The Monumental Brasses of Devonshire. William Lack, H. Martin Stuchfield and Philip Whittemore. (Monumental Brass Society. £15.00 + £2.50 p.& p. 2000. ISBN 0 9523315 7 8). xx, 388 pages; 206 illus; bibliography; index. Stiff paper covers.


This latest volume in the county series is the largest yet. Weighing in at a hefty 960 grams [or just over 2 pounds], it represents a vast amount of fieldwork and research in a predominantly rural area, with all the logistical problems that entails. Devon is the third largest county in England, with over 600 medieval churches alone. Not unexpectedly, however, it is the post­1750 brasses that form the large bulk of the new entries, many with maritime, naval or military origins.

In all some 540 ecclesiastical or other buildings are recorded with between one and fifty plus entries; 15 of those included were not searched, but relevant information found from other sources. A further 29 were searched, but nothing found, and 57 churches were not searched (see lists p. 348). The City of Exeter has 126 items listed (including lost brasses/indents); next come towns like Dartmouth (92 existing + 3 lost); Ilfracombe (72 + 1 lost) whilst Plymouth tops the list with 236 existing and 9 lost brasses.

The Introduction, as in previous volumes, repays reading and provides an admirable overall picture of the county‘s brasses (pp. iii­iii). The majority of pre­1750 figure brasses are London made, ranging in date from c. 1370 (Stoke­in­Teignhead I) to 1639 (Harford II), with a few later local examples, including two at Otterton, both dated 1641 and possibly attributable to William Wright (illus. p. 221). There is documentary evidence that some plates were sent from London to be set in their slab by local masons (Intro., p. iv). Accounts also survive for lost locally made early brasses in Exeter Cathedral, 1301, 1302 and 1307.

Of Devon‘s older brasses, probably the best known and most illustrated are those of John Corp and his grand­daughter (Stoke Fleming I, 1391); John Hauley, 1401 and his 2 wives under triple canopy (St Saviour, Dartmouth, I) and two brasses in Exeter Cathedral to Sir Peter Courtenay, KG, engr. c. 1410 (illus. pp. 114 & 115) and the kneeling figure of Canon William Langeton, 1413 (illus. p. 116). There are a number of good Johnson style attributions, e.g. East Allington III, 1595; St Petrock, Dartmouth 1609 and 1610; and Haccombe II & III, 1586 and 1589. Clawton I, c. 1490 is a small civilian figure which was 'Purchased in an Oxford junk shop by a former incumbent ­ provenance unknown' (illus. p. 67). Unusually, in the Methodist & United Reform Church, Dartmouth is an inscription to John Flavell, 1691, 'noted Puritan Divine and writer' signed Mordecai Cockey Sculpsit, moved here from St Saviour, Dartmouth in 1895 (see p. 90). Of lost brasses and indents, Berry Pomeroy IV, 1501, the early series at Exeter Cathedral and the lost indent at Bampton of Sir John Bourchier, 1540, are especially noteworthy. So too are the palimpsests at Braunton, 1548 (illus p. 42); St Saviour, Tor Mohun, Torquay, 1581, [the church is now the Greek Orthodox church of St Andrew] and Luppitt, c. 1440. (illus. p. 191).

Many of the signed Victorian and later brasses are inscriptions with or without accessories, with J. Wippell & Co of Exeter and London, not surprisingly, providing many examples. However, good modern figure brasses are thinly spread, with interesting examples at Exeter Cathedral, XXII, 1892 (illus. p. 123); Plymouth, R.C. Cathedral of St Mary & St Boniface, I, 1902 (by Hardman; illus. p. 231); Exeter, St Michael & All Angels, Heavitree, I, 1857 and Wynard‘s Almshouse Chapel III, 1867 (illus. p. 138) and Plymouth, College of SS Mark and John, I, 1883 (illus. p. 235), in memory of Rev. Derwent Coleridge, son of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and First Principal of the College. This large rectangular brass was moved from the former College Chapel in Chelsea in c. 1970 and now graces the wall in the entrance to the Dept of Theology and Philosophy. However, probably the most significant brass was that made by Messrs Waller for the Great Exhibition of 1851, and later used as a family memorial in the Chapel of St Raphael‘s Convalescent Home, Torquay (later Pitt House Schools) c. 1880. It was acquired by the V& A Museum, London in 1985 (pp. 306, 308­9).

Other modern brasses of interest include an unusual deathbed scene, with the deceased being read the last rites and with two African boys nearby, one carrying a processional cross. Below the central inscription is a boat at sea carrying the coffin. Unsigned and dating from 1872, it commemorates R.L. Pennell, M.A., who died at Zanzibar (Cheriton Bishop, illus. p. 59). Churston Ferrers VI, has an inscription below a window given in 1957 by the famous crime writer Agatha Christie Mallowan (1890­1976), whilst at Buckland Brewer is an inscription in memory of locally born John William Taylor (1827­1906), founder of the famous bell founders at Loughborough, Leicestershire (see p. 51). Holy Trinity, Ilfracombe XI, 1884, illus. p. 168) has a rectangular plate to Lt. C.B. Down (d. 1881) with a large sword piercing a canopy, inscrs., arms and evangelical symbols at the corners, signed by Cox & Buckley Ltd. of London. [I found a brass of similar design used as a memorial to President James A Garfield (d. 1881), now in the Episcopal Church, Elberon, New Jersey, USA, also made by Cox & Buckley. A stock design (no. 354) of similar style appears in their 1875 Catalogue (copy in the Bodleian Library, Oxford)].

I end with a plea. This volume is a remarkable compilation at a very competitive price, and like its earlier and forthcoming volumes, should be of interest to many others beyond our own Society ­ not least family and local historians. It is a matter for regret, therefore, that subscribers to the series as a whole have not greatly increased beyond our own membership, though are fairly consistent. The pattern is as follows (figures based on printed lists in each volume):

Bedfordshire111 + 5Institutional
Berkshire  98 + 3"
Buckinghamshire105 + 4"
Cambridgeshire123 + 7"
Cheshire108 + 7"
Cornwall106 + 8"
Cumb. & W.135 + 8"
Derbyshire142 + 10"
Devonshire111 + 8"

One understands county and regional interests and loyalties, especially amongst local historians, but for genealogists such volumes are a treasure house. Can we try to reach more of them to help sell more copies? I rest my case! The volume is dedicated to our member Frank Kingwell of Plymouth, who covered many of the churches in south Devon during the last two years, and also has a second dedication in memory of the late Walter Mendelsson FSA (1930­2000), our former Hon. Secretary.

Richard Busby