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August 2011 – Thomas Cawarden, 1592/3, and his wife Anne, Mavesyn Ridware, Staffordshire

Copyright: Jon Bayliss

    The decoration of the north aisle of Mavesyn Ridware parish church in which Thomas Cawarden's monument sits is one of the most extraordinary I have seen. Until about 1800 there was nothing much out of the ordinary to be seen there. This aisle  was the burial place of the lords of the manor over several centuries and, as such, contained a number of monuments. Stebbing Shaw's History and Antiquities of Staffordshire has a great deal to say about the successive lords, and has an engraving of the aisle viewed from the west end and another looking north from the east end, illustrating the Cawarden tomb in its setting in the centre of the east end and showing other slabs on the floor. Shaw also has engravings of four incised effigial floor slabs, another effigial slab on a tomb chest and two early armed effigies in recesses under arches in the north wall. All these remain in place today. The rest of the church was rebuilt shortly after 1779 and a number of monuments lost.  What changed in the north aisle was the amount of incised alabaster. Stebbing Shaw wrote: 'This aisle has long been neglected, but the present owner hopes to restore and re-embellish it'. Re-embellish it he certainly did, with incised alabaster panels showing his ancestors and their deeds around the walls. One of these panels is visible in the photograph of the Cawarden tomb (below).

    Shaw gives a pedigree beginning with one of William the Conqueror's knights, a member of the Malvoisin family, who was granted lands in Staffordshire and Shropshire for his service at the conquest. The family held Mavesyn Ridware until Sir Robert Mavesyn died at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 leaving two daughters as coheirs. The eldest married Sir John Cawarden and the manor descended in the Cawarden family until Thomas Cawarden's death in January 1592/3. Thomas, whose only son died at around a year old in 1578, left four daughters as co-heirs, one of whom, Joyce, married John Chadwicke in 1594. After various transactions between the husbands of the co-heirs, Chadwicke, born at Mavesyn Ridware in 1564, had acquired five eighths of the manor and by 1601 was sole lord of the manor. It was presumably his descendant Charles Chadwick, lord of the manor in Shaw's time, who was responsible for embellishment of the aisle. This embellishment also extended to some of the original incised slabs.


The figure of Sir Robert Mavesyn is certainly most suspicious, with what appears to be the ghost of another misericord alongside the one on Sir Robert's hip, while portions of the slab immediately north of the Cawarden tomb have been replaced in stone rather than alabaster. However, I am unable to agree with F A Greenhill's description of Thomas's slab as 'restored, if not entirely renewed'. This is partly because the slab clearly belongs to a group of slabs I identify as the work of the Hollemans family of tombmakers. Garrett Hollemans , described as 'a dutch carver' in the early 1590s, appears to have set himself up as a tombmaker in the early to mid 1580s at Burton-upon-Trent, in competition with the well-established Richard and Gabriel Royley. One of the main products of the Royleys was incised slabs and Garrett Hollemans needed to compete in this area of the market. The slab of Henry ffeeld and his two wives, 1584, at Queenhill appears to be Hollemans' earliest surviving slab. It was followed by a similar but improved composition at Packington, Leicestershire, for Ralph  Leeson and his two wives, 1587. Once the pattern was established, it was picked up by Garrett's son Jasper, who was working on his own by 1599, and examples can be seen at Claverley, Shropshire, 1599,  Croxall, Staffordshire, 1605, and as far afield as Hornsey, Middlesex, the burial place of George Rey, a man born at Brewood, Staffordshire, who died around 1600. While amongst these well-preserved slabs only the figure of George Curzon at Croxall is, like Cawarden, in armour, the rather worn slabs at Noseley, Leicestershire, of around 1600 to Bertin (died 1565) and Thomas Hesilrige show very similar armed figures. While the good surface condition of the slab at Ridware may have aroused Greenhill's suspicions, the choice of a poor piece of alabaster and the evidently good preservation of the tomb at the time it was engraved for Shaw's History also strongly suggest to me that it is probably entirely original.  

To see the engravings from Stebbing Shaw’s History, you can search for Mavesyn at http://www.search.staffspasttrack.org.uk/engine/search/default_hndlr.asp

References

F A Greenhill, Incised Effigial Slabs (1976), volume 2, p 12

S Shaw, The History and Antiquities of Staffordshire, volume 1 (1798), pp 166-205