The 'Stone Man' of West Bridgford.
The "Stone Man" in an upright position by the church door.
IN a letter to the Nottingham Guardian of December 11, 1907, Mr Harry Gill, of Nottingham, wrote as follows:
"It may interest some of your readers to know that, under the auspices of the Thoroton Society, a work of restitution has been carried out during the past few days, whereby the old stone man, after many vicissitudes, has found a resting-place within the church.
"Those who are old enough to remember the days when West Bridgford was a quiet rural village, removed from the noise and bustle of life, with no attraction for the workers in the town save perhaps the wild roses which blossomed so profusely on the hedgerows in June, and the blackberries that might be gathered in the late summer time, will surely remember the old stone effigy which stood beside a pond in the triangular field at the junction of the Melton and Loughborough roads.
"How it came to be there will probably never be recorded. The 'Old Sailor,' in his Walks around Nottingham, tells us that it stood there in 1835, having been dug out of the pond about forty years previously; but whether it was brought from Flawford, when the church was demolished, as some aver, or whether it had been turned out of the church of St. Giles, West Bridgford, as these notes are intended to suggest, is a question which cannot be settled with absolute certainty.
"When the suburban invasion began to extend in this direction, the effigy was removed and placed near the priest's door on the south side of Bridgford Church, and for years it lay there, moss-grown, defaced, and unnoticed. A suggestion was made to the Thoroton Society that this was a matter which they might very well take in hand. The rector and churchwardens were consulted, and through the liberality of one of our members the work has been accomplished.
"The first step was to remove the moss and lichens, and to get the stone thoroughly well cleaned, a work requiring the greatest care, so that any traces of the original carving should not be destroyed. It soon became apparent that the identification of the person commemorated was beyond hope, for the stone is very much damaged, and in three separate pieces; the upper and lower portions only belong to the original effigy, the central stone, about 9½ inches long, having been inserted at a later time. Sufficient remains, however, to base a conjecture upon. The effigy is a full-size figure of a man (about 5 feet 6 inches long)—cross-legged—in a complete suit of ring-mail and long surcoat, a flat-topped, cylindrical helm, with two cushions to support the head; a large concave shield on the left side of the body supported by a strap over the right shoulder; the hands are clasped upon the breast in the attitude of prayer. Comparing this figure with other well-known dated examples, I should have no hesitation in fixing the date c. 1300. The position of the hands upon the breast indicates that it could not be earlier than 1277, and the flat-topped helm that it could not be later than 1310. There is a persistent tradition that the knight was a Lutterell, but I cannot find the faintest trace of heraldry upon the shield. The Lutterells were lords of the manor of Bridgford and Gamston, and presented to the living at Bridgford 1239-1415, and several members of the family filled the priestly office during that period. Supposing that the effigy represents a Lutterell, the arms on the shield would be 'Azure, a bend between six martlets arg.'; and it would be interesting to know if anyone can remember if any marks at all corresponding to this have been noticed.
"The conclusion I have arrived at is that the effigy represents a knight of the time of Edward II., and that he was the founder of the church, and originally lay on the founder's tomb. I do not mean, of course, that he was the man who built the first church upon this spot, but the man who provided the means for the rebuilding of the nave and chancel in the Decorated period, c. 1350. This opinion is supported by the fact that the tracery of the windows in this old portion of the church is somewhat unusual, being what is known as 'plate' tracery—i.e., hewn out of one large block of stone, and pierced through, instead of being built up of many small pieces. This, of course, necessitated a superior kind of stone being used, and I find upon examination that the window heads and the effigy are all out of the same kind of stone, viz., magnesian sandstone, quarried somewhere in the vicinity of Mansfield; and, further, there is a sepulchral arch in the north wall of the chancel, corresponding in size and date, which was undoubtedly intended to contain the effigy of the founder. The cross-legged attitude of the knight suggests a benefactor of the church, and I hope that after all these changes and defacements the knight will now be allowed to repose in what I believe to be his rightful place."
In a further letter, which appeared in the Nottingham Guardian of December 23, 1907, Mr. Gill remarked that he would briefly review the various opinions that had reached him, not only through the Press, but also from numerous correspondents. "The claims put forward," he continued, "are very conflicting, and, owing to the lack of reliable documentary evidence, the conclusion arrived at can only be taken as conjectural. Let me commence with the most recent event, and trace the chain of evidence backward. So far as the Thoroton Society is concerned, I think their action in placing the effigy within the church is fully justified. For the past fourteen years it lay in the churchyard at West Bridgford, exposed to the ravages of the weather, and for its future preservation it has now been placed within the church.
"Now, where did the effigy originally come from? I find that in 1893 it was standing near the old manor boundary in the triangular field at West Bridgford. In December of that year Mr. W. H. Simons (churchwarden) obtained the necessary permission, and superintended its removal to the churchyard, several writers urging at that time that it should have been taken within the church. Mr. F. Clements adds that it formed the actual boundary stone of the manor of Nottingham until 1849, when it was superseded by a cast-iron boundary-post of the regulation pattern. Captain Matt. Henry Barker (the 'Old Sailor' before referred to) tells us that he saw it doing duty as a boundary stone in 1835, and that it was dug up out of the pond about 1800-1810. He further states that the opinion then held in the village was that it came out of Bridgford Church, and says: 'I discovered a place where something had been removed.' Barker's story is supported by Edward Hind, a local poet, who mentions the effigy in a book of poems published in 1853, where a footnote is added to the effect that it must have been in the pond for more than fifty years. That would take us back to the year 1750. Wylie says of Edward Hind: 'His local sketches abound in curious out-of-the-way knowledge acquired in his rambles round the borough.'
"Thus far we are on safe ground, but beyond this point the difficulties begin—the claims of Flawford, Edwalton, and St. John's, Nottingham, each being put forward, while one writer goes so far as to suggest that the effigy is identical with 'the carved stone figures of Roman centurions, occasionally found in old Roman stations,' and thinks it not at all unlikely that the tablet, 'on which is recorded the name of the general and the legion to which he belonged, the date of his death and the name of the Emperor he served under,' may yet be found. This suggestion, of course, can be dismissed without comment.
"The question addressed by the poet, 'Wer't brought from Edwalton?' and the claims of Flawford require some consideration. Thoroton mentions that in his time the effigy of a cross-legged knight was in Flawford Church, but Flawford was the mother church to Ruddington and Edwalton, and it seems only fair to suppose that, when the church was demolished, the materials would not be allowed to go beyond the limits of those two parishes. We know that many houses in Ruddington and many of the fields in the immediate neighbourhood of Flawford churchyard still contain fragments of masonry and gravestones; but when we further consider that it takes the combined strength of three men to lift the effigy, and that the distance between Bridgford and Flawford is three miles, it does not seem to me likely that it would be conveyed so far. Besides, Flawford Church (all but the chancel) was pulled down in 1773, and, according to the former evidence, the effigy had been placed in the ditch before that date. The contention that it came from the Hospital of St. John is probably owing to the fact that the effigy was said to be a 'Crusader,' and there was an erroneous impression that the said hospital belonged to the Crusaders, whereas we now know that it was dedicated, not to St. John of Jerusalem, but to St. John the Baptist. The late Colonel Lawson Lowe, writing in 1885, said 'the effigy was removed from St. John's Hospital about fifty or sixty years ago.' That would be twenty-five years later than the date when Barker and Hind say it was dug up out of the ditch.
"One of the objections urged against the West Bridgford theory is based on the fact that no mention is made by Thoroton of an effigy being within that church at the time when he published his history in 1677. In my opinion, the reason for that is because it was in the ditch long before that date, and a very slight circumstance has helped to confirm that opinion. I have been told by Mr. Simons that some pieces of oak, very much decayed, secured together with a primitive nail of hammered iron, were found in the ditch near to the spot where the effigy once stood. Now, we know that in pre-Reformation times it was the custom at Easter time to erect within the church a timber structure known as 'the Sepulchre,' in connexion with the elaborate ritual observed during Passion Week. This 'faire painted frame of tymbre' was set up on the north wall of the chancel against the founder's tomb, and in some instances the founder's tomb was used as part of the 'Sepulchre.' In the eighth year of Elizabeth (1566) all these so-called 'monuments of superstition' and ' images of Popery' were ordered to be swept away and destroyed. Is it not likely that the zeal of the Commissioners during that period of wanton destruction caused the effigy as well as the wooden framework to be tumbled into the ditch near to the cross roads? Before I close I should like to mention one fact in connexion with this subject of which we Nottingham people ought to be proud. It is frequently said that the stone effigies of this early period were imported from France. The West Bridgford effigy is certainly carved out of a block of local stone by a local craftsman, a progenitor of that school of 'alablastermen,' who in later years made this district famous, not only throughout England, but on the Continent, for works in alabaster. In my former letter I have given my reasons for thinking that this effigy was intended to represent a founder of a church, date c. 1300. I find that in 1315 a presentation was made to the living of West Bridgford 'by Johanna, relict of Sir Robert Luterell,' and I now suggest that the effigy probably represents the said Sir Robert. Now that it is safely fixed within the church (with a portion of the boundary stone still attached to its back), I think it would be well to repair it, and paint it after the manner of those in the Temple Church, London, and let the blazon be again painted upon the shield, so that it may be restored to its pristine condition of 600 years ago."