Brass of the Month

January 2011 – The Brass Lease, St Mary’s Hall, Coventry


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Page last updated 04 March 2015

Copyright: Jon Bayliss

In addition to the thousands of monumental brasses in England and Wales that have survived the ravages of time, there are a small number of old non-monumental brasses. How many survive is not clear, as they were not listed by Mill Stephenson in A list of monumental brasses in the British Isles precisely because they were not monumental. Some can be found, often on the outside of the buildings, recording the foundation of schools and almshouses. Others are in churches, such as the one in Goldcliff church near Newport, Monmouthshire, recording the level of the great flood of 1606/7. Yet others are found in diverse locations, such as the brass attached to a house, at Totnes, Devon, recording the erection of a conduit in 1607 and the one, fixed in a civic building, that is this month's brass, which records the terms of a lease.

    The brass lease records that John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, leased the manor of Cheylesmore to the mayor, bailiffs and commonalty of Coventry for eighty-six years in the third year of Edward VI in order that the city should pasture eighty cows or heifers and twenty geldings belonging to poor inhabitants who had nowhere else to pasture their cattle. It adds that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, a son of the duke, had obtained letters patent from Elizabeth I to grant the manor and park of Cheylesmore to the mayor, bailiffs and commonalty forever for the same use, and that the mayor, bailiffs and commonalty had covenanted with the earl to act in accordance with the conditions by an indenture, dated the fourth of April 1568, one part of which remained with them and the other part with the earl. Cheylesmore had reverted to the crown after the attainder and execution of the Duke of Northumberland, so it had been necessary for the earl of Leicester to go the the queen for the letters patent for the grant. The manor and park were to the south of the city centre and now form a suburb. The gatehouse of the manor survives.

The brass lease (photo: David Griffith)

The brass is in St Mary's Hall, a six hundred year old guildhall in Coventry, where it is set  in a painted frame and secured to a wall. It is made of four pieces of brass joined together. In June 1963, it was taken down and the reverse examined. It carried no engraving despite the suspicious looking joins at either side. The brass, which has every appearance of having been engraved in London, has the date 1568 prominently engraved on a scroll below the central shield with the royal arms of France Modern and England quarterly under the royal crown.  However the stone screen on which the brass was set was not erected in St Mary's Hall until 1571. To the left of the royal arms are the arms of Robert, Earl of Leicester, and to the right, the arms of Coventry. Although the royal arms and those of Coventry lack the heraldic colours that they must once have had, those of Robert Dudley retain the lead that represent argent and the Dudley badges of a ragged staff that pepper the margins of the brass are also of lead. Outside the inscription and the badges are Roman Doric columns that support further columns with decoration that would look more in place on monuments of 1530s and 1540s but with Ionic capitals. Those capitals support  a triple canopy of rounded arches decorated with repetitive floral pattern also used on the bottom margin of the brass. Around the inscriptions are a twisted rope borders often used on brasses at this date. The castellated pattern along the top of the brass can also be found on other brasses.       



Detail of the brass lease (Photo: David Griffith)

Thanks to David Griffith for the suggestion of this subject and the photographs