Brass of the Month

November 2003: Tattershall, Lincolnshire

November's brass of the month features a monument now in the north transept of the church of Holy Trinity, Tattershall, Lincolnshire.  The brass has been relaid in a slab which has rivets of the inscription from another brass; the originbal slab no longer survives.  All that remains of this composition is a figure of a priest, though it must originally have had at least an inscription. Many inscriptions on brasses were deliberately destroyed by iconoclasts during the Reformation, but in this case the cause was probably neglect. Eighteenth and nineteenth century accounts of the brasses at Tattershall tell a sorry tale of plates from the fine collection of brasses lying loose in the church. But with no inscription, how can we tell whom this brass commemorates?


Fortunately in the case of this brass there are a number of clues as to the identity of the person commemorated. The 60 ins. high figure shows a priest in processional vestments. Over his cassock and surplice he wears a cope, fastened by a large square morse decorated by a demi-figure of Christ in Glory, and having the orphreys embroidered with the 12 apostles, each under a canopy. On his head he wears a pointed pileus, a form of cap worn normally with academical dress on brasses to academics, mostly found at Oxford and Cambridge. However it is shown on a few brasses to church dignitaries in mass vestments or processional dress, as an indication of their degree. This indicates that the person commemorated by the brass at Tattershall was almost certainly one of the Wardens of the Collegiate Church dedicated to the Holy Trinity at Tattershall established by Ralph, 3rd Baron Cromwell.


Although the College was licenced in 1439, building works progressed slowly and the new church was not begun until after Ralph's death in 1455/6. Ralph died childless, but the work was continued by his executors, aided by Maud, Lady Willoughby, one of his two nieces and co-heiresses. Work on the new church of Holy Trinity began after 1469, though the chancel was completed by 1475/6 and possibly the remainder of the fabric by around 1480, though glazing and furnishing the church took several more decades.  


Stylistic analysis of the brass shows that it is an early 16th century product of the London F workshop, based in St. Paul’s churchyard and run by James Reames. It has long been recognised that the figure is virtually identical to another brass from the same workshop at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. This commemorates Walter Hawke, twelfth master, who died in 1517; however the date in the inscription was left blank, indicating that Hawke had his brass made during his own lifetime, probably in the first decade of the 16th century. This provides a likely date of engraving of c.1500-10 for the Tattershall brass.


1504 brass Tattershall

Two Wardens of Tattershall College could have had a brass made at this period: John Gygur, Warden 1456-1502 who died in 1504, and Edmund Hanson, Warden from 1508 until his death in 1512. The Warden between the two was Henry Hornby. He resigned the position in 1508, but was re-elected Warden in 1512 when Hanson died, holding the post until the College was dissolved in 1545. Such a date of death is far too late for Hornby to be a candidate for this brass. So, did it commemorate Gygur or Hanson?

Though the original slab is lost, the antiquary Richard Gough saw it when he visited Tattershall in 1762. He recorded 'At the west end by the last seat on the north side of the choir is the figure five feet long of a priest in brass. The stone is ten feet and a half long by four feet seven inches; and over him was a canopy filled with saints'. The size of the surviving figure exactly Gough's description. The inscription had gone by Gough's time but it remained in the 1630s, when Gervase Holles visited Tattershall. He recorded on the north side of the chancel a fragmentary inscription ‘on a marble’, a term normally referring to a brass. The inscription read: Orate pro anima m’ri Johannis Gigur bacculaur Theologie custodis huius collegii ac etiam … collegii Marton in Oxonia qui obiit xii die … (Pray for the soul of Master John Gigur, Bachelor of Theology, who was warden of this college and also …. Merton College, Oxford, who died on 12th day …) .

Master John Gygur, a Bachelor of Theology, had a distinguished administrative career. He was a fellow of Eton College from 1453 and bursar there from 1454-5 until about 1457. From 1471 to 1482 he was Warden of Merton College. He was also Alderman of the Corpus Christi Guild in Boston in 1472. He became the 3rd Warden of Tattershall College in 1456, but resigned this post in 1502, dying at Tattershall two years later. His appointment may well have been due to the influence of the Lincolnshire-born William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, a former Provost of Eton College, who founded Magdalen College, Oxford. He was one of Ralph, Baron Cromwell’s executors and responsible for the completion of the College. As Warden throughout the period when the church was built and furnished, Gygur would have worked closely with Waynflete. He is just the sort of person likely to have been commemorated by such a fine brass in a prominent position of this prestigious new foundation.

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Page last updated 07 November 2003