BOOK REVIEW: William Lack, H Martin Stuchfield & Philip Whittemore. The Monumental Brasses of Dorsetshire. (M.B.S. £15.00 (£12.50 to subscribers)). 2001 [pub. 2002]. ISBN 0 9523315 6 X). xx, 300 pages; illus; bibliography; refs; index; stiff paper covers.
For a county not noted for its pre-1750 brasses (Mill Stephenson lists 117 - and this number has only increased slightly in compiling the present list), the size of this volume alone, second only to its neighbour Devon, is quite remarkable. Of the pre-1750 surviving brasses, the best known are Wimborne Minster, St Ethelred, King of the West Saxons (LSW I, c. 1440) and the fine London 'B' brass at Thorncombe (LSW I, 1437, and in Devonshire until 1843). Also well known is the indent of the Matravers fret (Lytchett Matravers I, 1364) and the frequently illustrated late brass of Dorothy Williams, 1694 at Pimperne, signed by Edmund Culpeper. There are a number of good late 16th /early 17th century figures, many kneeling, e.g. Bere Regis II, 1596; Church Knowle I, 1572; Fleet (Holy Trinity) I & II, 1603 and 1612; Milton Abbey II, 1565; Puncknowle I, c. 1600 and Winterbone Came I, 1591, mostly London 'G' or Johnson style, a number with very well engraved heraldic shields or achievements and lettering. There are also many 17th and 18th century inscriptions in a wide variety of lettering styles, both conventional and locally produced, a good selection of which are illustrated from rubbings - but some, by their very nature, not reproducing very clearly.
Ncither do surviving indents figure largely, though the various editions and revisions of John Hutchins' county history (1774 et seq.) record many now missing examples. The best come from former monastic churches, e.g. Abbotsbury Abbey; Bindon Abbey; Shaftesbury Abbey, with Bere Regis parish church having the most surviving/lost examples. Palimpsests are even scarcer, e.g. Piddlehinton II; Litton Cheney I; Lytchett Matravers II (figure appropriated; inscription palimpsest); and Wimborne Minster I, (Priests House Museum).
There are some good 19th century figure and cross brasses of similar date, notably by Messrs Waller, e.g. Sherborne Abbey IV (figure, 1858, Illus. p. 189); and VI (cross c. 1858, illus p. 190) and a few by Hardman e.g. Bradford Peverell II, (1859). At Purse Caundle VI (1858) is a pleasing kneeling figure under a double canopy, probably by Hardman; at Lyme Regis VIII (1890) is an unusual design of a young man kneeling at a prayer desk, signed by the lesser known company, Benham & Froud; whilst at Spetisbury (I, 1874) is an unsigned, well proportioned cross and marginral inscription. In Sherborne School Chapel are an interesting series of plates signed by the engraver A[lan] G. Wyon, dating from 1887-1930.
In the 339 buildings listed, it is inscriptions of minor historical interest which increase the overall total considerably, e.g. nearly 230 brass or bronze inscriptions in the Garden of Remembrance (St Michael, Hamworthy, Poole) and some 90 small brass plates on chairs in the new church of St Paul, Canford Heath, Poole. There is also a surprisingly large number of memorials to 19th and 20th century military and/or naval personnel, notably from campaigns such as the Crimean War; India; the Sudan; South Africa and World War I. Others simply record heroic deeds outside the theatre of war, such as Lt Alan Wyldbore Bosworth Smith, RN, who died on 18 September 1901 on the bridge of his sinking ship HMS Cobra, with arms folded to the last (Melcombe Horsey I, p.125). At Blandford Forum, the last inscription listed is one regarding the presentation of a sanctuary lamp. This has personal associations for the reviewer, who was at Blandford Camp from 1958-59, attached to 15 Training Batt., R.A.S.C., which gave the lamp to mark their long association with the town. This ended when the Battalion was disbanded in 1959, which gives a clue to the likely date of this otherwise undated plate.
One of the most recent inscriptions, with arms, can be found in the porch at Frome Vauchurch, marking the new Millennium in 2000. Perhaps the most unusual locations for inscriptions are one on 'a stone teddy bear' (1997), Alderholt X and another, dated 1943, in the former United Reformed Church, Shaftesbury, now a coffee shop, which was loose behind the bar in 2001! (see p. 185).
Most of the signed brasses are, as usual, inscriptions, with 66 separate names of engravers/manufacturers named in the Index (pp. 281-2), the large majority of 19th and 20th century date. One name has been omitted, on an inscription at Buckland Newton II (1829), which is signed (not inappropriately!) 'J. Latten', according to the RCHM survey of the church. Just as medieval families often chose the same workshops for their brasses, so too did Victorian and later families like the Pickard-Cambridges at Warmwell, (1895-1918) who used Wippells of Exeter. The same family are also associated directly or indirectly with most of the 16 brasses at Bloxworth.
The Introduction to this volume is a very full and useful one and should be read by all users of the book. It ends with a plea for further research, for example through wills and the study of other contemporary memorials, which may help answer the question as to why Dorset is so poor in its numbers of older brasses. With only 33 pre-1750 figure brasses listed on p. 273 (mostly London 'D', 'G' and 'Johnson'), this is a fair question. Does it have anything to do with the fact that the famous Purbeck stone quarries were in the county?
There are nearly 240 illustrations, 218 of existing brasses, plus 23 indents/lost brasses. With the overall paucity of figure brasses, inevitably many are of inscriptions, with or without accessories. As in the counties covered in previous volumes, Dorset has its fair share of (mainly) inscriptions in churchyards. There are also quite a noticeable number of church buildings now in private hands or converted to other uses, with only a few vested in the Churches Conservation Trust. The compilers are to be congratulated on the very comprehensive coverage and detail they have achieved in the space of about one year of searching (2001). The 26 page Index of names (compiled as in previous books by William Lack), is an essential part of these volumes, bearing testimony to their extensive listing, and should in itself prove an invaluable resource for family and local historians and other users.