Brass of the Month

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This month's brass is unusual in two respects: it marks a family vault rather than an individual's grave and it belongs to the late Georgian era, long after the heyday of the monumental brass but before their Victorian revival.

    The Talbot family was long-established in Wymondham as a junior branch of the great family who had come to England with the Conqueror. In the Elizabethan period, Thomas Talbot LL.D. had acquired Gonville Hall in the parish from Sir Edward Clere. In 1795, the teen-aged Thomas Sugden Talbot succeeded his father, Thomas Talbot, a surgeon, as head of the family. T S Talbot, who had been schooled at Paston School, North Walsham, was admitted pensioner in 1794 and awarded his BA in 1799 at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge, ordained a deacon at Norwich in September 1801 and a priest two years later. In 1802, he was staying in Paris with his sister Frances during the time that the Treaty of Amiens was being negotiated. A number of his letters to his future wife and to James Edward Smith of Norwich, founder and president of the Linnean Society, survive from this trip, during which he was presented to Napoleon and both he and Frances undertook some painting. He had continued his studies at his Cambridge college, was junior Fellow Michaelmas 1802 to Michaelmas 1803 and awarded his MA in the latter year. Thereafter a clerical career followed with his presentation by John Hill as rector of Gressenhall, some twenty miles west of Norwich, in July 1805. He had already married Anne, the twenty-year-old daughter of John Hill of Gressenhall Hall in June 1803. Four sons were born and baptised at Old Catton, immediately north of Norwich, between 1804 and 1809. Two further sons were baptised at Thorpe St Andrew, immediately east of Norwich, in 1811 and 1812. It is not clear why, as rector of Gressenhall until 1807, he chose to live so close to Norwich but his appointments from 1809 until 1812 as vicar of Horham St Faith and Horsford, both not far north of the city (a licence for his non-residence survives in the Norfolk Record Office), and as incumbent of St Mary Coslany in Norwich itself from 1811-28 put him much closer to those benefices. He was, from 1813 until his death in 1832, the rector of Heigham, a parish so close to the west of the city that a small part of it is actually within the city walls. In 1814 he was instituted rector of Carleton St Peter, an incumbency he retained until his death. From 1817 until 1825 he was rector of Troston in Suffolk, and from 1828 rector of Tivetshall where he died. He had also been instituted as rector of Hempstead and Lessingham in the same year. When he subscribed to the publication of John Chambers' A general history of the county of Norfolk, published in 1829, he was living in Sprowston, immediately north-east of Norwich, where his residence was Sprowston Hall itself, to which he is said to have made extensive improvements. On 27th May 1831, he was one of twelve men to be appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk, his mural monument terming him Rector of the two Tivetshalls and Deputy Lieutenant.

    Talbot was buried in the south aisle of Wymondham Abbey, where he is commemorated by a black marble ledgerstone and a mural tablet, the latter signed by James Watson, a prolific Norwich sculptor. As the second inscription on the ledger reveals, it was evidently the death of two of his sons in 1821 that had caused his thoughts to turn to commemoration of his family. There has evidently been some movement of ledgerstones in the aisle as the inscription on his ledger, at the west end of the south aisle begins 'In the Vault beneath', whereas the stone with the brass marking the entrance to the Talbot family vault is below the tablet, towards the east end of the aisle. This latter area had evidently been the burying place of the Talbots for many years as an inscription, formerly on a pillar at the east end of the aisle, to Ann, died 1669, daughter of Thomas Talbot makes clear. This has been moved to the south wall at some point. The stone marking the entrance to the Talbot vault has, besides the brass shield with his arms, a white veined marble inset denoting the 'Entrance to the Talbot family vault under the steps 1821', possibly covering an inscription indent as the stone is of Vaudey Abbey marble, used by the Norwich marblers' workshops from the mid fifteenth-century until the Reformation. It seems likely that the brass shield was also an addition to the vault entrance slab in 1821. On the stone itself 'E. T. Jan. 28. 1801.' The latter refers to the death of Elizabeth Talbot, who was buried on the 3rd February that year. She was T S Talbot's grandmother. Two freestone ledgers immediately to the north commemorate his grandfather John Talbot, who died in 1793 and his father, although the latter also has a mural monument now elsewhere in the church.

February 2016, Talbot family, 1821, Wymondham, Norfolk

    The arms on the brass are, according to Farrer,

Quarterly: —1, Talbot; 2, A trefoil slipped between three lions rampant (Talbot, Argent, three lions purpure) ; 3, Bendy of ten argent and gules, Talbot; 4, Quarterly, or and gules, over all an escarbuncle sable, Mandeville ; impaling, Gules, two bars ermine, in chief a lion passant or, Hill. The arms clearly relate to the marriage between Talbot and his wife Anne Hill but are repeated on neither his ledgerstone nor his mural monument, although the latter incorporates, without tinctures, the crest of Talbot of Gonville Hall, Wymondham: a demi-ostrich arg., with wings expanded or, ducally gorged gu.

    Thomas Sugden Talbot was an important figure in the history of the study of monumental brasses in Norfolk. As a schoolboy in the 1790s, he had made rubbings of many of the county's brasses, from which he then made accurate drawings. His family was evidently of artistic temperament, his younger sister Frances (later to become Countess of Morley) winning national prizes for two of her paintings in 1800 and 1802, one a copy of an old master but the other drawn from life. Her brother's drawing of brasses, the property of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, are now deposited in the Norfolk Record Office. They include a number of brasses that are now lost. He lent his rubbings to John Sell Cotman when Cotman was preparing his volumes Engravings of Sepulchral Brasses in Norfolk and Suffolk in the early nineteenth-century. Cotman made his debt to Talbot clear in the introduction to the first volume: 'without the unwearied researches and equal liberality of the former [Talbot], a great proportion of its most valuable contents never would have been in his possession—indeed, never could have been known to him.' The engraved plates that best reflect this are those of the brasses at Ingham. Cotman had heard of them as a very fine collection but when he turned up at Ingham, he found that the brasses had been torn up and sold as old metal in 1800. The letterpress relating to two of the  Ingham engravings credits Talbot as supplying the rubbings. Where Cotman's engravings differ from Talbot's drawings of the same brasses is that whereas Cotman omitted the areas of shading that the marblers had increasingly added to their engravings of brasses as time went in Talbot included them making his reproductions of these brasses the more accurate.  It seems most appropriate that Talbot should choose to mark his family vault with a brass.

    Since recent building work to wall and cover areas unroofed at the Reformation the east end of the south aisle is no longer obstructed as it was formerly. There are six indents in this area, rather more than can be found in the north aisle, although none is very exciting. Any major brasses would have been in the demolished monastic east end of the abbey and were destroyed or, as is most probable in the case of that of Sir Adam de Clifton, moved elsewhere.

Copyright: Jon Bayliss