Brass of the Month

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Page last updated 06 July 2015

Copyright: Jon Bayliss

July 2015 -  Benet ____ and wife, 1519, Aldeburgh, Suffolk


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Like other places on the Suffolk coast, Aldeburgh has suffered from erosion and other changes in its landscape. Much of the Tudor town has disappeared into the North Sea, as has the old fort that gave the town its name. The River Alde silted up, depriving the town of its position as a leading port. Even the Martello tower, built in the early nineteenth-century as the largest of a string of artillery platforms along the coast to hinder any Napoleonic invasion, has lost its eastern perimeter wall and ditch to the sea and now sits just above the shore.

     The former prosperity of the town is witnessed by its large church and the considerable number of indents on its floor. On 24th January 1644 William Dowsing arrived in the town, ordering the removal of twenty cherubims and thirty-eight pictures from the church His order was obeyed by the lecturer and the captain of the town's train-band. Dowsing was generally concerned that superstitious words be removed from brass inscriptions rather than with removing inoffensive pictures of those commemorated. When it actually came to doing the removals, it was often the easier option of taking up inscriptions in their entirety from the slabs that was chosen, hence the large number of effigies without inscriptions in Suffolk and elsewhere in the east of England. It is not clear whether the loss of effigies at Aldeburgh was a result of over-enthusiastic preparations for Dowsing's visit – work had already taken place in the chancel – or whether the removal of inscriptions set an example that was followed by later metal thieves.  It is also not clear how this month's brass escaped, if only in part. Perhaps it was partly covered at the time by something heavy enough to discourage the iconoclasts from completing their work. The remaining part of the inscription reads:

         pray for the soules of Benet

         which Benet decessed the ii

         lord mvcxix on whose soule

showing by its opening words that it should have been pulled up by the 1644 iconoclasts had it been visible.

    In 1519 the will of Benet Kneyght of Aldeburgh was proved in the Suffolk Archdeaconry Court at Ipswich. Does this identify the man commemorated? In 1462 the will of Benedict Knytt was proved in the same court, suggesting that the family was well-established in the town. Five other wills of the Knight family of Aldeburgh were proved between 1446 and 1523, all in the same court. The brass as it survives consists of a headless man in civilian dress, half an inscription and a group of three sons. Lost are the effigy of a woman in a pedimental headdress, the other half of the inscription and a group of at least six daughters. The brass is set in a slab of Unio Purbeck marble and was made in a London workshop. As all of the indents at Aldeburgh are Purbeck,  a London origin for all the lost brasses there is very likely. Although there were local workshops producing monumental brasses at Norwich and Bury St Edmunds at the time, many coastal churches in Norfolk and Suffolk were full of London-made brasses, perhaps reflecting that the minimal transport costs for them in their slabs by sea made them a more attractive proposition compared with the cartage costs that buying a brass from Bury would have involved in transporting slabs to the coast. In the churches of the largest port in Suffolk, Ipswich, there were brasses of similar date from both Norwich and the Low Countries but not at Aldeburgh.

The nave at Aldeburgh showing the indents of lost brasses. This month’s brass is in the last but one stone before the chancel step