[Home] [Location] [Services] [Sunday School and Youth] [Other Activities] [PCC] [Archive] [The Shrine] [The Building] [Tour] [News]

THE MEMORIAL BRASSES

 

 

St. Mary’s contains one of the finest collections of memorial brasses to be found in North London. They are only a fraction of the great number the church probably possessed before the troubled days of the Reformation, when countless brasses were torn up and destroyed.

William Litchfield’s brass is a good starting point as he was Vicar of Willesden in the early years of the 16th’ century. He is wearing a cassock, surplice and cope, which were the conventional processional vestments of a priest in those days. He was a Doctor of Law, and is therefore entitled to wear a fur hat, often referred to as a "Pointed Pileus". He has a long fur scarf hanging down in front which is called an "almuce". When this brass is rubbed, the almuce comes out white. This is because it was originally filled in with a coloured material to represent the fur. Over the years this filling has worked loose and come away, thus leaving the deep groove in the brass. The prayer for the soul which followed the inscription on many monumental brasses has, in the case of this brass, been cut away. This is probably due to the Reformation when such prayers were removed to prevent the entire destruction of the memorial.

The Margaret Roberts brass (1505) is situated on the north side of the Chancel. It was removed with the other brasses from the centre to the side when the church was restored in 1964. The tiny figure is wearing a short gown over which is a dress and full skirt trimmed, perhaps, with ermine at the wrists and cut almost round at the neck. A broad embroidered belt, elaborately decorated, is buckled loosely at the waist. Her head-dress is known as the "kennel" or pedimented shape, and it confines the hair beneath a kind of cap. The cap is stiffly wired to keep its shape and has long sides known as "lappets" which hang down past the shoulders. Unfortunately not very much is known about Margaret Roberts, except that she was one of the Roberts of Neasden House, but her minute brass is probably the most beautiful that St Mary’s Church possesses.

Bartholomew Willesden’s brass is the oldest in the church, dating from the end of the 15th century (c. 1492). The two figures are both about twenty-four inches high. They are standing on grass mounds and are in an attitude of prayer. There is no inscription attached to the monument, but the Landowe MS 874 f 78b in the British Museum gives a transcript of the inscription which was once attached to it. From this we learn that the brass originally consisted of Bartholomew Willesden, his two wives (both called Margaret) and an inscription. If the second Margaret were still joined to the brass she would probably be on the other side of Bartholomew praying in the same manner as the existing Margaret. There is also evidence showing that the three adults were joined in the brass by their four daughters on the left side and their sons on the right. When the brass was complete it must have covered a very large area of stone. The male figure wears a gown which fits tightly to the neck with the cuffs faced with ermine. He has a hood made probably of fur which is thrown back over his shoulder showing his long hair. The lady’s dress is far more elegant. She is wearing a "butterfly" head-dress. The hair is swept back from the forehead and is enclosed in a net at the back of the head. Upon this is erected a framework of wire which supports the veil so that it hangs like the closed wings of a butterfly. The low round neckline is probably trimmed with fur. Her dress has tight sleeves and cuffs, the latter being turned back and faced with ermine. Around her waist is a girdle.

The Jane Barne brass (1609) consists of two figures standing praying. The larger figure is Jane; the smaller one of her two daughters. Jane Barne is dressed in a farthingale with flounces, showing an elaborate quilted petticoat tied with a sash at the waist. The daughter wears a costume similar to her mother’s except she wears a cap known as a "bongrace". Attached to the monument are two shields. The one on the left bears the arms of the Barnes and Langdon families, that on the right the arms of the Barne family.

The Edmund Roberts brass (1585) is the largest in St. Mary’s collection and is also the finest. There is an inscription at the head of the brass and beneath this is a small tablet with the date 1585. Beneath this are three shields. The centre one, placed over the head of Edmund, bears the arms of the Roberts family. The one on the right bears the arms of the Roberts/Welles, and that on the left the arms of the Roberts/Patenson families. Edmund Roberts married Fraunces Welles on 2nd February 1548. Fraunces, being Edmund’s first wife, is at his right hand. She wears a plain mantle tied at the waist with a sash. It has an open neck which stands out, and baggy sleeves which have ruffs at the wrists. Behind her are her two sons and four daughters. Edmund Roberts married his second wife, Fayth Patenson, on 8th June 1563. She stands on his left and is dressed rather like Fraunces Welles. She had two sons and one daughter. These children stand behind her in a group. Beneath the three figures is a verse consisting of two stanzas each of eight lines. Beneath this is a separate inscription of two lines. It is written in Latin, and means: "The ever faithful Fayth sets up this monument to her husband as a sure pledge of her devotion."

The last brass is that of "The Lady Unknown" - Frances Welles (1560) The kneeling figure wears a "Mary Queen of Scots" cap with a long lappet hanging down behind. She has a straight mantle with a plain collar which is held together by small bows at the front. From its puffed and slashed shoulders, false sleeves hang almost to the ground. The sleeves are close fitting and have small frills at the wrists. Behind her, in contemporary costume, kneel two boys and four girls. They are all wearing the costume of the age.

In his book on "Church Brasses" Dr A C Bouquet refers to this brass as "the Lady Unknown" and suggests that it may be "from the same workshop as the Saunder brass of 1553 at Charlwood in Surrey and other similar memorials". He also records the story that it was dug up in St. Mary's churchyard in 1923. However, according to a covering letter from H. Burton (son of Rev. Robert William Burton, Vicar of St. Mary's during the 1852 restoration) to Rev. James Dixon, the brass was returned to St. Mary's from Bournemouth by parcel post in 1917. It looks as if the Rev. Burton took the Brass with him when he retired, as a souvenir of his time at Willesden.

In 1923 it was fixed to a board inside the church, and later kept in a muniment chest in the clergy vestry. When the church was restored in 1964 it was taken out and set in the Chancel with the other brasses.

Not until 1983 was the unknown lady identified. Ken Valentine noticed the similarity between Frances Wells (d. 1560) and the unknown figure in terms of dress, date, and the number and sex of her children, and suggested that when, much later, the large "Edmund Roberts" brass was engraved, this small brass depicting only Frances and her children could have been put aside as superfluous. If this identification is correct, the first of the two boys kneeling behind their mother is Francis Roberts christened in 1551 at Royston, who near the end of his long life founded a charity for the poor of Willesden; his grandson and heir Roberts (1604-62) was knighted in 1624 and became one of Oliver Cromwell's most trusted administrators during the Commonwealth period. The other figures on the brass will then represent Francis' younger brother Thomas (who died young) and their four sisters Catherine, Mary (died young), another Mary and Elizabeth. Most of these younger children of Frances were either born at Neasden or christened in Willesden church.

Indents

In the centre aisle there is a very badly worn indent (a flat slab recessed to receive a memorial brass). It is a black marble slab measuring 30" x 70" (0.76m x 1.78m). The positioning of the extant metal studs seems to indicate that the missing brass once consisted of an inscription and two kneeling figures beneath an ornate cross. It was probably of the 15th century.

A second indent exists near to, and east of, the south door. The item is a light coloured stone 0.53m x 0.81m which is split across its broad dimension. The two missing brasses were of figures 0.34m high, a female on the left and a male on the right. Both have holes for fixing the brasses, and the remains of a brass rivet exists in the neck of the female figure. It is thought that this Indent has not been previously recorded. An early estimate puts the date of the stone c. 1500.

According to a parishioner who was present when the south aisle was relaid in 1972/73, this stone was incorporated. It had recently been found in use as a doorstep to the rear entrance of No. 2 Church Cottages. Fortunately the indented face had been set downwards and the outline of the figures remains fairly clear.

  

 

[Home] [Location] [Services] [Sunday School and Youth] [Other Activities] [PCC] [Archive] [The Shrine] [The Building] [Tour] [News]