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:

The Browne Monument in Bourne Abbey Church.



Text Box: The whole monument as far as it remains. (2006)
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 Text Box: The shield lit from the bottom left. (1988)
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 rebus on the name of a mid-thirteenth century Abbot, 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 Roman Catholic canons of the abbey.

Nor is the symbol the Hebrew letter ayinע) ) 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 church of Langley, traditionally in Buckinghamshire and now in Berkshire. However, the Hebrew language and its letters, although not unknown to Christian scholars are, apart from the story of Belshazzar’s feast, not in the mainstream of readily recognized Christian iconography.

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, Stamford] parish’. This had been the home parish of the William Browne, who had endowed Browne’s Hospital and rebuilt All Saint’s’ Church in the fifteenth century.

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. John Cotton 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, Stamford. After Charles I came to the throne in 1625, the king chose to impose episcopal rule. The political struggles following this, in which Cotton’s emigration was a part, seem to have led to the period in which the influence of the Brownes faded in Bourne and it may be that their memory was to be removed too. At some stage the detail was stripped from the monument and it was keyed for the plaster and its discovery is said to have been made only in the second half of the nineteenth century. Even then the Brownes were not thought of. The association between them and the monument was not made again until Bourne Abbey: Chancel: north windowabout 2000 when I saw their arms stitched on the cloth covering the table from which programmes of the Stamford Shakespeare Company at Tolethorpe are sold.

Bourne abbey: N wall buttress.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.

C12 stones. LoadingIn 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 in Elizabeth’s reign there had been an order that when in use, it should be brought into the congregation rather than stood at the eastern end, so that some of the people may have had their backs to the east wall. The hypothesized position of the monument was, at that stage in the development of religious thought, not really special. This idea of a table rather than an altar was current in 1559 and though the Laudian approach challenged that view, the removal of the table from the east end to be among the congregation when Holy Communion was offered, was still current in 1633 and 1640.

 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 Bourne Castle, in the face of a Royalist threat, seem to have been mentally converted into those of an attack on the town by Cromwell (RJP3). See Moore p. 16. This date for the defacement of the stone is not at all a certainty however, as for example, the still existing building of the chancel at Sheffield parish church was closed off by an organ, choir gallery and central, three-decker pulpit as late as 1854 (Scholes plate 2.4.). By this stage, the swings in opinion were slowly settling down to the present state of flexibility about the mean which is seen in the modern Anglican Church.

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 Lincolnshire of 1602 (Foster p. viii. Lincoln Diocesan Registry, State of the Churches, f. 1.). The report stated that both the church and chancel were at that date, well repaired and decently kept. Furthermore, the vicar, Edmund Lolley, was buried in the chancel in 1632. While it might be argued that this could have happened outdoors, in a roofless ruin, it probably did not. He continues, ‘Later, the quire fell into decay, and in 1807 the present chancel was built, ancient materials being in large measure used for the purpose.’

Hypothesis 2. The chancel was laid to ruin by fundamentalists during the seventeenth century Civil War.

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 Great North Road, while the latter was blocked by the royalist fortification of Newark (RJP3). The normal main road was also frequently subject to raiding from Belvoir. Over these years, this traffic will certainly have included some religious-radical thinkers. As an illustration of the kind of thing likely to have been happening, as a speculation, we might picture the ruination of the provocative ‘popish’ chancel, closed off from the view of the congregation by the pulpitum, as having been part of a disturbance in which ‘Elizebeth Gee’ was ‘shott by the souldgiers’ (Foster. burials, 14 Dec 1643). She died during a period when Colonel Cromwell’s own troops, who in the previous April had burnt the books of the library and smashed the glass and tombs at Peterborough Cathedral (Patrick pp.333-340), passed from the Sleaford area to Bedford (See Chronology for references), in all likelihood, by way of Bourne.

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 Bourne Baptist Church (Birkbeck p.52. Davies p.42.). The Church’s own web site says 1645. Whatever their view of the liturgy, the Anglicans would not have been able to afford having the wind blowing freely through their building for long, at this period. The work would have been done quickly so that there would still have been time between 1644 and 1660 in which to move through the process of changing attitudes which caused both the erection of the monument and its plastering over. These circumstances would also be consistent with the less than good practice of building a high wall on top of the pulpitum, on an unknown foundation below ground level.

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 Abbey Church and Abbey House. While it is an engraving rather than a photograph and though it shows the nave in a rather truncated way and there is no sign of the chancel ruins, it appears to represent the church building as it had been, before the chancel was rebuilt. On balance, Moore’s pictorial evidence is probably more artist’s licence than reality but the idea that the nave’s temporary east wall may have been properly constructed rather than raised on the pulpitum is consistent with a view that the pulpitum, which clearly represented the old, Roman Catholic practice of the monastic canons, would have been the primary annoyance as seen by Cromwell’s troopers. On which line of argument, it would have been the first part of the chancel that they knocked down. The stones bearing the blind twelfth century arch shapes, seen in the stacks of stones, will then have been built into the seventeenth century east wall as individual, re-used stones, available for salvage in 1807.

This somewhat mysterious stone, the Browne Monument seems therefore, to lead a train of thought through the history of the Abbey, including some turbulent times. Much of the above story is indeed, a train of thought - based on speculative assumptions which need to be assessed, each with regard to its probability.



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 England.

2.^ The story of the Gaches family runs parallel with this development and the two stories draw close after 1660.



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