Brass of the month

June 2004: Crowland, Lincolnshire

 The feature for June is not a brass, but an incised slab. It is from Crowland, Lincolnshire and commemorates William de Wermington. Although modern-day Crowland is a small, sleepy village, it was very much more important in the medieval period, when it boasted a Benedictine Abbey of broadly equivalent status to that at Peterborough. The abbey chronicle is one of the main historical sources for the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III. The present parish church is all that remains of the much larger Abbey church.

William de Wermington's incised slab shows the beared effigy of a man in a long tunic and undertunic. In his left hand he holds a pair of compasses and in his right a square. This marks him out as a mason. He was obviously employed at the abbey and would have worked on the fabric of the abbey church or the domestic buildings.

The stone used for the slab appears to be a local limestone, perhaps Ancaster. The design of this incised slab is not of the highest quality. The figure is rather squat and the head is large in proportion to the body. It might even have been made at Crowland by one of the abbey masons.


The inscription round the sides of the slab, in Lombardic lettering, is in Norman-French, the language most commonly used on monuments to lay people at this time. It reads: +ICI   GIST MESTRE WILLM DE WERMINGTON LE MASON A LALME DE KY DEV LY PAR SA GRACE DOUNE ABSOLUTION (Here lies William de Wermington the Mason, may God grant his soul absolution). It is not unusual for monuments of this era to omit the date of death. Nothing more is known about Wermington, though his name suggests he came from Warmington, near Oundle, Northamptonshire, in the great quarrying district. The style of the canopy, with an ogee arch, suggests that the slab was made c. 1330.


Crowland incised slab

There are other incised slabs elsewhere to masons, but only one in England, in the cloisters at Lincoln Cathedral. Though damaged, enough survives to show that it was a beautifully designed monument. Dating from c.1340, it commemorates Richard de Gaynisburgh, who is believed to have been the architect of the Angel Choir. A square and another tool, too defaced to be identified, decorate his slab.  But even this is quite outshone by a slab of c. 1440 at St-Ouen, Rouen, France to the architects, Alexandre and Colin de Bernival. They too carry the tools of their trade.

It was by no means unusual for members of the professions to chose to have their status emphasised on their monument by the inclusion of the tools of their trade. Notaries were known by the devices of the penner and inkhorn, as shown on brasses of c.1475 and 1506 at St. Mary Tower, Ipswich. More unusual depictions of professional status on brasses include John Borrell, Sergeant-at-Arms, who carries a ceremonial mace on his 1531 brass at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire; and Thomas Coates, Porter of Ascot Hall, shown at Wing, Buckinghamshire with his hat and porter's keys.   

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Page last updated 28 January 2005