Notts monumental brasses

By Mr Joseph Bramley

THE chief object in collecting rubbings of monumental brasses is to record the history, use, and development of armour, dress, and ecclesiastical vest­ments, as well as to learn something about the persons the brasses commemorate.

The metal used in making brasses was “latten” or “latton;” it is sometimes called “Cullen metal” when “Flemish,” as such came chiefly from Cologne. It was usually composed of an alloy of the following metals in these proportions :—

  Copper 64.0%
  Zinc 29.5%
  Lead 3.5%
  Tin 3.0%

and was exported to England in slabs and engraved here. The earlier brasses usually had some decoration in coloured enamel.

The best period in brasses coincides with the best period in Gothic architecture, and, speaking generally, the later the brass the worse the workmanship. The earliest brass known in England dates from 1277.

Nottinghamshire is not noted for the large number of brasses it contains. It is not probable that it ever contained so many as the eastern counties, and may possibly have been more unfortunate than some counties in losing those it did contain. Kent, Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk possess the largest number of brasses. They are less numerous in the north and west of England, and there are less than thirty in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

From St. Martin’s Church, Leicester, 9cwt. of brass was sold in 1547, representing about seventy brasses. Lincoln Minster contained 207.

Most of our English brasses were destroyed at the time of the Reformation, during the Civil War, and during the Commonwealth.

There are now in this county, so far as I can trace, fourteen figure brasses in ten different churches, making nineteen separate figures, ranging from 1363 A.D. to 1626 A.D. A brass from Annesley Old Church is now in Annesley Hall. One was destroyed when Kirkby-in­Ashfield Church was burnt down in January, 1907. Matrices are to be found in various churches of brasses which formerly existed.

I need scarcely express the hope that the greatest care will be taken to preserve all existing brasses, especially where they are on the floor and liable to be trodden on.

I would also like to express my hearty thanks to those Rectors and Vicars who so kindly allowed me to take rubbings of the brasses in their churches.

I have also to acknowledge my indebtedness to the Rev. Eardley Field and Mr. J. Potter Briscoe for the excellent description of certain brasses in the county contained in their Monumental Brasses of Nottinghamshire, part I.


It may be interesting to consider shortly the chief periods (the dates allotted to which are only approximate) in brass designing in England, although these periods cannot be adequately illustrated from our very small collection of Nottinghamshire brasses.

The first period extends from 1272 to 1327, and covers the reigns of the first and second Edwards.

Figures are usually of life size. The plates are very thick and deeply engraved. The artists usually draw boldly and their designs are generally unconventional, and the effect they desired is produced without shading.

Brasses are few in number and military only, though ladies are represented with their husbands.

We have no brasses in the county of this period.

The second period extends over the reigns of Edward III. and Richard II., from 1327 to 1399.

The brasses which we now find are of great magnificence and of great variety. The figures are usually a little smaller, but they represent knights, ladies, ecclesiastics, civilians, and, in fact, all classes of people.

The only brass we have in Notts. of this period is the unique Flemish brass of Alan Fleming at Newark-on-Trent, which dates from 1363.

The third period extends from 1399 to 1461, during which time the House of Lancaster reigned.

Brasses of this period are usually very good, and the figures smaller but carefully drawn. Children are frequently depicted on these brasses.

The Notts. brasses of this period are those at Stanford-on-Soar (1400) and East Markham (1419).

The fourth period coincides with the reign of the House of York, from 1461 to 1485.

Brasses are usually smaller during this period, and though many are still of excellent workmanship, they shew signs of deterioration as a whole. In the case of ladies, the need of properly displaying the head-dresses then in vogue necessitates the faces being drawn in profile. Shading is now general.

To this period belong the brasses at Strelley (1458 and 1487), Wollaton (1467 and 1471), and that of Sir Gervase Clifton (1471).

The fifth period covers the reigns of Henry VII. and Henry VIII., and extends from 1485 to 1547.

Brasses now deteriorate rapidly in quality. The figures are often clumsy and frequently badly drawn. The use of shading is almost universal.

English is usual on the inscriptions, except on brasses to ecclesiastics.

The Notts. brasses of this period are Hickling (1521), Darlton (circa 1510), Newark, civilian unknown, (circa 1540), Ossington (1551), and Clifton, Sir Robert Clifton (1491).

The sixth period extends from 1558 to 1626, and covers the reigns of Elizabeth and James I.

The art is now degraded, shading is universal, and portraits on brass are attempted but not accomplished.

Rectangular brasses are frequent, such as that at Radcliffe-on-Trent.

During the early years of this period, we find many Palimpsest brasses, or those which have been engraved, laid down, and then taken up and re-engraved on the other side to commemorate some other person.

The Ossington brass has been described as a Palimpsest, but my examination revealed that it is not one.

The brasses in Notts. which date from this period are those at Radcliffe-on-Trent (1626), Clifton, George Clifton and wife (1587), and Newark, Phyllypot (1557)

The seventh and final period extends from 1626 up to the present time.

This period produces few examples, and none in this county. Such as exist elsewhere are exceedingly poor examples of the engraver’s art, when we compare them with the noble specimens we find during the first few hundred years of brass engraving.

I will now call your attention to our Nottinghamshire brasses, and will endeavour to group them somewhat, though they are not numerous enough to do so very successfully.