brass. However, Davy, writing in the last twenty years of his life (he died in 1851), knew the location of others:
A plate of brass, which was formerly in this church, was in 1831 in the possession of the Rev. N. T. O. Leman, of Brampton. It only contains an inscription in capitals, for Anne Naunton, wife of Wm. Naunton, Esq. who deceased the 30th of Oct. 1628; with four Latin and eight English verses, composed by Sir Robert Naunton, to his beloved sister.
Against the east wall is a small slab of stone, broken, for " Sir Robert Naunton, Knt. sometime principal Secretarie, and afterwards Master of the Wards, and Counsellor of State to King James and King Charles." The rest of this is behind the abbey; an inscription, which was on brass, is now preserved by Messrs. Nichols, at Parliament Street, Westminster, and printed impressions may be seen in Nichols's Leicestershire.
The church, a former priory, was evidently in a parlous state by the late eighteenth century and was partly unroofed. However a decree from the ecclesiastical authorities to put the church in order had the unfortunate consequence that the chancel was demolished to finance the restoration of the rest of the church and the fabric of the chancel, including monuments, was crushed and carted away. Some fragments survived, as Davy described:
Sir John's mother was Margaret, the heiress of the Bovile family, who married Sir Thomas Wingfield. The greater part of the indent of the brass to Sir Thomas and Margaret now lies at the west end of the nave, under the tower opening, while the indent of Sir John's brass is immediately east of it. Although Sir John's wife, Margaret, daughter of Sir Hugh Hastings, is known to have had her own brass, no trace of it is apparent. Sir John outlived his father by eleven years only, during part of which time he was MP for Suffolk. His son, Sir Robert, married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Russell of Strensham in Worcestershire and there is a striking resemblance between the brasses of Sir John Wingfield and of Robert Russell at Strensham, suggesting that the order for one led to the order for the second. As Sir John Russell married Sir John Wingfield’s widow Margaret and died at Letheringham in 1405, this would not be not surprising. The brasses both belong to the style known as London A. While the designs are very similar, the execution differs, suggesting that they were engraved by different marblers. On Sir John's figure, the areas beneath his armpits and below his left arm are hatched, as are the areas between his sword and his leg, while on Robert's figure, they are all cut away so that the stone shows through. The area above the lion between Sir John's ankles is also hatched but left plain on Robert's.
Despite the scale of the losses at Letheringham, we can be thankful that Sir John's brass survived to return there, unlike most of the other brasses.
Of the numerous stately and costly monuments which adorned the chancel, some fragments only still remain in the church; other fragments are still to be found in the garden behind the priory or abbey; and others also in the garden of the vicarage at Brandeston, collected and built up in a pyramid by the late Rev. Wm. Clubbe, the Vicar.
Some of these have now been returned to the church. Sir John Wingfield's brass effigy survived all this destruction only to be removed in 1813 when Rev. Richard Turner found it loose in its slab. Its inscription and the surviving shield had already been removed and had been used as printing plates as a novel method of reproducing them in Richard Gough's Sepulchral Monuments of Great Britain.
Copyright: Jon Bayliss
John Blatchly, The lost and mutilated memorials of the Bovile and Wingfield families at Letheringham, PSIA, vol 33, part 2 (1974), pp 168-
D. A. Y. (DE Davy), A summary catalogue of sepulchral memorials and remains of ancient art existing in parish churches. County of Suffolk, The Topographer and Genealogist, vol 2 (1853), ed. John Gough Nichols, pp 500-
John Sell Cotman, Engravings of sepulchral brasses in Suffolk (1838), p 6.