Brass of the Month

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Copyright: Jon Bayliss

October 2018, Geoffrey and Joyce Sherard, 1492,

Stapleford, Leicestershire

The church of St Mary Magdalen in the grounds of Stapleford Park, Leicestershire, is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. It was rebuilt in the style of a college chapel in 1783 but contains a number of earlier monuments including the brass of Geoffrey and Joyce Sherard. The brass has evidently been relaid at some point as not only is there no indent for the missing crest of Geoffrey's helm but the slab itself is not Purbeck marble, the invariable choice for a late fifteenth-century London floor brass but is of another polishable limestone. The initial overall impression is that it is like the Stamford marble slab in which the brass of Sir Andrew Luttrell at Irnham was relaid some years ago. This is suggestive of a stone from an area close to Stamford. At the time that the church was rebuilt, Rysbrack's monument of Bennet, 1st earl of Harborough, was set in the shallow north transept opposite the monument of William, 1st Lord Sherard of Leitrim, died 1640, in the south transept. above which a pyramid with the busts of the following three earls echoes and balances the form of the 1st earl's. It seems likely that the new slab for the brass was provided at the same time using the nearest source of suitable material.

    The brass is in the London D style and the armoured figure of Geoffrey differs little from similar brasses of the preceding decade. Joyce's figure, by contrast, shows a later fashion of head covering that was current between the demise of the butterfly headdress and the introduction of the pedimental headdress. This particular figure shows to a much greater extent than do the two wives of Roger Salusbury at Horton in Northamptonshire, how much material hangs behind the body. The rest of her dress differs little from that of many slightly earlier figures in this style. Her seven daughters wear butterfly headdresses. The sons, who seem to be treading in each others feet, all wear civilian dress, the eldest having a purse hanging from his belt. Unusually, all the children are on one plate. The foot inscription records Joyce's death on 6th September 1492 and her husband evidently did not expect to survive her by many years as, while the day and month are left blank, the year is partially completed with a gap left after MCCCClxxx. The brass is completed by a shield in each corner, each showing a single charges, identified as Sherard, Ashby, Woodford and possibly Finderne.

    The Sherards traced their ancestry back to a family that arrived in England with William the Conqueror in 1066. They acquired Stapleford early in the fifteenth-century and held it for nearly five hundred years. Geoffrey was a second son who succeeded to the estate after the death of his father Laurence, who had married Elizabeth Woodford of Sproxton. Joyce was the daughter of Thomas Ashby of Lowesby. The former Sherard residence, Stapleford Park, is now a hotel and its  golf course provides access to the church, which is well worth a visit, sitting by itself in a wooded area of the park.