Above:  A man carved in wood, viewed over a garden hedge at Talconeston in Norfolk.  He’s in a relaxed pose, smoking a pipe.  He’s not alone, for he has another chap with him and a little dog at his feet.

The pulpit (above) at Aslacton Church in Norfolk has a carving of David holding the head of Goliath.  Though the pulpit itself is Victorian and nothing remarkable, this carving, which has been added to the front, is rather special.  It is a Flemish carving and dates probably from the fifteenth century.  Underneath David is also carved a scene in which David and Goliath are in combat.

Left:  An amusing statue outside a butcher’s shop in Harleston, Norfolk.  He’s wearing a traditional butcher’s outfit with straw hat and blue striped apron.

People appear frequently in wayside art, making the region like a public portrait gallery.  They range from the humble to the royal and appear in many different mediums and situations.  Here are a few that don’t fit into the most common categories.




The probable date of this font (pictured left) is 1599, but both its design and the costumes of the praying women are typical of an earlier date, the latter of a style that was in fashion in about 1530.  The font currently stands in the north porch of Mendlesham Church in Suffolk, but it was originally in Rishangles Church, also in Suffolk.

A man with two dogs is depicted on this house name sign near Thrandeston in Suffolk.

Above: Part of a brass memorial dated about 1500 at Great Ellingham Church in Norfolk.  The drawing is beautifully executed and is typical of the good quality of design in brass memorials of the time which is in the middle of the period when the volume of brasses was at its height.

Many brasses in England were lost during the period of the Reformation, but luckily many have survived.  The oldest surviving brass in England, which is in Surrey, dates from 1277.  The oldest surviving brass anywhere in the world is dated 1231 and is in Germany.  In East Anglia there is a brass at Acton in Suffolk of 1302, which is a memorial to Sir Robert de Bures.


Memorial brasses were very popular during the thirteenth century and right through the Middle Ages.  There are more surviving brasses of this period in the southern and eastern counties of England than anywhere else, the highest number being in Norfolk.   

Because brasses were very expensive to make, only the rich could afford them, and the fact that there were a lot in Norfolk shows that Norfolk was a very wealthy county in the medieval period.  Conversely, Norfolk has one of the lowest number of brasses that date from the Victorian period and this is because Norfolk was a very poor county at this time.


Memorial brasses superseded three-dimensional chest tombs, stone monuments and effigies when the latter became numerous and took up most of the available space inside a church, abbey or cathedral.  There was a transitional phase when memorials were carved in bas relief in stone slabs laid into the floors of chancels and aisles, but the illustrations and inscriptions on them wore down with the constant treading of feet.  So brass started to be used instead of stone.


Brass memorials didn’t replace stone monuments altogether: they were still used where space and money were available.  Sometimes there was a combination of both stone and brass.  One example is at Burgate Church in Suffolk.  The chancel there is exceptionally wide and in it is a chest tomb of stone on which is a brass memorial to Sir William de Burgate and his wife Elenora.  It is said to be the best brass memorial in Suffolk.  Dated 1409, it is typical of the period with Sir William in his knight’s armour with a lion as a foot rest.  Elenora, who lies next to him, has a lap dog at her feet.  Above their heads there are ogee-shaped canopies that are supported by shafts, and there are marginal inscriptions.


The traditional brass memorial was made up mainly of copper and zinc plus small amounts of lead and tin.  Nowadays, the brass is composed of a synthetic material, a resin bronze.  The finished brass is recessed into a stone slab, which in England is usually Purbeck marble.


Engravers had their own individual styles or work.  Flemish brasses are particularly fine, and these are most numerous in East Anglia, especially in the sea ports, because of the close link with the Low Countries.  There are good examples at King’s Lynn and Ipswich.  One, which is now in Ipswich Museum but which was originally in the Church of St. Mary Quay, is a memorial to the merchant Thomas Pownder and his wife.  It is dated 1525.


The volume of brasses was at its height in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when the designs were particularly good.  At that period many memorials included family groups.  After the sixteenth century the drawings became more elaborate with lots of detail and cross-hatching, which some consider over-fussy.


Whatever the style, brasses are a good source of information, giving us peoples’ names, dates, occupations and styles of dress.  Brasses were popular right through the period when knights wore armour, from early chain mail onwards.  Other occupations easily identified by their costume include judges with their long, fur-lined robes and hooded mantles, and priests with their cassocks and tonsures (a shaved patch on top of a head).  Wine merchants (vintners) stand on wine casks, wool merchants have wool sacks at their feet, and tailors are identified by a pair of scissors.  Many brasses also have trade marks and heraldic shields, giving us more information.


Copies of brasses can be made by brass-rubbing, but if you wish to do a brass rubbing it is important first to obtain permission from an authorised official of the church that houses the brass.  There are brass-rubbing centres where replicas of some brasses are kept and rubbings can be made of these there.


In Norfolk there is a Brass Rubbing Centre at St. Peter Hungate Church Museum in Princes Street, Norwich. NR3 1AE

For further information contact the Monumental Brasses Society at Lowe Hill House, Stratford St. Mary, Suffolk. CO7 6JX. Or visit their website at www.mbs-brasses.co.uk


There are lots of books on memorial brasses.  A good example is Church Memorial Brasses and Brass Rubbing by Leigh Chapman, published by Shire Publications Ltd.

Brass Memorials

Below left: Mid-nineteenth century bench-end carving of a figure in English oak in Huntingfield Church in Suffolk.  Below right: A James Bond look-alike at a riverside cafe at Acle Bridge in Norfolk.  Photo by Pauline Willmott.

This stone figure on the front of Colchester Town Hall represents Sir Thomas Audley who lived from 1488 to 1544.  He studied law and was a merchant who became town clerk of Colchester and later Lord Chancellor of England.  He was created Baron Audley of Walden.  He is buried in Saffron Walden church.  Here he is wearing a ruff, a hat and heavy robes.  The carving, with the rest of Colchester Town Hall, was designed by Sir John Belcher, and completed in 1898.

Right: A carved stone head in Beeston Regis church in Norfolk.

One of several brasses in Felbrigg Church in Norfolk, which dates from the fourteenth century. The figure represents Simon de Felbrigg, who was Lord of the Manor here.  He is shown in civilian attire. Next to him, the lower half of which has disappeared, is Alice de Thorpe, his wife.  Both clasp their hands in prayer.  

Below:  Weather vane depicting a witch with her cat on a broomstick on a house in Gissing, Norfolk.