Bourne Archive: Bourne Abbey: Artefacts
http://boar.org.uk/abiwxa2Brownemon.htm. Latest edit1 5 May 2011.
Text, page and pictures ©R.J.PENHEY 2006 to 2008.
The Bourne Archive
Reading Artefacts as Documents:
High on the north wall of the inside of the chancel of Bourne Abbey Church, there is a large stone, engraved with a low relief shield bearing the arms of the Browne family. That is three fulling hammers. 1 The shield is of an outline shape consistent with the seventeenth century and the lower part of the stone is in the shape of a trapezium, broadening out at the bottom. Inspection through binoculars gives the impression that the whole is one stone. The whole surface has been chipped to provide a key for plastering and a photograph of about 1869 shows the wall plastered, with no sign of the stones.
Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain it but for many years, it remained a puzzle. However, it has now become clear that the symbols do not represent a on the name of a mid-thirteenth century , Robert de Hamme. This idea was not convincing owing to the 16th to 17th century style of shield shape. This period was not one in which people would have been looking back to commemorate the of the .
Nor is the symbol the letter ע) ) which is so
named because it is the first letter of the Hebrew word ayin, meaning eye. It was read as such,
independently, by two Hebrew readers and the splayed edges of the lower stone
might have represented light rays converging on the eye of God. This would have
been very surprising. A direct representation of an eye is unusual but not
unknown, in church wall painting. It is called an oculus and there is an
outstanding example of oculi in the parish
All seems to come clear when the arms of the Browne family are recognized. In the period of the early seventeenth century, a branch of the family was, for a few decades, prominent in the parish. Its leading member, John Browne held the advowson of the parish and introduced Edmund Lolley as vicar in 1613 (new style). [Foster p.xii] His successor, Richard Titley was introduced in 1632, by Winifred Browne. [Foster p. xii] These were difficult times for the Church in England. The English reformation was not simply a matter of Henry VIII’s taking charge of the Church. The process went on for more than a century with different ideas and philosophies coming to the fore and receding.2 The family branch with interests in Bourne seems to have faded out after Winifred got into financial difficulty as a result of her over-enthusiastic support of the Parliamentarian cause in the Civil War.*
It should not be imagined that holding the advowson meant
that Winifred necessarily lived in Bourne. A few decades before, it had been
held by Queen Elizabeth and there is no indication that she ever lived there.
Furthermore, Peck’s Annals (p. B 22 col. 2.) mentions a ‘Mrs. Winifred Brown,
wife & executrix of John Brown, late of this [All Saints,
The family had been prominent in the cloth trade of Stamford, where Brown’s Hospital and work on All Saints Church remain as the outstanding examples of their prosperity and philanthropy. A late nineteenth century version of the family’s arms can be seen in the bottom south corner of the west window there. By this time, the fuller’s hammers had become slater’s hammers. Out of town, part of the family lived at Walcot, in Barnack, though their best known home was at Tolethorpe, Rutland. Here Robert Browne, the one time leader of the Brownists lived. They wanted to see the Church of England managed on congregational principles. But that was in the sixteenth century when Mary and Elizabeth saw things differently. Though firmly opposed on most things, these two ladies agreed on one point: bishops would run the Church. For more details of Robert Browne’s life and work, see the Ex Libris site
Browne’s philosophy was taken up in whole or part, by others.
was a later leader in the same general pattern, in Boston. In 1633,
he led a move to Boston,
Massachusetts, the home town of the branch of the Browne family which
provided the west window in All Saints,
There remains a puzzle. The ‘long-lost’ stone, discovered in 1869 is mounted on a wall which appears to have been built in the early nineteenth century. According to Birkbeck (p. 102), the chancel was rebuilt in 1807 and in 1840; the interior of the church was re-plastered, though the chancel may have been new enough not to have needed it.
Inspection of the outside of the chancel shows it as a building of three bays of which the easternmost appears to be fifteenth century, with repairs. It bears graffiti dated 1760 and 1807, at a height which would be conveniently reached by youths passing idle hours in that secluded corner of the churchyard. In 1760, between the Dissolution and the rebuilding, the wall was part of a ruin; though the Dissolution is not likely to have been directly relevant to this. However, the two graffiti mentioned are done and placed in a semi-formal way and may be the signatures of men who made repairs. The co-incidence of the 1807 dates makes this likely, in the later instance. The other two bays are quite different in appearance. They look early nineteenth century with windows in the Gothic style of the period. It is shortly after 1807 that we find a reference to “a lofty chancel”. See also, John Moore. The monument is mounted in line with the buttress between the two 1807 bays of the northern wall, alongside the extension built in 1869 to house the new organ.
In order to reconcile these contradictions, we must be prepared to speculate; working to some degree of probability rather than seeking certainties.
Hypothesis 1. The chancel was left to ruin in the late 1530s, following the dissolution of the monastic abbey in 1536.
If so, a wall will have been built at the eastern end of the nave to keep the weather out. It seems very probable that this was done by retaining the abbey’s pulpitum and extending it upwards, as was done at Crowland, (Picture) though there, the building east of the nave was deliberately demolished soon after the dissolution. The foundation of the twelfth century pulpitum at Bourne will not have been designed to support such a high wall so it is quite possible that the eastern side of it was encased in a thickened base of the sixteenth century wall.
When the chancel at Bourne was rebuilt in 1807, the pulpitum and the wall above and around it will have been removed and used as a source of stone. This would be how the stones in the form of small chevron-decorated blind arches of the later twelfth century, remain in two stacks near the south door. If we hypothesize that they were part of the canons’ side of the pulpitum and were preserved by being incorporated into the wall which closed the east end of the nave, they will have needed only to have survived 200 years as loose curios to be with us today. Those years will have come after the development of antiquarian interest had given such things a value beyond their usefulness as second-hand building stone.
If we hypothesize further, that between these two dates, 1536 and 1807, in the early seventeenth century, the Browne memorial had been erected on the west side of this relatively temporary (271 years) east wall of the nave, it will in 1807, have been lying loose. With no one from the family left in Bourne to speak up for it, as a good, big stone, not too thick, it was probably used whole, as a building stone in the 1807 north wall, ready for rediscovery in the 1860s. It was then that the plaster was disturbed, very close to the stone if not on it, by the opening of the arch in which the organ console stands.
At first sight, the idea of mounting a family memorial in
what at that stage will have been the east wall of the church appears a little
strange. Now, such a thing would seem impertinent, mounted behind the altar.
However, it must be remembered that at the time in question, there was probably
no altar but a communion
table. The introduction of such a concept came in the reign of Edward VI, and early
On the balance of
probabilities, it was the change in liturgy
following the restoration
of the monarchy in 1660, which marked the time when the Brownes’ stone was
keyed for plastering; while it was still in the east wall of the nave. This
change will have re-introduced the concept of an altar to the then, east end of
the church, so that the memorial was found to be in an inappropriate place,
according to the new thinking. The Browne family, with Winifred’s support of
the Parliamentarian cause will at this stage, have been something from a past
which may have seemed better forgotten. For the same reason, the earthworks
from the October 1645 defensive preparations at
Given that the above is all true so far as it goes, the
focus of our picture of events may be sharpened if we can add further
information, such as that given in the introduction to C.W. Foster’s edition of
the Parish Register. He tells of a report on the state of churches in
The pattern of events outlined so far is therefore
corroborated to some extent but the onset of the ruin was later, perhaps at about
the time of the Civil War. At some stage, the fronts of the two holy water
stoups by the south and west doors respectively, were knocked out (RJP1), clearly to prevent their further use.
This might have happened in Edward VI’s reign but it would also be consistent with the
circumstances of the 1640s when Parliament’s troops and supporters generally
were passing through the town, back and forth. For the Parliamentarian party,
this road, now known as the A15, served as a substitute for the
There is certainly damage on the north face of the remaining medieval bay of the chancel, which looks as though it had been inflicted by fairly hefty bullets from small arms. The buttress to the east of the one against which the monument is mounted is largely medieval. It bears two apparent bullet marks and there is a patch of repair which may represent another. One, on its north-eastern corner is repeated in the face of the next bay as though the bullet caught the corner and continued into the wall. If so, the relative positions of the damage indicate that the shot was fired a very few metres from the building. The remaining medieval bay includes no window but it is reasonable to suspect that the next one to the west, which now includes the small window, pictured above, then contained a large one, extending close to the buttress. It looks as though an iconoclast was aiming to shoot out the stained glass in it. If so, any shots which hit the upper part of the window will have continued, into or through the chancel roof.
A 1643 date for a ruination of the chancel would have
meant that a building of the east wall of the nave on the pulpitum occurred
when Winifred Browne and others had a lively interest in the church. 1643 is
sometimes quoted as the year of foundation of the
However, there is
an indication that the work was done in a reasonably tidy manner. In Moore’s book of 1809, there is
an engraving of the eastern side of the
This somewhat mysterious stone, the
1.^ The use of fulling hammers as an armorial
symbol is not unique. The arms of the commune of Bullecourt, Pas-de-Calais
are similar. But then, fulling was an important trade in
both Flanders and