Brass of the Month

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Margaret Pettwode, 1514, St Clement, Norwich

This month's brass helps illustrate the losses of brasses that occurred in the eighteenth-century as it is the only survivor of five drawn by the Norwich historian, John Kirkpatrick, who died in 1728.

    Francis Blomefield recorded the inscriptions of the same brasses in the 1740s but by the time that Rev. T S Talbot's made drawings in the 1790s all but two had gone and when Cotman drew Margaret Pettwode's brass in 1815, all the others were lost. The church of St Clement stands the eastern end of Colegate. It is in the care of the Norwich Historic Churches Trust, having been let after it was made redundant to the Rev. Jack Burton, a Methodist minister who founded the Norwich Over the Water Group in the early 1970s to try to preserve the character of the part of Norwich north of the River Wensum. He kept the church open on a daily basis for years. More recently it had been let to the Stonemasons' Guild of St. Stephen and St. George which has now given up its tenancy. The church has since returned to how it it looked in Jack Burton's time and while the trust tries to find new tenants, it is open to the public at lunchtime each Wednesday.  

    Margaret was the widow of John Pettwode, formerly an alderman and sheriff of Norwich. Her brass lies at the east end of the nave and although somewhat worn has stood up quite well to the passage of feet over it but is in need of a good clean. The brass is set in Lincolnshire 'marble'. transported to Norwich via the River Welland, The Wash and the Great and Little Ouse as far as Brandon Ferry, near Thetford, whence it was brought the lengthy remainder of its journey by cart, as was much building stone from the quarries of Northamptonshire, Rutland and Lincolnshire. Living in the richest part of England in the Middle Ages, East Anglian patrons could well afford to transport stone this way.   

    Our late Vice-President, Roger Greenwood, did a great deal of work on local styles of brasses, especially those made in Cambridge and Norwich. He identified the style of the Pettwode brass as N6, the last of the Norwich styles begun before the Reformation, running from around 1506 to as late as 1551. He thought that a marbler called William Thacker might be one of those involved (he made his will in 1551/2 and was involved with laying a stone with a London-made brass in Norwich Cathedral in 1538) but later research has established that Thacker was left marble stones by an earlier Norwich marbler, William Harmer or Hermer, made free of the city of Norwich as a freemason in 1509.


    Harmer is thus almost certainly the man who established the N6 workshop and was responsible for close to two hundred surviving brasses let alone many remaining indents that can be identified as N6 products by the outline of their figures. The brasses include many inscriptions in lettering identifiable as in the first three sub-styles,  N6a, b and c, running up to dates of death in 1529. The figure of Margaret Pettwode is fairly typical of a females in this style at this time, wearing a pedimental headdress, a belt with a three part fastening from which depend         

her rosary and purse. It is difficult to make out exactly what her feet were like as they must have been shallowly engraved for only a couple of indeterminate lines remain. Kirkpatrick's drawing has the most unlikely looking feet but Talbot and Cotman make more realistic interpretations. Talbot's drawing is particularly interesting as only he shows a chequer pattern on the edging of Margaret's gown, also shown on her turned back cuffs and the edge of her headdress. These areas are recessed on the brass but now show no obvious evidence to support Talbot's interpretation. Cotman has omitted the shading that is still evident on the brass, as was his normal practice.

    The inscription, transcribed by Blomefield, who prefixes it for no apparent reason with JESUS, and reproduced by Talbot and Cotman but not Kirkpatrick, reads:

         Sub marmore isto in tumulo terreno corpus jacet coruptibile

         margarete pettwode vidue que obiit xix died me[n]sis septe[m]bris

         A dni mlo ccccco xiiijo cui[us] a[n]i[m]a p[er] xpi passionis merita

         ffidelmq suffragia electa inter agmina c[o]elis sit sociata Ame[n]  

and roughly translates as:

Beneath this marble in an earthly tomb lies the corruptible body of Margaret Pettwode widow who died on the 19th day of the month of September in the year of our Lord 1514 whose soul through Christ's passion merits and faith is chosen elect amongst the company of Heaven. Amen

Talbot made a couple of mistakes, omitting a c in the year and replacing celis by deus.


John Kirkpatrick’s drawings of the brasses  in St Clement’s church are illustrated and discussed in

https://norwichchurches.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/kirkpatricks-drawings-of-brasses-at-st-clement-colegate1.pdf


Copyright: Jon Bayliss