BOOK REVIEW: William Lack, H. Martin Stuchfield & Philip Whittemore. The Monumental Brasses of Cambridgeshire (M.B.S. £15.00 1995. ISBN 0 9523315 0 0). xx, 289 pages; 274 illus; bibliography (pp xiii–xix); index; stiff paper cover.


As these county volumes go from strength to strength, it is very fitting that the County in which our Society has its origins should be so thoroughly updated. Fitting also that this the first County undertaken by the CUABC/MBS in 1887 when revision of Haines‘ lists began.

The present volume lists just over 2,300 numbered items, dating from the indent of Bishop William de Luda‘s brass in Ely Cathedral, 1298, to brass inscriptions dated 1993 at Croxton, Prickwillow and elsewhere. Of the total recorded, some 720 (31.3%) are listed as indents or lost brasses, not all of the latter being of pre–1800 date by any means, e.g. Friday Bridge, lost inscription dated 1961. The City of Cambridge itself accounts for over 30% of the surviving brasses (495) and some 28% of the indents and losses (approx. 200). However, it cannot escape notice that numbers of modern brasses, mainly inscriptions only, swell the figures considerably, e.g. Trinity College 140 (including one to Rev. Thomas Thorp, first President of the Cambridge Camden Society (d. 1877, brass erected 1880), with silver and enamel Arms); Magdalene College and St. John‘s College 46 and 32 Victoria and modern brasses respectively. Ely Cathedral has 38 modern brasses, including several fine Victorian figure and cross brasses, some illustrated for the first time (see pp. 109–115) and Linton church has over 50, mostly on the parclose screen, dating from 1962–1993.

Engravers of 19th and 20th century inscriptions range from Gawthorp(e) to Sculptured Memorials & Headstones (1935, St. John‘s College XXXV), from Gaffin, Regent St. London (Horseheath IV, 1874) to the local F.W. Mills of Cambridge (Swaffham Prior XIV, 1902). Perhaps the most poignant and simple is a little plate at Horningsea inscribed Edie‘s Corner. Died 1983‘. Another at St. Wendreda‘s, March, erected 1988, records in detail the sacrifice of a Royal Australian Air Force pilot who died in 1944 during a training flight, staying with his plane after ordering his crew to bail out.

Victorian and modern figure and cross brasses are also very well represented, from the fine series at Ely Cathedral and Sawston, to the bespectacled figure of Christopher Scott DD, STD (d. 1922) under canopy with saints and marginal inscription – a fine example of a late Hardman brass, at the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the English Martyrs, Cambridge (illus. p 46). The most recent figure brass is the 1170 mm (46 in.) high figure of Rev. Canon Mowbray Smith (1897–1976) in mass vestments, at St. Mary, Wisbech. The engraver is not known at present. Examples of brasses by most of the well known manufacturers, designers and engravers are to be found in the county (see Index pp. 278–9).

Cambridgeshire also possesses a wide range of styles and products of identifiable schools of engraving, including the local Cambridge School‘ first suggested by Rev. Herbert Haines andfully documented by the late Roger Greenwood in the late 1960s and after. A chronological list of 109 figure brasses of various schools/workshops, notably London B, D & G, appears on p. 271. Our late President in his usual concise and helpful Introduction draws attention to some of the finer examples (p. iii) and to the value of this volume in again reproducing many of the lesser known and previously un–illustrated brasses and indents, mainly from rubbings, but also from drawings by the county‘s many antiquaries, notable William Cole. As in previous volumes, some of the rubbings have had now missing parts restored‘ by the use of old rubbings, dabbings, etc. in our national collections. Few churches seem to have escaped some losses, some almost certainly at the hand of William Dowsing – as the surviving indents or antiquarian records and drawings indicate, e.g. Cambridge: St. Edward (18); St. Mary the Great (27); Elsworth (10 indents); Gamlingay (15); also there are interesting indents at Cherry Hinton; Haddenham (incl. a bishop under triple canopy); Isleham; Sawston (incl. 2 crosses) and Whaddon. At Landwade, Cole illustrates a series of indents on the cover slabs and backs of altar tombs (see p. 177) and not unexpectedly, Ely Cathedral has an especially fine number of indents, including some fine floriated crosses with kneeling figures in niches at the base (illus. pp. 122–3).

The volume is produced to a very high standard, is extensively and fully referenced to both printed and manuscript sources and is a fine tribute to its three compilers and editors, who have also acknowledged the help of three other MBS members, Chris Byrom, Peter Heseltine and Nicholas Rogers. Finally, and in no way detracting from this review, I noted a few small errors which I hope the editors will find helpful. Additions and corrections are inevitable with the passage of time, and I would encourage members to pass them on to the editors.

Intro., p. iv, para. 3:For Bottisham 17 read ‘18; for ‘Ely 64 and 65 read ‘44 and 47; for ‘as do the great crosses especially 76 read ‘... 56.

On page 66, line 1 the engraver‘s name is given as Paton Wilson‘ (Item X).

In such a short review it is impossible to do justice to so complex and comprehensive a volume. Even if your interests do not lie in Cambridgeshire or any of the other counties preceding it, these volumes are an invaluable source of reference for any serious study of monumental brasses of every period. Copies can be obtained from the Philip Whittemore, 5 Brendon Villas, Highfield Road, London N21 3HP.

Richard Busby
From Monumental Brass Society Bulletin 70 (Oct. 1995), pp. 205-6