Brass of the Month

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Page last updated 10 May 2017

May 2017 -  John Weston, 1566 (C17 engraving), Rugeley, Staffordhire


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Copyright: Jon Bayliss

When the new church of St Augustine at Rugeley was built in 1822, parts of the old church were preserved as a separate building. The chancel contains a number of monuments commemorating the Weston family, the oldest by date of death being the brass of John Weston, who died in 1566. As Pevsner observed, it is 'still entirely in the medieval tradition'. When I rubbed it in 1985, I was puzzled as it did not relate to any brasses of similar date from London or Coventry workshops. I remained puzzled until I read an article published in 1992 by our vice-president Jerome Bertram.1

    Bertram explained that in 1632 two important men, both surnamed Weston, who then held the posts of Lord Treasurer and Baron of the Exchequer respectively, commissioned Henry Lilly, Rouge Croix herald, to produce their pedigree. Lilly did so and the impressive vellum document still survives but Lilly's findings are questionable in respect of, among other things, the origins of the Weston family of Rugeley. There is no doubt that one of Lilly's two Weston patrons, the Baron of the Exchequer, was indeed descended from John Weston but John Weston's own descent is another matter. Bertram noted that Lilly's conclusions had been disproved in print in 1878.2 Of the other monuments to the family in the remains of the old church, those commemorating John Weston's son Richard, died 1613, and grandson Ralph, died 1605, are both tablets that appear to emanate from the workshop of Jasper Hollemans at nearby Burton-upon-Trent. They indicate that the family was at least of some local importance by the early seventeenth century. John Weston's brass, however, must originate from the 1630s and be related to the production of Henry Lilly's Weston pedigree.

    As Bertram pointed out the most notorious evidence of the period for the embellishment of family history by laying down brasses made to look older than they actually are were the series laid down at Pluckley in Kent by Sir Edward Dering. The man employed by Sir Edward to produce these antiqued memorials was Edward Marshall. Dering's accounts for 1627 including payments to Marshall for a couple of them have come to light in recent years. Less blatant examples of the same sort of embellishments of existing series of family brasses can be seen at Stopham in Sussex and Sotterley in Suffolk, the latter featured here in May 2010. Even less obvious is the brass of Henry Lukyn, died 1544, at Isleham, Cambridgeshire. It consists of an inscription only and is on the same slab as the inscriptions to his son Robert, died 1616, and daughter-in-law Alice, the latter two in Roman capitals contrasting with the black-letter script of Henry's, which links it to John Weston's memorial. Variations between the lettering on the various examples of antiqued brasses attributed to Edward Marshall suggest that the brasses were produced over a substantial period and infrequently enough for the lettering not to be as standardised as it would have been if such brasses were in constant supply.    

1. Jerome Bertram, 'The Weston brass at Rugeley, Staffordshire, The Antiquaries Journal, 72 (1992), pp. 180-183.

2. R. E. Chester Waters, Genealogical memoirs of the extinct family of Chester of Chicheley (1878), pp. 93-95