William Lack, H Martin Stuchfield and Philip Whittemore ed., The Monumental Brasses of Hertfordshire, The County Series (Stratford St Mary, Suffolk, 2009); xxxiv + 754 pp., 672 illus. + 18 b/w photos.; bibliography; index; stiff paper covers; ISBN 978-0-9554484-2-3.


This volume is the first in the County Series to be reviewed in the MBS Transactions, so it is fitting that it proves to be the second largest published to date, as well as the sixteenth in this now well established series.

Given Hertfordshire's proximity and access to the massive output of the London workshops, it is no surprise to find that from c. 1300 until c. 1640 nearly all its brasses were produced there. The chronological list of figure brasses (pp. 725-26) names 204 London A to G, plus 27 Gerard Johnson products. Of the very few provincial workshops represented, notably Cambridge, plus Suffolk 1 and 3 (most lost), nearly every example comes from the north of the county at Hitchin, St. Mary (XIII, XIV, 69 (lost) & 78) or nearby at Offley (I & II).

It is no surprise to find that most of the earliest known brasses in the county were in the great Benedictine abbey at St Albans. When John Philipot visited the dissolved monastery in 1643, he made sketches or records of many now lost or mutilated examples; several of them are reproduced in this volume. Some 160 years later, John Carter's detailed floor plan of the Abbey, made c. 1811-12, shows over 200 slabs with brasses and/or indents. Today, only some 20 older brasses survive in part or whole, and 67 indents/losses are noted, including one incomplete slab, 126, found in pieces in 1978 during the Chapter House excavations, believed to be that of the royal surgeon Adam Rous, d. 1379 (report to be published 2012) (Fig. 1). At St Albans, two of the finest brasses are I, the famous Flemish brass to Abbot Thomas de la Mare, engraved c. 1355, and III, Abbot John Stoke, 1451, now sadly mutilated. Other brasses to the lesser clergy are more modest. However, indents do survive of some of the earliest monastic brasses, notably those of John de Berkhamstede, d. 1301; Richard Wallingford, d. 1336, and the slab now in fragments to John de Whetehampstede, c. 1470. All are illustrated with rubbings and/or drawings. It is also said (in the Gesta Abbatum, I, pp. 149, 158) that when Abbot Thomas de la Mare had his Flemish brass made, he also ordered one of similar size to his predecessor, Abbot Michael Mentmore, of which the indent (69) still remains in the Presbytery.

Hertfordshire also has a good selection of early slabs with Lombardic individual letter inscriptions, the earliest probably being that of Abbot John de Berkhamstede, d. 1301. A few show semi-relief stone crosses within a border inscription in single Lombardic letters, e.g. Clothall 9, c. 1310-20; Cheshunt 29 (lost) and Sawbridgeworth (not recorded here, but attributed by Badham and Norris, Early Incised Slabs (1999), p. 136, to William de Say, d. 1295. Other later examples, e.g. Anstey 6 (early fourteenth century); Stevenage, St. Nicholas 13, c. 1320-30, have indents of crosses, mostly with figures in the head. Others simply have Lombardic border inscriptions, with or without a small brass inscription and shield(s), e.g. Graveley 4, c. 1340-50; Watton-at Stone 33 & 34, both early fourteenth century; Westmill 11, c. 1320-30 (all illustrated) and St Paul's Walden 22, c. 1310-20 (now covered, not illustrated). Old drawings exist of lost slabs at East Barnet 19; Kings Langley 35; St. Albans, St. Peter 101; and Wheathampstead 168.

The volume lists nearly 520 lost brasses, slabs and indents, including a handful of modern inscriptions, with significant losses recorded at Aldenham (24); Baldock (36); Hitchin, St. Mary (33); St. Albans Cathedral (67) and St. Albans, St. Peter (33). Many losses are known not just from printed county histories (of which Hertfordshire has five), but from sketches and drawings, notably by J.G. Oldfield and Thomas Fisher, and from early dabbings and rubbings in national collections. Including St. Albans Cathedral, in the city as a whole 113 losses are recorded, including a rose brass at St. Peter's church 103, illus. p. 532. At Aldenham, the old slabs, some with brasses still in them, were allegedly sold to line the ovens of a baker in nearby Watford!

One more example will suffice to illustrate the vicissitudes of survival and loss at just one church, arguably one of the most interesting series of brasses in the county. At Watton-at- Stone, I & II were both relaid in new slabs in the early 1850s.The then mutilated figure of Sir Philip Peletot, knight, LSW.I, 1361, had the missing legs, canopy, two shields and the marginal inscription very skilfully restored. A priest in choral cope, LSW.II, c. 1370, now has only the figure remaining, but originally had a canopy and marginal inscription. It is usually said to represent John Briggenhall, rector from 1366 until his death in 1375, Oldfield's note accompanying his drawing of c. 1790 (reproduced p. 664), says that a small piece of the marginal inscription then remained with the words 'Eccles et Canonci in Ecclesia...'. This, together with a will dated 22 July 1375, suggests the figure could be John de Thorp, Canon of St. Paul's, London and Rector of Cottenham, Cambs. In his will he asked to be buried in the chancel of Watton-at-Stone ' if I die there, or in St. Paul's if I die in London'. Of 326 known medieval burials in St. Paul's, there is no record of a John de Thorp (ex inf. Christian Steer and Marie-Helene Rousseau), so his burial at Watton remains a possibility.

Hertfordshire's proximity to the capital has also left us a good selection of brasses to officers and servants of the royal household. Probably best known is that of John Peryent, pennon-bearer to Richard II, esquire to Henry IV and Henry V and Master of the Horse to Queen Joan of Navarre, and his wife, chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Joan (Digswell I, 1415). Knebworth I, 1414, is to a treasurer of the household to Henry V; whilst II, 1433, is the once fine London B brass to John Hotoft, holder of a similar post under Henry VI. Aspenden II, 1508, shows Sir Robert Clyfford, master of ordnance to Henry VII. Less common offices represented on brasses are those of John Borrell, d 1531, Serjeant at Arms to Henry VIII, mutilated but holding his mace (Broxbourne V); and John Kent in the uniform of a yeoman of the guard (Aston I, 1592). Lastly, Hunsdon III, 1591, is the unique 'deaths-signe brasse' of James Gray, park-keeper. His striking brass illustrates the front cover of this volume.

The county has a number of fine military brasses, of which two of the best are the London B figures at Digswell (I, 1415) and Sawbridgeworth (I, 1437). Broxbourne II, 1473, has the figures of Sir John Say and wife, in tabard and mantle, still retaining much of their original colour; and St. Albans Cathedral XI, 1480, has the well-known London D figure of Sir Anthony Grey, with collar of Suns and Roses. At Albury (II, c. 1475) Henry Barley's armour, including salade, has been carefully engraved with attention to detail. Other 'Yorkist' style armour can be seen at Sawbridgeworth V, c. 1480; Standon III, 1477 - son in tabard, his father in the robes of a London alderman; Sandon I, 1480; and Wheathampstead II, c 1480, but sadly mutilated, probably one of the Brockett family. The only surviving example of a kneeling figure, at Standon (I, 1412) has lost its upper half, but was once at the foot of a cross with his wife opposite.

Apart from those already mentioned there are other interesting examples of ecclesiastical brasses within the county. Probably the best known and most illustrated is the Flemish brass of William de Kestevene, vicar (North Mimms, I, 1361). Half-effigies of priests survive at Great Berkhamsted IV, c. 1400 (with very life-like face) and Much Hadham II, c. 1420, in academical robes. Three lost examples are illustrated at Baldock 32, c. 1450 and Offley 14, c. 1460, both holding a chalice, and Wormley 27, 1457; another, Broxbourne III, c. 1475, (illustrated p. 131) is still in private possession. The finest coped priest is that of Simon Bache, Knebworth I, 1414, whilst Buckland II, 1478, shows William Langley in a plainer cope and unusually holding a small chalice. Clothall has four ecclesiastical brasses, including V, 1602, a good Johnson style figure of William Lucas. Barley II, 1621, another Johnson style brass is to the theologian and academic Andrew Willet, in cap, gown and scarf. Arguably the two most unusual brasses are Buntingford I, 1620, showing Alexander Strange, vicar, preaching to his congregation; and Datchworth I, 1622, a small plate bearing a tree with serpent entwined round it and dove in rays of glory above (illus. for first time, p. 175). The best academical brass, now sadly mutilated, is Royston I, 1421, with effigy under a canopy; another finer one of c. 1400 formerly existed at Sawbridgeworth, now known only from an old rubbing (49, illus. p. 569). The only brass in the county to a friar, Great Amwell XXV, c. 1440, was stolen in 1968 and replaced by a facsimile in 1973. The upper part of a coped priest with a circular badge on his left shoulder, discovered in 1881, Benington I, c. 1420-30, has long been a subject of speculation. Is it a brass to a Canon of Windsor? A now lost inscription, noted only in N. Salmon's History of Hertfordshire (1728), p. 196, records on 'A Stone in the Church': Hic jacet Magister Rogerus Gates, quondam...Illustrissimorum Regum Henrici quinti et sexti...de...cujus anime propitietur Deus. The list of 'Canons of the First Stall' at Windsor, shows Roger Gates as Canon between 1425 and 1430, matching both the likely date of this brass and the badge on the shoulder of the figure. Further research is needed to confirm this attribution; a surviving fragment of scroll (II) may also belong to this brass.

There are many indents and losses of other ecclesiastical brasses throughout the county, including many not previously illustrated, e.g. Broxbourne 38, 1465; Bygrave 2, c. 1460; Codicote 16, c. 1600; Northchurch 28, c. 1480; Watton-at Stone V, c. 1470, with indent on same slab as two pairs of civilians ( illus. p. 669); and Widford 6, c. 1490, half-effigy. Wallington 3, c. 1400, is not illustrated, nor are two slabs with indents of priests in cope, Therfield 6, c. 1425 and 7, c. 1450, one being behind a fixed wall cupboard.

Civilian brasses range in date from the fine, but partly mutilated, London C double-canopied brass of Richard Torryngton and his wife, holding hands, Great Berkhamsted I, 1356; to the iconic and simple brass to the two wives of Francis Rowly, Brent Pelham I, 1627. St. Albans, St. Michael I, c. 1380 are good London A figures, while half-effigies at Letchworth I, c. 1400, and Ickleford I, 1401, are both good London C products. Furneaux Pelham I, 1420 is another fine, canopied brass to Robert Newport and wife. Male effigies with anelace, Aldenham 47, c. 1405 and Great Berkhamsted 76, 1409, both clearly London A products, are now lost; so too is the unusual London A brass of a small male figure and much larger lady with nebulée hairstyle, Watton-at-Stone 35, c. 1410. Baldock II, c. 1420, shows a huntsman with horn, anelace and hound (missing) on a leash. Walkern I, c. 1480 (illus. p. 627), is a standard London D civilian and wife, but with the indent of a pilchrow and scroll above, the only example in Hertfordshire. Only two cross brasses have survived. The earliest is a male effigy, wife lost, in the head of an octofoil cross at St. Michael's, St. Albans, III, c. 1400; the other, Royston II, c. 1500, is a slender Latin cross with five wounds, on three steps, currently under the altar (illus. p. 445).

There are 27 surviving Johnson style brasses, notably Albury VI, 1592, with skull above; King's Langley III, 1588 - John Carter and two wives; Newnham II, 1607; and Watford V, 1613 - three male servants of Sir Charles Morrison. Wyddiall IV, 1575, is the most unusual - a half-effigy in bonnet and ruff with prayer book, 4 shields and inscription, in memory of Dame Margaret Plumbe (née Nevill). There is an almost identical brass to this in York Minster (M.S.II, 1585). Finally, mention should be made of the wide variety of shroud brasses, all different, including Aldenham X, 1547, palimpsest; Baldock IV, c. 1510; Great Berkhamsted VII, 1520; Digswell III, 1484; and several at Hitchin, c. 1477-90.

The county boasts a number of good Victorian and modern figure brasses, the best selection being in St Edmund's College Chapel, Old Hall Green, near Standon. They include one kneeling figure, inscription and scroll, III, engraved 1850, designed by A.W.N. Pugin. Four other figure brasses are illustrated, two known to be by John Hardman & Co. of Birmingham, the others probably so, all commemorating clergy associated with the College, including Bishop James Talbot, d. 1790, but brass engraved 1901. Brasses XIII, 1902 and XIX, 1910, are priests in Eucharistic vestments, with chalice and wafer, much in the medieval style. Only the faces look modern. There is a good clerical brass by Waller, Wareside I, 1845, unusual in being set into a wooden floor slab, and at Holy Saviour, Hitchin VII, 1910, is the bearded half-effigy of the Revd. George Gainsford, builder of the church. Two fine twentieth-century figure brasses can be found at Boxmoor near Hemel Hempstead, and Hatfield Hyde. Boxmoor V, 1932 shows the elongated figures of Edward Mitchell-Innes (d. 1932) in judicial robes and wig, his wife in widow's dress and son Gilbert (d. 1915) in army uniform and cap; between a shield of arms and four daughters, all kneeling. The brass is signed Robin Darwin fecit [19]'33. The designer was Sir Robert Vere Darwin (1910-74), at that time Art Master at Watford Grammar School, later Principal of the Royal College of Art from 1948 to 1971. The Kendall family brass, Hatfield Hyde II, 1933, but engraved c 1936, was designed by Julian Allan, using photographs and actual clothes worn by the principal figures; it was engraved by Robert S. Austin. The illustration in the book (p. 263) shows the brass before it was removed in 1973, and the missing dates of death added by William Turner of G.T. Friend. Finally, Ardeley IX, 1885, shows the small figure of William Wyndham Malet, vicar, in Mass vestments and skull cap, facing sideways; whilst at Holy Rood (R.C.) church, Watford, is a larger, well engraved brass to the Revd. Thomas Regan, II, 1902, in Mass vestments with chalice and wafer.

This volume is awash with modern inscriptions (over 3,800), many by well-known Victorian and modern makers (see Index, pp. 736-7 for list). Most are, as expected, to individuals or families, others are war memorials (including a number in copper and bronze), but by far the largest numbers recorded at a single location, are small recent grave markers in churchyards like those at Harpenden (486); Thorley (140) and Wheathampstead (141). Whilst one may question the validity of listing them, it is likely that many, not always being made of durable metal, will not survive very long, so this could well prove to be their only record. Space does not permit the noting of any but a handful of inscriptions which, as in previous county volumes, include a large number to military personnel, like William Rose Mansfield, Baron Sandhurst, d. 1876, thanked 'for his signal service in the suppression of the insurrection in India', Digswell X; or Major General William Miles (d. 1860) who served in Egypt and was present at four sieges in India, Cheshunt VIII. Accidental deaths include E.P.Bosanquet who died after being bitten by a rattlesnake, Little Berkhamstead IV,1891; whilst an unfortunate young man named Fred Cripps was 'cut to pieces by a plough', Hertford, Haileybury College Chapel, I, 1871. Many other men died in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts, including M.E. Marshall, Parachute Regiment, killed in Northern Ireland, East Barnet XV, 1969. Lastly, there are two people famous for very different reasons: Bishops Stortford IV, 1902, is an inscription with verse to Cecil John Rhodes, founder of Rhodesia; and in the churchyard at St Nicholas, Harpenden , CCXLI, engraved 1998, is a small bronze to John Eric Bartholomew (1926-84), better known as the comedian Eric Morecombe.

This substantial volume shows Hertfordshire to be a county with a wide representation of pre-1700 brasses. In the 205 churches visited or noted, some 4,700 individual brasses, lost and existing, are recorded, though almost 90% are modern. The volume has many illustrations, a good number published for the first time, 561 from rubbings, 111 from drawings and 18 from photographs. There are a few omissions, mostly of modern churches in New Towns. The list of sources used has only one notable omission - the collection of manuscript notes, drawings and rubbings in Hertford Museum, collected by W.F., R.T. and H.C. Andrews. It was W.F. Andrews who published the first modest and unillustrated books on Hertfordshire brasses in 1886 and 1903. The volume ends with a comprehensive name index and is once again a fine tribute both to the editors, and to other M.B.S. members who have helped in its production.


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