BOOK REVIEW: The Monumental Brasses of Bedfordshire by William Lack. H. Martin Stuchfield and Philip Whittemore; with Introduction by Malcolm Norris. (Monumental Brass Society. £12.59 ( + £1.50 p & p ) to subscribers; £15.00 (+ p & p) on publication. April 1992. ISBN 0 9501298 7 9). 114 pages; 146 illus; index; stiff paper cover.
Those 120 personal and institutional subscribers to this, the first of the Illustrated County Guides, will certainly not be disappointed. Although Bedfordshire is not a county that has attracted great attention, its brasses make a very good all round selection of all types and sizes, as this book illustrates so well. Before this volume, Bedfordshire has been poorly represented in print, with a scatter of articles, the fullest of which ‘Brasses of Bedfordshire’ by H.K.St.J. Sanderson. appeared in Vols 2 and 3 of the MBS Transactions. The only book until now was the sadly inadequate one by Grace Isherwood published in 1906. The new book has the merit of illustrating most of the surviving figure brasses (plus a few lost ones); of adding substantially to the references to illustrations given in Mill Stephenson’s List and Supplement; of adding the benefits of modern research, e.g. classification of styles of engraving i.e. London A. London B, etc. (see chronological list pp 108-9) and palimpsest discoveries. Dimensions of figures. inscriptions, etc are also added in millimetres.
The entries are arranged alphabetically by parish as in M.S. (some are now in Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire), and follow a similar format to the original M.S. style of entry using Roman numerals. Lost brasses and indents then follow where appropriate, listed using sequential Arabic numerals, and giving source of illustration where found. References to further information in book. journal or manuscript conclude each entry. Those brasses actually illustrated are copied mainly from rubbings. from MBS Portfolios and Transactions. and occasionally from prints or drawings. Where possible missing parts are shown. or the whole slab illustrated.
Given the dimensions of the book (210 x 148 mm), and the number of illustrations, some of necessity are rather small, e.g. Lower Gravenhurst II(p.48); Stevington I (p.89); a few lack definition, e.g. Clifton I(p.21), though most that do are because the brass itself is worn or an old rubbing used from a national collection. The majority, however, are remarkably clear, e.g. Eaton Bray, Luton IV, the Cople and Wymington series, etc. Only one modern brass is illustrated - that of A.E.M. Beckwith, verger 1935-60 at Luton Parish Church (p.71), a half-effigy in his official robes and carrying a staff. Other later and modern brasses are added to the listings under each parish and are included for the first time.
For those seeking confirmation and information as to the value of this publication, I can do little better than refer them to Malcolm Norris’s concise Introduction. With its clear typography and layout. its handy size and ease of use, I can only add my congratulations to the three editors to that of Dr. Norris. The editors in turn list or make reference to help received from a number of other MBS members. Hopefully, this being the first of the Mill Stephenson Revision county guides, it will inspire others to follow. It is not intended to be the ‘last word’, indeed the editors solicit corrections and/or additions, but it goes further than any previous attempt, and is a worthy update of the pioneering work of Herbert Haines and Mill Stephenson begun all those years ago.
From Monumental Brass Society Bulletin 60 (June 1992), pp. 571-2