Brass of the Month

Copyright © 2013 Monumental Brass Society (MBS)

Page last updated 04 March 2015

Copyright: Jon Bayliss

February 2013 – Thomas Bokenham, 1460, St Stephen's, Norwich

The brass of Thomas Bokenham was included by John Cotman in his book Engravings of Sepulcral Brasses in Norfolk and Suffolk, first published in 1819 and again in a revised, two volume, edition in 1839. Dawson Turner, Cotman's patron, provided the text but was unable to say much about Bokenham other to draw attention to the facts included in the inscription. Today we know a little more about his life: Thomas Bokenham senior was a city councillor representing St Stephen's parish, part of Mancroft Great Ward, from around 1437 until his death in 1460 and sheriff in 1456. Thomas Bokenham junior, his son, was likewise councillor for St Stephen's and sheriff (in 1469) but progressed to be alderman and mayor. Both were involved in the administration of St George's Gild in Norwich, a couple of entries in 1454 referring specifically to Thomas Bokenham senior, although presumably all entries between 1452 and 1456 relate to him. The first surviving entry after 1460 that refers to the younger Thomas, in March 1464/5, also included a mention of Thomas Sheef as one of the feastmasters for the gild's feast. From its style, it is clear that Sheef's workshop was responsible for the older Thomas's brass. Thomas Warner alias Bokenham senior, citizen of Norwich and Rafman, made his will on 28 January 1453/4. It was proved in 1461. He desired to be buried in St Stephen's churchyard. He requested his son, Brother Nicholas, to say a mass for his soul. His will also mentions Robert de Bokenham, late citizen of Norwich. His wife, Christian, was his executrix. She was presumably responsible for Thomas senior's brass. Both Thomases followed the trade of a raffman, a dealer in secondhand goods. The identification of the older Thomas as Warner alias Bokenham, perhaps indicates the use of Bokenham as a means of distinguishing himself from other Thomas Warners living in the city at the time. Thomas junior was likewise called Warner alias Bokenham when he was made a freeman of Norwich in 1451-2, by virtue of his father Thomas Warner's freedom It may derive from the family's geographic origin, most likely to be in Old or New Buckenham or Buckenham Ferry, all Norfolk places but a  deed of 1431 suggests the possibility that Thomas took the name as a recognition of his relationship, perhaps as apprentice, to Robert Bokenham, raffman, and Annabel his wife. Annabel left land to Thomas in her will.

    Dawson Turner commented on Bokenham's bald head but, given the worn state of the brass, it is possible that a lightly engraved 'short back and sides' has been eroded by the many feet that would have trodden on it when it was in the nave, as has happened with the fur at his cuffs and collar. His footwear is a bit different from that depicted on many of his contemporaries' brasses but the figure as a whole is otherwise standard for a civilian effigy from the Norwich 1 workshop run by Thomas Sheef. The position of the figure at the left-hand end of the lost inscription indicates that there was probably once a figure of Christian at the other end. The lost inscription read:

Orate pro animabus Thome Bokenham et Christiane consortis sue, qui quidem Thomas

obiit xii. die Augusti, anno Domini M. cccc. lx. quorum animabus propicietur Deus. Amen

(Pray for the souls of Thomas Bokenham and Christian his wife, which Thomas

died the 12th day of August in the year of our Lord 1460, on whose souls God may have mercy. Amen)

    Although Cotman was able to see Bokenham's brass in the early nineteenth-century and Farrer able to describe it as at the west end of the south aisle in 1890 (it had been in the nave in the early eighteenth-century), by the time that Mill Stephenson published his List in 1926, it was covered by flooring.  The brass has recently emerged and is now in the north aisle as a result of a re-arrangement of the floor slabs. This followed a major leak of water that caused structural damage at the east end, the prolonged closure of the church while it was put right and the installation of under-floor heating. The brass commemorating Eel Buttry, prioress of Campsea, who died in 1546, previously concealed under a trap door in wooden flooring, is now readily accessible.