BOOK REVIEW: William Lack, H Martin Stuchfield & Philip Whittemore. The Monumental Brasses of Berkshire (Monumental Brass Society. £15.00 + £1.50 p + p. 1993. ISBN 0 9501298 8 7). 194 pages; over 200 illus; bibliog.; index; Stiff paper cover.


It seems fitting, on what is almost the 70th anniversary of the publication of H.T. Morley's Monumental Brasses of Berkshire (1924), that this excellent and painstakingly researched volume should appear. Those members who subscribed to the first volume in this series, compiled by the same authors, The Monumental Brasses of Bedfordshire (1992 - reviewed Bulletin 60, pp 571-2), should be even more pleased by its companion, which includes several significant improvements. The quality of the paper and illustration is better; it is also 80 pages longer and yet the price remains the same. The list of manuscript sources cited has doubled.

Like Bedfordshire before, Berkshire is not, as Malcolm Norris indicates in his helpful introduction, a county with many brasses 'well known to the interested public'. Most will have seen illustrations of the best known brasses amongst the collections at Bray, Childrey, Shottesbrooke and Windsor. But what Berkshire may apparently lack of the more spectacular brasses, it more than makes up for by the sheer range and variety of examples, especially 16th and early 17th century ones.

Thus we find a grinning, shrouded skeleton, 1518 (Appleton I); a well designed and executed armoured figure in tabard, 1517 (Tidmarsh II - sadly with top of head lost); a good series of early single and double half effigies, e.g. Binfield I, 1361; Abingdon I, 1417; Lambourne I, 1406 & II, c. 1410 and St Laurence, Reading, c. 1415. Of good later examples there are illustrations of those at e.g. Stanford Dingley III, c. 1620; East Lockinge I & II, 1624 & 1628; Kintbury I, 1626; Ufton Nervet I, 1627 and Winkfield I, 1630. Also from this period (and some 20 years earlier) are some 30 examples in the style of Gerard Johnson of Southwark and a further six (3 uncertain) attributed to the style of Edward Marshall (d. 1675) - see p 183.

Victorian and early 20th century figure brasses are well represented, including examples of work by J.W. Archer, John Hardman & Co., the Waller brothers, T.J. & W.E. Gawthorp, Julian P. Allan and Robert Austin. These range in date from 1848 (Theale I) to c. 1935, and in size from the diminutive Britannia-like figure of St Helen (Pevsner says of "Faith"), Blewbury VIII, 1849, to the splendid composition in Gothic style to Rev. William Gresley, 1876, All SS, Boyne Hill, Maidenhead, I (p 97); from two rather 'heavy' Gawthorp designs at Clewer, Convent of St John the Baptist, I, 1883 and St Stephen V, 1932, to the careful designs of Julian Allan at Denchworth, 1932 & c. 1935 and Longworth, 1936 & 1944; similarly two good ecclesiastical figures at Midgham, 1906 and Yattendon, 1924. Sadly, a a J.W. Archer brass at Wargrave, 1844, was largely destroyed by fire in 1914.

Finally, at Shinfield, near Reading, is an inscription (not illustrated) of literary interest, to theparents of the authoress Mary Russell Mitford, 1842, engraved by W. Jeffrey, London. As an aside, I will add that in the Life of Mary Russell Mitford ..., Vol 3, pp 199-200 (pub. 1870), she mentions the brass to 'be placed over my dear father and mother, in Shinfield Church. I send you a rubbing of it ..'

Also illustrated are a number of interesting palimpsests, e.g. Binfield II; Blewbury VI; Cookham VII; Sonning II & III; Stanford-in-the-Vale I (early, 1398) and lost brasses/indents, e.g. Buckland 9; Hurley 14 (unusual); Cookham 18 (from drwg. in Bodleian Library); Marcham 6 (stolen, with other brasses 1837); St Laurence, Reading II. The four churches with the highest number of recorded losses/indents are St George's Chapel, Windsor (22 lost, 27 indents noted); St Laurence, Reading (21); Bray (10) and New Windsor (11).

The arrangement of the list is as with Bedfordshire, alphabetically by place, using parishes as listed in Haines and Mill Stephenson (several are now in Oxfordshire), and using the same Roman numbers for all existing examples and Arabic numbers for indents/lost brasses. Modern inscriptions are all noted, and include such things as brass window plates, organ cases and war memorials, where recorded by compilers. Dimensions of these are not normally give. Much of the pleasure and value of this book is found not just in the 216 illustrations, many of items rarely if every illustrated in this way before, but also as a source of reference and comparison for classifying and comparing like and unlike in other counties. This is helped by the useful chronological list of figure brasses, with styles of engraving, on pp 182-3, with London G well represented with 37 out of the 115 London A to G examples cited.

The authors are to be congratulated on producing what will remain the definitive list for Berkshire for many decades to come. They would, however, welcome additions/corrections from users. I have spotted one minor error on p 99, where the illustration of Moreton, North should be numbered II, not III. I am sure our late President, John Page Phillips, to whom the book is dedicated, would have been proud to have his name associated with this excellent volume, as should be those M.B.S. members who assisted in its compilation.

Richard Busby
From Monumental Brass Society Bulletin 63 (June 1993), pp. 66-7