A Lost Prince, A Devon Church, and The Da Vinci Code

Phew! It’s been a while since I wrote a post here. Covid has mostly prevented me hunting bench ends for the last two years, plus I’m fundamentally idle. In the last couple of days, however, articles in the newspapers and on social media have jump-started me into action. This post isn’t specifically about bench ends, though they feature briefly, but it is about a church in Devon, so I hope you’ll forgive me, dear reader.

A team of researchers going by the name of The Missing Princes Project and led by Phillipa Langley, the lady who led the successful search for the grave of Richard III, have recently announced their new discovery that Edward V, the older of the princes in the Tower, was allowed to leave the Tower and live incognito in Coldridge, Devon, under the false name John Evans. Various articles have appeared in national and local newspapers, such as The Telegraph, The Evening Standard, The Mirror, The Daily Mail, the Crediton Courier, and in THIS BLOG written a couple of months ago by the team’s ‘lead researcher,’ John Dike.

John Dike describes the discovery as ‘somewhat like the Da Vinci Code’ with its ‘secret symbols and clues.’ I agree, it’s a lot like the Da Vinci Code, inasmuch as the Da Vinci Code was a work of fiction, a house of cards built from misinterpretations, false evidence, and wishful thinking, that collapsed under the slightest scrutiny. The story of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ is well known so I won’t go into it here any further than is necessary, and I certainly won’t be trying to convince that they were or weren’t murdered on the orders of Richard III or Henry VII or Margaret Beaufort. But Devon churches are my ‘patch,’ so to speak, so I am going to examine this ‘discovery’ in some detail.

The articles I’ve linked to above all tell more or less the same story: that Richard III and Edward’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, came to a secret arrangement by which the young deposed king was allowed to escape the Tower of London, assume a new identity as John Evans, and live out his days in Coldridge, where he funded work in the parish church and used it to hide ‘secret symbols’ that reveal his true identity. Let’s look at those symbols and clues (quotes in bold are by John Dike, quoted in the Crediton Courier article linked above).

The Church of St. Matthew, Coldridge, contains a stained-glass portrait of the young Edward V.
This is entirely true, and a very fine piece of Tudor stained-glass it is too. Beneath the royal figure it bears the legend ‘Puerys Edward the Fevte’ (sometimes interpreted as ‘feyte’) – the boy Edward the fifth. Some people have identified the portrait at Edward VI, but it’s almost certainly a Tudor image of Edward V based on the inscription.

Is that unusual? Yes, and no. One of the articles linked above (I forget which) makes the claim that there are only four stained-glass depictions of Edward V in England. Aside from the one at Coldridge (16th century), they are at Canterbury Cathedral (c.1480), Little Malvern Priory, Worcs (c.1482), and the Church of St. Laurence, Ludlow (Victorian). However, these are only the surviving examples. Far more medieval and Tudor stained glass has been lost than has survived. Who knows how many other portraits of Edward V may have been destroyed? Apart from the portrait of Edward and a few other fragments most of the medieval/Tudor stained glass at Coldridge has also been destroyed. Who knows what the missing windows depicted? Perhaps there was a whole series of kings and princes, perhaps not.

The point is that Coldridge’s stained-glass portrait of Edward V is rare now, but that doesn’t necessarily make it significant or connect the church with Edward personally.

John Evans was the ‘parker’ of Coldridge until his death in 1511.

Yes, he was. That is to say that on the prayer desk in the church he is described as ‘John Evans parcardis de Colrug’. The inscription is generally accepted to be a Victorian copy of the original 1511 inscription, but there’s no reason to doubt that it is an accurate copy. ‘Parcardis’ is a tricky word though. It’s not a real Latin word – in the medieval world it was not unusual to bastardise or entirely fabricate new Latin words where no classical Latin word existed. Parcardis might mean ‘parker’ – someone who ran a hunting park, a locally prestigious job – but it might also be a Latinised form of ‘parcener’ – someone who owned a share in a piece of land. Either way, it makes John Evans a local notable. What’s interesting about Evans is that nobody seems to know anything about him: he’s got a nice tomb and effigy, and his name written on the prayer desk, but nobody has yet found any evidence of how and when he got to Coldridge.


So far, so good. Portrait of Edward V and a mysterious man called John Evans. We have the making of a good theory here, if only there were some way to connect the two. Here’s where it starts to get awkward.

The ermine on the stained glass includes 41 deer.

Immediately above the portrait of Edward V there is a large crown in the stained-glass. As is typical with Royal crowns it is edged with ermine. Mr Dike point out that “unusually this crown has an ermine lining with ermine spots which are in the image of deer not the usual stoats’ tails. Also these 41 deer link back from 1511, when the window was believed to be finished, to 1470, the year Edward V was born, and there is a clear link here between royalty and the deer parker.”

This is really exciting stuff, definitely worthy of the Da Vinci Code. The only trouble is that there are no deer to be seen, unless you squint really hard, in a bad light, from a fair distance away, and want them to be deer.

They might, I suppose, be giraffes with anywhere from four to seven legs. They certainly aren’t deer (with four to seven legs). They are boring old regular stoat tails. So, no connection to the ‘parker’ there, nor any significance in the number 41.

“This crown has the Falcon and Fetterlock motif of Edward V.”

No it doesn’t. Look at the photo above, there is no falcon or fetterlock. Since we know beyond reasonable doubt that the image is of Edward V, why make stuff up that’s not there?

“This crown is typical of those placed over a royal coat of arms, which you would not expect to find in an isolated rural church.”

Yes you would! Isolated rural churches all over the country are filled with royal coats of arms! Most of them are Tudor or later, but medieval royal coats of arms are not at all uncommon.

“The effigy of John Evans on the tomb has a deep scar across the chin which would cause the teeth to be exposed and cause difficulty in articulation. Was this an injury received by Edward V at Stoke?”

No, it wasn’t. We can be pretty sure of that, because Edward V was not at the Battle of Stoke. The rebels were spear-headed by Lambert Simnel, an imposter masquerading initially as Richard of Shrewsbury, Edward’s younger brother and fellow ‘Prince in the Tower,’ and later as Edward, Earl of Warwick. If Edward V, in the person of John Evans or some other alias, had been present at the Battle of Stoke then the rebels would not have been reduced to using an imposter pretending to be someone much further down the line of succession. If Evans were really Edward V why would he have supported someone else’s fictitious claim to his own throne? This simply doesn’t make sense.

Possibly John Evans was at Stoke, and received an injury there, but if he was then it suggests even more strongly that he was not Edward V. In any case, there’s no reason to believe that Evans fought at Stoke, so it’s pure speculation.

The effigy of John Evans is 510 years old, and has been worn, damaged, and defaced in that time. It has ‘scars’ on the armour, the coat, the shield…

“There is a fragment of a stained glass portrait in the chantry which shows a man, similar in appearance to the tomb effigy, who is carrying but not wearing a royal crown, and has an ermine collar only worn by royalty. This image also shows a scar on the chin and damage to the lips exposing the teeth. Experts believe it was drawn from life.”

Which ‘experts’, and on what basis?

The man in the image looks like the effigy inasmuch as he has two eyes, a nose, some hair, and is male. Frankly I don’t see a scar in either the stained-glass or the effigy. There’s still nothing to link them.

“On the tomb the name John Evans is incorrectly spelt EVAS. EV could be Edward V and AS could be an abbreviation of ASA which is latin for ’in sanctuary’.”

‘Incorrect’ is a fairly strong word when it comes to sixteenth-century spelling. As anyone who has read this blog knows, spelling was far from standardised. EV could be Edward V, but it’s not terribly likely. If someone wanted to proclaim that they were really King Edward then ER would be more typical. If the name EVAS was meant to be a clever word play, then why adopt the name ‘Evans,’ why not just go with ‘Evas’ or, better yet, ‘Erasa’ in the first place?

“Below this inscription is the inverted word KING, possibly medieval graffiti, with nine lines that could symbolise 1509 the year that Henry VII died and Edward V could have reclaimed the throne.”

Possibly medieval graffiti, or possibly not. Whatever the age of the graffiti, it doesn’t say ‘king’ in either direction.

The nine lines below it could date from any time in the last half-millennium. Trying to link them to 1509 is really clutching at straws.

Talking of clutching at straws…

“In the Rood Screen there are three separate small inverted carvings of a Tudor Lady with a long tongue. This could possibly be a swipe at Margaret Beaufort, largely responsible for putting Henry VII on the throne.”

In rood screens, pulpits, bench ends, and other carvings from this period, in this region, humans with various grotesque distortions and additions are very common indeed. There is nothing at all to suggest that these carvings have anything whatever to do with Margaret Beaufort.

“In the medieval floor tiles and roof bosses there appears the Rose of York motif and the Sun in Splendour.”

No, there doesn’t. The rose in the roof boss clearly has two layers of petals. It’s a Tudor Rose, not Yorkist rose. Even if it only had one layer of petals it could just as easily be a red rose of Lancaster as a white rose of York.

Perhaps more importantly, while the roof boss is probably Tudor, the tiles are certainly not medieval. They are Barnstaple tiles and date, at the earliest, to the late sixteenth century. More likely they are seventeenth-century, or even eighteenth. The Daily Mail article, linked above, even suggests that such floor tiles are ‘unusual for a church in Devon.’ Anyone who has spent any time crawling churches in Devon will probably have come across these tiles several times – they are very common in the area. I can think of at least ten churches locally with the same tiles.

In fact, they are so common that we know something about the individual tiles. At some point in its life the mould for the rose tile was broken and fixed, leaving a jagged line in tiles made after the break. We don’t know when the mould was broken, but it does enable us to divide the tiles when they’re found into early and late, depending on whether the rose tile was made from the whole mould or the broken mould. As you can see in the photo above from Coldridge, the tiles there fall into the ‘late’ category.

A supposed ‘white rose of York’ in the stained-glass at Coldridge is not a rose at all, but a cinquefoil. The sun in splendour in the stained-glass is hardly surprising, given that the main subject of the surviving glass is a Yorkist king.

“In March 1484 Richard III did a deal with Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of the Princes, and she left the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey with her daughters. Her eldest son, Thomas Grey, who owned lands in Devon and in particular the Manor and Deer Park at Coldridge, had previously fled sanctuary and would join forces with Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) in Brittany. Two days later Richard sent Robert Markenfield, a servant and associate, down from Yorkshire to the tiny village of Coldridge.”

Sinister as this might sound, there’s nothing surprising in it. Grey was attainted for his part in Buckingham’s rebellion in October 1483 and his lands, including Coldridge, reverted to the crown. On 3 March 1484 ‘Robert Markynfeld’ was appointed keeper of the royal park at Coldridge. Robert’s brother, Sir Thomas Markenfield, was a close ally of Richard III and played a part in putting down Buckingham’s rebellion. Robert’s role in suppressing the rebellion is unclear, but it would be perfectly natural for him to have supported his brother and received a reward for his services from the lands of those attainted.

“John Evans’ neighbour, and associate, Sir John Speke, was heavily fined by Henry VII for assisting Warbeck [another pretender to the throne who invaded England via Cornwall in 1497]. It is thought that Warbeck/Richard may have been given hospitality in the Coldridge area, as he would have passed through Crediton to attack the north gate at Exeter, and may have hatched a plan with his brother Edward V, who had been too badly injured at Stoke to take back the throne from Henry VII”

As with the question of John Evans supporting Lambert Simnel at Stoke ten years earlier, we have to ask why Edward V (if such John Evans was) would support a rebellion intended to put an imposter pretending to be his younger brother on the throne. The idea that Perkin Warbeck really was Richard of Shrewsbury has long been discounted by any serious historian. Warbeck confessed that he was an imposter and gave an account of his early life which is borne out by other independent records. Warbeck may well have been given hospitality in the Coldridge area, or more likely at adjacent Wembury, but not because he was really Richard of Shrewsbury, or because John Evans was really his brother Edward.

The ‘Yorkist roses’ at Coldridge are no such thing. The graffito that says ‘king’ in inverted letters doesn’t. The deer on the crown that provide the link between the portrait and the parker are very clearly not deer. The clever wordplay of EVAS isn’t. The attempts to link John Evans first to Lambert Simnel’s revolt and then to Perkin Warbeck’s fall flat. The carvings of Margaret Beaufort aren’t.

What we’re left with, once all the nonsense about secret symbols in Coldridge church has been discounted, is nothing more than a portrait of Edward V which has no particular significance on its own, and a man called John Evans whose antecedents are, at present, a bit hazy, with no real connection between the two. Da Vinci Code indeed. Still it’s a nice bit of publicity for the Ricardians.

In fairness, I cannot prove that Edward V isn’t buried in Coldridge church. But I can’t prove that he isn’t buried in any of the other 10,448 parishes in England either.

Another Maker

Just a very quick entry today. While looking through the records of Launceston for an unrelated project (crikey, I know how to party!)I came across a reference to a payment to John Kingdon, ‘kerver,’ of 9s for making two seats for the church in 1543.

Only one man named John Kingdon appears in the Cornish tax records for 1544 – a ‘John Kyngdon’ of the borough of Launceston. That’s pretty conclusive.

What makes this chance discovery particularly interesting is that of all the bench end makers I’ve been able to identify so far Kingdon is the only one to have made the seats in his own parish church.

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Only two historic bench ends survive at Launceston. They’re both plain, and they cannot be identified positively as Kingdon’s. Which is a pity.

A Bench in a Private Collection

Golly, it’s months since I posted here! Time flies when you’re having fun.

While searching for something else entirely I recently came across an online sales listing for a ‘Rare and almost fully-complete mid-15th century English oak pew. Circa 1450.’ At some point in the future I imagine the page will be taken down, now that it’s been sold into a private collection, so I want to preserve the images while I have the chance.

The listing suggests that the bench originated in Suffolk, circa 1450. It definitely has the appearance of an East Anglian bench, but the dating may be a product of the early cataloguers’ enthusiasm for listing all carved benches as 15th century, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. I would suggest a date of post-1480 is more likely, but 1450 is not impossible.

 

 

 

Some Seventeenth Century Bench Ends

While my main interest, and the focus of this blog, is Tudor bench ends, occasionally I find myself looking at early seventeenth-century bench ends which also deserve a bit of attention.

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1602 bench end, Stringston, Somerset

Some, a rare few, are both Tudor and seventeenth-century, such as the marvellous set of ends at Stringston, Somerset, which were carved liberally with the initials and names of the ‘owners’ of the benches in 1602, at the very end of the Tudor era. The date here is useful because it helps us to identify changes in carving styles as they evolved over time. One of the features common on later sixteenth- and seventeenth-century bench ends is much shallower carving than was common earlier, so in the absence of other evidence a bench end with particularly shallow carving is more likely to be of a later date.

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Monkleigh, Devon.

It should not be presumed that the later carvings were always simple or naive. Some, such as this Jacobean bench end at Monkleigh, Devon, are every bit as beautiful in their own way as the earlier Tudor ends.

In Cornwall, however, old ways die hard, and the older, deeper style of carving remained in use well into the seventeenth century. This serves firstly as a salutary lesson not to be too certain of date based on style only, and secondly as a vehicle for me to showcase three bench ends which are the real purpose of this blog entry.

First up, two ends from Towednack, Cornwall.

 

These fine bench ends were stolen from Towednack church in 1997 but a few years later were spotted by chance in an auction catalogue and returned to their home. They depict the two wardens of 1633, Matthew Treneth (the T and R of the surname are run together as a monogram), and a second warden whose name is hard to decipher. John Hobson Matthews, who saw the bench ends in 1892 when the wear was perhaps less acute, reckoned in his History of the Parishes of St. Ives, Lelant, Towednack, and Zennor that the second warden’s name was James Trewhela, and I see no reason to dispute that.

I have mentioned elsewhere that the Statutory List entries for churches are not always to be relied upon for dating when it comes to bench ends, and Towednack is a case in point. The List entry for Towednack church unambiguously describes ‘2 C15 carved oak bench ends,’ despite the fact that both of them bear the date 1633!

The Towednack style bench ends, with a warden’s name, date, and image of their head and shoulders, seems to be peculiar to seventeenth-century Cornwall, but may have been widespread there, certainly not limited to Towednack. The final bench end in today’s brief entry was originally in Illogan church, but is now housed in the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro.

17c bench end RCM (Illogan)
(Photo courtesy of the Royal Cornwall Museum.)

I always get a bit excited when I find a bench end with a depiction of a fox (my surname being Fox, in case you’ve missed that pertinent fact), but here we have a bench end, dated 1627, with the wardens’ names: John Clemow and Thomas Foxe. It’s impossible to say which of them is depicted beneath, of course, but he looks an awful lot like my Dad.

The Stratton Bench Ends.

If you’ve read my entry on Matthy More and the Bodmin bench ends you’ll know how excited I can get by the documentary evidence relating to the bench ends, and how much information can be gleaned from contracts. My attention was recently drawn the Stratton Churchwardens’ Accounts, 1512-1578, which were published earlier this year. The accounts contain a number of references to the repair of seating, the cost of nails, the movement of seats, the addition of seats, and perhaps most importantly an appendix containing the 1531 contract between two woodworkers and the church elders for making a rood loft, parclose screens, wooden altars, and benches in Stratton church, Cornwall.

The two woodworkers were John Daw of Lawhitton, Cornwall, and John Pares of Northlew, Devon.

When I read the contract the name John Pares instantly made me sit up, because I’ve come across him before. John Parrys* of Northlew was contracted to build the rood loft at Atherington church, Devon, and there can be little doubt that they are one and the same person. He may also have been responsible for the bench ends at Atherington, but the evidence to prove that either way is sadly lost. Having the name of a craftsman along with the parish in which he lived enables us to learn a little more about him through other records, in this case the Lay Subsidy of 1524, in which ‘John Parys’ is listed among those eligible to pay tax, with goods worth £13 1/3. Of the 69 men listed in Tudor Northlew only seven were worth £10 or more, and Parys was in the top five wealthiest parishioners.

The presence of John Pares’ name in the Stratton accounts perhaps throws light on a question about his work elsewhere. Although he was contracted to build the rood loft at Atherington come time between 1540 and 1547, he never finished the job and the parishioners of Atherington had to make a new contract with two new craftsmen, Roger Down and John Hyll, to finish the job. It has been speculated (by me, if by nobody else) that Parrys may not have finished the Atherington loft because he had died before it could be completed. If he had been paying taxes around 20 years before he worked on the loft then his death would not be entirely surprising, and it would certainly have been a good reason for him not to fulfil his contractual obligations. However, in 1575 the churchwardens of Stratton paid out 3s 2d ‘to Perys for making of the segges [seats]’. If John Perys (if indeed it was he) was making more seats in Stratton in 1575 then he probably wasn’t dead. An alternative, and perhaps more likely, explanation is that Perys in 1575 was not the same man as John Pares who had build the rood loft all those years before. In 1580 the Stratton accounts listed payment to ‘Pears the joyner’ for a variety of services, including moving seats and taking down the rood loft. It is possible, but perhaps unlikely, that a man who was old and prosperous enough to pay taxes in 1524 was engaged in the demolition of a rood loft in 1580 when he must have been at a very advanced age indeed. It is, nevertheless, at least a charming coincidence that a rood loft built by Parys in 1531 was dismantled by Perys nearly fifty years later.

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John Parrys’ rood screen and loft in the North aisle of Atherington church, an incredibly rare survival which might give some indication of the appearance of Stratton’s now-lost screen.

John Daw, Pares’ associate in the work at Stratton, undertook a number of different commissions on the church there. Like Pares, because his home parish is mentioned in the contract, we can find out a little more about him from other records, this time the Military Survey of 1522, in which John Dawe sen. and John Dawe jun. are both listed as adult inhabitants of the parish of Lawhitton. We do not know whether the father or the son worked at Stratton, but they were both assessed as being worth £4 in property which, although substantially less than Pares was still a respectable amount in a parish in which some men were assessed at as little as £2 or, in two cases, nil. It has been estimated that a day labourer in the first half of the sixteenth century might earn between 25 and 50 shillings per year, so both men of the Dawe family were more than a couple of rungs up the ladder.

Daw may have secured the contract at Stratton through local association as Rychard Carlyghan was simultaneously vicar of Stratton and Lawhitton, but it is a curious fact that none of the West Country bench end makers whose home parishes have so far been identified made the bench ends in their own churches: in Somerset, Simon Werman made bench ends for Broomfield and Trull, but not his own parish of Bicknoller; in Cornwall neither Matthy More nor Robert Daye, who made the bench ends of Bodmin and Altarnun respectively, were resident in those parishes. The Stratton craftsmen fit into that pattern, for the bench ends at Northlew were not made by John Parys and the bench ends at Lawhitton were not made by Daw.

It is interesting to see, then, that despite being ‘local’ in the broad sense, sixteenth century craftsmen like Daw and Pares travelled fairly considerably distances to work. Most of the work assembling the loft and seats that actually occurred in Stratton appears to have been carried out by Daw, but Pares doubtless travelled to Stratton on occasion even if most of his carving was done in a workshop at home. Northlew and Lawhitton lie about 17 miles from one another, and about 20 miles each from Stratton. (Northlew is also about the same distance from Atherington). This at a time when 12 miles per day was considered about average for someone travelling on foot. That two men from such distant parishes (and even different counties) were able to forge a contract to work together suggests a communal awareness of allied craftsmen across a fairly wide area in the sixteenth century which is barely exceeded in the digital age.

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So much for the craftsmen, what about the work?

The Stratton accounts include several entries relating to new seating. In addition to the 1531 contract new seats were added to the chancel and a ‘ladys pew’ in 1546, ‘a new sege’ and ‘setys for chyldrin’ were made in 1566, and further seats were added in 1567 and 1575. Additionally, since the accounts begin only in 1512 it is possible that some benches were already in the church before that time. It is therefore impossible to identify certainly which, if any, of the surviving bench ends at Stratton were the work of John Daw or John Pares. Some, such as that pictured above, bear religious imagery which is suggestive of a pre-Reformation date, and they would certainly fit a 1531 date stylistically, but their identification can only be tentative.

Daw and Pares were given a term of seven years to complete their contract, but because it included the much greater work of the loft and screens, as well at the altars and other works, it is not possible to draw any conclusions about how long the seats themselves would have taken to make. In 1566 the ‘new sege’ took a craftsman named Bastin about four and a half days to make, but it’s difficult to assess how far, and even whether, that can be applied to other seating without knowing its size, whether it was carved or plain, etc. In 1535 John Daw was paid 6s 8d for ‘setting’ the seats, so presumably his seats were made by that date.

The people of Stratton were naturally keen to ensure that the contract made with Daw and Pares would be fulfilled satisfactorily, and so Daw and Pares were required to enter into a bond of £200, payable if the work was not completed according to contract. To help cover the cost of the bond Daw and Pares were joined by co-bondsmen, including Richard Daw, also a carver and probably a brother of John Daw and, given his absence from the earlier Military Survey, probably a younger brother. Pares called upon his neighbours Richard Medlond and Thomas Glanfyld, the second and eighth wealthiest parishioners of Northlew. Other co-bondsmen with Daw and Pares included men from various North Cornwall parishes with no obvious link to either Daw or Pares. John Hyll of Egloskerry, who stood bond with Daw and Pares, was probably not the same John Hyll (of Chittlehampton) who completed Parrys’ work on the Atherington screen.

The contract also stipulated the nature of the screen and other pieces in some detail, for example that the loft should ‘be made after the patrone, forme, and facyon yn everything as the rod loft of Seyntt Kew…’ and that the timber used should ‘be substancyally seysynyd and of one manner of dryyng.’ Perhaps the most intriguing safeguard written into the contract to ensure the quality of the work was the clause stipulating that ‘at all tymes duryng the space and tyme of iiii yeres after the sayd worke be fully fynysshd [Daw and Pares] shall at all tymes amend the same rodloft and all other ye premysses at all tymes as nede shall requyre.’

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Finally (for now) the 1531 contract might solve one little conundrum. Lots of bench ends across the West Country bear letters which are usually assumed to be the initials of parishioners (though not always). Sometimes it is possible to identify individuals, even if only tentatively, by comparing the initials with the tax records or military surveys of the parish, but although the 1522 Military Survey records from Cornwall are among the most complete in the country, the returns for Stratton parish have been lost. Four of the surviving bench ends at Stratton bear the initials TM, like that shown above, which suggest that TM was a fairly important figure. The initials do not match those of any of the vicars of Stratton, nor the lords of the manor, but one of the parties to the contract and the £200 bond on behalf of the parish was Thomas Mares, a prominent villager who was often called upon as a witness to legal transactions, a feofeeman, and several times warden himself. No other person mentioned in the accounts for the whole of the 1512-1578 period had the initials TM, so there is at least a reasonable chance that the bench ends were so marked for him.

*Throughout this entry I have followed sixteenth-century convention and spelled John Pares’ surname in different ways. In the 1531 it is ‘Pares,’ in the chancery records relating to the Atherington screen it is ‘Parrys,’ and in the 1524 Lay Subsidy Roll it is ‘Parys.’ Since none of them are definitive I have been impish in my own spelling. I hope it’s not too annoying, but I don’t mind much if it is.

‘Master A’

Seven months ago I promised I’d write an entry on Master A ‘in the near future.’ Here it is.

Very few of the bench end makers can be identified today. Robert Daye and a couple of others wrote their names on bench ends; a small number can be identified through documentary evidence, such as Matthy More; and some have left us only enigmatic initials, tantalising hints of their identities which we cannot realistically expect to unravel. In total we can actually or tentatively identify around ten bench end makers, out of a total number of active craftsmen that we can only guess at.

One man, however, might be identified by his work, if not his name. I have chosen to call him ‘Master A’.

I forget where exactly I was when I first conceived the idea that there might have been a single workshop responsible for a number of bench ends in North and East Cornwall, but I think it was probably at Newlyn East  that I noticed the letter ‘A,’ cunningly incorporated into depiction of Judas’s thirty pieces of silver.

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Newlyn East, Cornwall

I knew that I had seen other examples of the letter ‘A’ used in isolation, without a second initial, so I set out to compare them for stylistic or thematic similarities. If I hadn’t found some, I wouldn’t be writing this blog, so let me cut right to the chase.

Landulph, Launcells, and Poughill‘s bench ends all include at least one single ‘A’ initial, and share enough similarities or peculiarities with the bench ends at Newlyn East to make me think that they originated in the same workshop.

Bench ends at St. Austell share some similarities with those above, as well as the letter ‘A’, but I am less confident about ascribing them to the same source. The few surviving bench ends at Forrabury also contain a few similarities with the Newlyn East bench ends, but are noticeably different in their execution and quality and are an imitation of Master A’s work if they are connected at all. Likewise, bench ends at Stratton (between Launcells and Poughill) share some similarities and a number of ‘A’ letters, but are not entirely congruent with Master A’s style and must be defined as possibly from his workshop at best [see the EDIT at the end of this entry]. Sadly, too few of the bench ends at Whitstone have survived, and in too poor condition, to draw any worthwhile conclusions.

Let us look at some of the similarities and points of interest.

Letter ‘A’.

The use of a single letter ‘A’, not associated with any other letter, is the defining feature of Master A’s work and may have been his initial. There are, of course, different ways to render the letter ‘A,’ according to personal taste and style, but compare the style of lettering in the eight churches mentioned above.

Letter A
1. Newlyn East – 2. Landulph – 3. Launcells – 4. Poughill – 5. St. Austell – 6. Forrabury – 7. Stratton – 8. Whitstone

All of these examples feature a wide bar crossing the top of the A, and a downward-pointing v-shaped cross stroke. These features are not unique to Master A, but they are consistent.

The bench ends at Landulph and Stratton also include a letter ‘A’ in a different style, in addition to the consistent examples pictured above. These will serve as a comparison, but it should be noted that they are also very similar to one another.

Letter A(2)
1: Landulph. 2: Stratton.

Sacred Monogram.

The sacred monogram, or Christogram, by the late medieval period was usually rendered in its Latin form, commonly IHS, IHC, or IS, representing the first letters of Christ’s name in Greek, iota-[eta]-sigma. It is seen in all three forms on West-Country bench ends and, like the letter ‘A,’ the letters might be depicted in different styles depending on the maker.

In the eight possible Master A bench end sets, however, the sacred monogram is executed more or less consistently.

IHC
1. Newlyn East – 2. Landulph – 3. Launcells – 4. Poughill – 5. St. Austell – 6. Forrabury – 7. Stratton – 8. Whitstone

In each case above the monogram is in the IHC form, and the letters are straight and angular. Each letter is basically the same shape in each version. Particular attention should be paid to the letter ‘H’ which in each case, except Forrabury’s, has a cleft at the top of the long stroke, with a short horizontal bar inserted through it, and a curved tail coming from the bottom of the short stroke. Landulph’s example is somewhat more ornate than the others, but in its essential form is the same.

The exception is the Forrabury example which, while superficially similar to the others is quite different, particularly in the matter of the tail extending from the ‘I’ instead of the ‘H,’ and the ends of the ‘C’ curling back into the letter.

By way of a contrasting example to highlight the similarities above, Altarnun church, whose bench ends we know were not carved by Master A, the IHC version of the monogram was also favoured, but its style is entirely different.

IHC Altarnun
Altarnun, Cornwall.

Crowned M.

The Crowned ‘M,’ representing the Virgin Mary, is a common feature on West Country Bench ends, and usually comes in one of two forms.

Crowned M
1. Newlyn East – 2. Landulph – 3. Launcells – 4. Poughill – 5. St. Austell – 6. Stratton

The Crowned ‘M’ motifs at Newlyn East, Landulph, Launcells, and Poughill are all of the same form: the ‘M’ itself is curved, with broad strokes, and a wide-cleft centre stroke; the crown has five points above a decorated band, and is rendered in a 3D form with a visible back edge of the rim. By contrast, the motifs at St. Austell and Stratton take a very different form, with cornered and narrow stroke, and a drooping-cleft centre stroke, while the crown has only three points and is rendered in 2D. This marked difference in the style of the Crowned ‘M’ raises strong doubts that the St. Austell and Stratton bench ends are from the workshop of Master A.

Neither Forrabury’s nor Whitstone’s bench end sets include an example of a Crowned ‘M’ in either form.

Bunny Bums.

Three of the four churches which I believe contain bench ends by Master A contain rural scenes featuring animals (and in the case of Launcells, a human) standing on ground pitted by rabbit holes. We can identify the pits as rabbit holes easily because in each of them a rabbit’s hind-quarters can be seen poking out of one of the holes.

Bunny Bums
1. Newlyn East – 2. Landulph – 3. Launcells – 4. Poughill – 5. Forrabury.

I have included above an image from Newlyn East which, although it does not feature a bunny bum, has a very similar ground texture and theme to the bench ends at Landulph, Launcells, and Poughill. Forrabury also includes a bunny bum among its bench ends which is, I think, inspired by the work of Master A.

To my current knowledge only two other bench ends in the West Country have similar rabbit backsides shown poking out of holes in the ground. One, at Lewtrenchard, Devon, is a Victorian copy of the Forrabury end, the other is at St. Columb Major, Cornwall, and may in fact be the work of Master A (see below).

Jaws of Hell.

At least three of Master A’s bench ends depict the jaws of Hell, a curious subject which is uncommon on West Country bench ends.

Jaws
1. Newlyn East – 2. Landulph – 3. Launcells – 4. Poughill – 5. St. Austell

The Newlyn East and Poughill jaws are visually extremely similar, as is the depiction at St. Austell. The depiction at Launcells is stylistically very different, but probably represents the same subject. There is no clear depiction of the jaws of Hell at Landulph, but one bench end which is particularly worn and is probably a foliate design but might once have represented a similar image to Newlyn East’s and Poughill’s.

These five depictions are the only representations of the jaws of Hell that I have so far encountered on West Country bench ends, and are all on ends either by or associated with Master A.

Judas.

It might seem at first odd that anyone would want to commemorate Judas, the most reviled man in Christianity, and yet of all the apostles only Peter is represented more often on bench ends. I know of eight Cornish representations of Judas, either literally depicted as a man with a bag (containing thirty pieces of silver) about his neck, or metaphorically represented by the silver coins, in six different churches. Four of those representations are the work of Master A.

Judas
1. Newlyn East – 2. Newlyn East – 3. Launcells – 4. Poughill – 5. Kilkhampton – 6. Probus – 7. St. Breward

It is unlikely that the bench ends at Kilkhampton or St. Breward were the work of Master A, though it must be noted that Kilkhampton parish borders both Poughill and Stratton, and is very close to Launcells, and it is certain that the Probus bench ends are not the work of Master A. We are therefore on less sure grounds attributing Judas representations to Master A, despite 50% of the known Cornish examples apparently being his work (this figure may need to be adjusted as more examples come to light). Nonetheless, Judas does seem to have been a common subject in Master A’s work.

Other points of congruence.

Other similarities are evident in the work of Master A, but are much less indicative of a specific maker. For example, several bench ends which might have been made by Master A depict the three nails used at the crucifixion, but there are only so many ways to depict nails so their similarity to one another is not surprising. The same is true of other devices such as the pillar and cords, scourges, spear and hyssop, or the crucifix itself. The halberds of the Roman soldiers who guarded Christ’s tomb are depicted in very similar forms at Newlyn East and Landulph, but while halberds might be depicted with a number of different forms, a similarity between only two bench ends is not enough to draw any meaningful conclusions. Suffice to say that there are no bench ends at Newlyn East, Landulph, Launcells, or Poughill, which give me pause to doubt that they could be the products of a single workshop in the light of the evidence presented above.

Halberds
1. Newlyn East – 2. Landulph.

Other possible ‘Master A’ Bench Ends.

With the exception of the Jaws of Hell, none of the features mentioned above are entirely unique to Master A. For example, the IHC monogram can be found in a similar form in at least 15 other Cornish churches, but in each case there is some reason to doubt the hand of Master A, such as the letter ‘A’ being rendered in a completely different style. 11 Churches also contain the letter ‘A’ written in the same form as Master A’s work, but in a very different style.

Three further churches, however, may contain bench ends by Master A but do not have enough points of similarity to be conclusive.

St. Columb Major.

St. Columb Major has the best claim to be included in the Master A canon. Although none of the surviving bench ends contain a solitary letter ‘A’, the set is incomplete and it is possible that the ‘signature’ bench end has been lost. The letter ‘A’ does appear in conjunction with other letters, and is in the same form as Master A’s. Additionally the IHC monogram and Crowned M at St. Columb match those in Master A’s churches. Most importantly, as noted above, St. Columb is the only other church so far discovered in Cornwall in which a rabbit’s bottom can be seen poking out of a hole in the ground. There is nothing in the bench ends at St. Columb which precludes them being the work of Master A.

St Column Major
St. Columb Major.

St. Eval.

St. Eval lies not far from St. Columb Major, and like St. Columb does not contain a ‘signature’ solitary letter ‘A’. However, when the letter ‘A’ appears with other letters it matches Master A’s form and style. Likewise, the IHC monogram and Crowned M also match Master A’s work. A depiction of Christ’s empty tomb at St. Eval includes a halberd in the same form as those at Newlyn East and Landulph pictured above.

St. Eval
St. Eval

St. Tudy.

St. Tudy‘s bench ends are in far too poor a state to draw any real conclusions about their provenance. In the 19th century the church was in a poor state and many of the bench ends suffered rot. To stop the rot spreading they were removed and many of them destroyed. A few bench ends were salvaged and are now in nearby Michaelstow church, while a few were cut up and their features used to make new roof bosses for the restored chancel at St. Tudy. The letter ‘A,’ which has been disembodied from the rest of its bench end so may or may not have been a ‘signature’ bench end, the IHC monogram, and Crowned M are all consistent with Master A’s work. On the whole, despite the similarities, St. Tudy’s bench ends appear slightly more refined than Master A’s, but sadly are not complete enough to be sure either way about Master A’s involvement.

St. Tudy
St. Tudy

Who was Master A?

Unless some documentary evidence comes to light relating to any of Master A’s bench ends it is extremely unlikely that he will ever be identified by name. Nonetheless, we can perhaps glean some information about him. I can find no evidence of his work outside Cornwall: there are some superficial similarities to his work to be found in some West Devon bench ends, such as those at Broadwoodwidger and Frithelstock, but enough differences to show that they did not originate in Master A’s workshop. We might therefore conclude that Master A lived and worked in Cornwall and was, in all likelihood, Cornish.

He was also a busy man. Matthy More’s contract for the bench ends at Bodmin allowed him four years to complete the work. If Master A was responsible for the bench ends of at least four churches, and perhaps as many as ten, not counting an unknown number which may since have been lost, it may be that his work on bench ends took up most of his life.

And when was that life? The bench ends at Launcells include one which depicts a Tudor rose and a pomegranate, the latter the personal emblem of Catherine of Aragon, which dates them to some time either in 1501-2 or, more likely, after 1509, and not later than 1533 in which year Henry VIII’s first divorce was finalised. One of the bench ends at Poughill is decorated with the arms of Launceston Priory, which was dissolved in 1539. We can therefore conclude that at least part of Master A’s working life occurred in the first four decades of the sixteenth century.

The map below shows the distribution of bench ends mentioned above that I attribute to or associate with Master A. Landulph [2] appears to be a significant outlier, but the distances involved are not great.

Map
1. Newlyn East – 2. Landulph – 3. Launcells – 4. Poughill – 5. St. Austell – 6. Forrabury – 7. Stratton – 8. Whitstone – 9. St. Columb Major – 10. St. Eval – 11. St. Tudy.

EDIT. (29/11/2018)
With historical research it is often the case that importance new evidence comes to light just after you publish. The nice thing about a blog like this is that it’s easy to edit to add the new information in.

In this case, my attention was recently drawn to the newly published Stratton Church Wardens’ Accounts, 1512-1578, which contains a number of entries relating to the seating, including a transcript of the 1531 contract between the elders of the church and John Daw for the provision of seats and pews. The good news is that another bench end maker has been identified, the slightly less good news is that we can confirm that the Stratton bench ends are definitely not the work of Master A.

Sitting Bull

Just a short entry this time, written between putting the beef in and making the Yorkshire puddings…

At East Budleigh, Devon, there is a very fine set of bench ends dating to 1537. There are human figures, a ship, coats of arms, punch marks, a date… all sorts of things to get the seasoned bench-ender excited, but one bench in particular has attracted a great deal of attention.

DSCF1667

The church guide identifies this gentleman as a Native-American, and one can see why. The head-dress and the profile are very reminiscent of a Native-American, and over the years a number of articles have made the same identification. Apart from the visual resemblance the identification is supported by the association of the church with Sir Walter Raleigh, the most prominent of the Elizabethan American-adventurers – Raleigh was born within a couple of hundred yards of the church, his father was a church warden there, and one of the other bench ends bears the Raleigh coat of arms.

However, appearances are deceptive. This figure is certainly not the earliest English depiction of a Native-American, for a number of reasons.

  • The punch marks identify this bench end as one of the set which is dated 1537, fifteen years before Sir Walter Raleigh was even born, and 48 years before he attempted to plant a settlement at Roanoke, Virginia
  • The figure has a beard, not usually associated with Native-Americans.
  • The figure’s head-dress is made of leaves, not feathers.
  • In 1537 very few Englishman at all had any idea what a Native-American looked like, few indeed had probably given much thought even to the existence of Native Americans.
  • Early English voyagers to North America would have come into contact with Algonquin Americans, not the plains-dwelling natives that this image resembles.

Who or what this fellow might be is an interesting question, but he’s not a Native-American

 

Bench End Makers

One of the questions that I am frequently asked about bench ends, and one which has been on my mind a lot recently following a number of conversations, is ‘who made them?’ I was recently told by an authoritative church warden with great conviction that ‘of course, they were made by monks,’ and I got rather excited to know the evidence on which such confidence was based. Alas, it turned out that the historical presence of a priory nearby had led the warden to add 2 to 2 and come up with 9.

A more well-established idea is that bands of itinerant Flemish wood carvers roamed the West Country in the sixteenth century, turning out bench ends and rood screens. This theory has its roots in the Victorian period, but still finds favour. Numerous church guidebooks and leaflets mention Flemish carvers in relation to their bench ends. As early as 1916, however, the venerable bench-ender the Rev. J. Charles Cox found ‘not one atom of evidence extant to support the oft-repeated tales’ of Flemish craftsmen, and argued for a predominantly English, and local, manufacture. In fact, there may be a kernel of truth in the tales of immigrant craftsmen: John Allen has recently and persuasively argued that a significant body of ornamental woodwork in Devon was produced by Breton craftsmen, and points specifically to evidence in the church wardens’ accounts for Bodmin, which mention two ‘Bretouns’ working on the seats there in 1529-30.

Cox was fairly close to the mark though when he attributed the West Country bench ends to English craftsmen. How many local men were employed at one time or another in making bench ends for churches will forever be a mystery, but we know the names of perhaps as many as six of them, and can identify others without being able to name them. Some of them will probably get their own entry in the fullness of time, but since they play such a significant part in the story of the bench ends, I think it’s high time we meet them.

Matthy More.

DSCF6075 (2)
Matthy More bench end? Bodmin, Cornwall.

We have already met Matthy More, maker of the earliest bench ends at Bodmin, in an earlier post. None of his bench ends there can be identified positively as such, but multiple sets of ends are evident there so it is likely that at least some of them, including that shown here, are More’s work. More was contracted to provide seating in Bodmin between 1491 and 1495, and although the indenture requires ‘the sayde Matthy More, Carpynter, [to] make or do to be made, yn the parysh Churge of Seynt Petrok yn Bodmyn, fully newe chayrs and seges [seats]’ it also lists John Glyn of Bodmin, John Coche, Thom[a]s Raulyn, and Thom[a]s Plympton, who may have been his assistants or colleagues.

No man by the name of ‘More’ is listed in the 1522 Military Survey returns for Bodmin. The Survey was compiled thirty years after the indenture was made (give or take) and Matthy More might have died childless in the mean time, but it does open up the possibility that More was not a local man. John Glyn and the ‘heir of John Glyn’ are listed in the Survey return, as are three members of the Coche family and a Bartholomew Rawlyn. Thomas Plympton might be of special interest if his surname reflected his home, as was often the case. More was instructed to make the Bodmin seats of a quality of ‘workmanshyp, accordyng to the chayrs & seges yn the sayde parysh Churge of Plympton.’ It is possible that More and Plympton, if not men local to Bodmin, were chosen to do the work there because they had actually been responsible for the coveted (and now sadly lost) bench ends at Plympton St. Mary.

John Beny.

54
John Beny bench end (?) Trull, Somerset

The identification of John Beny as a bench end maker is tentative. The marvellous collection of bench ends at Trull, Somerset, bear the hall marks of having been made by at least two different hands, at different times. One set, we know, was made by Simon Werman (see below), but some examples from an earlier set of bench ends also survive. The end depicted here is dated 1510, somewhat too early to really have been made by Werman and, moreover, bears the initials IB. Whose initials these were is not clear, but church wardens’ accounts for Trull record payments to a John Beny in the 1530s for woodwork, including work on the highly decorative screen. If the IB mentioned on this bench end is the same John Beny who later worked on the screen then the woodwork at Trull would represent examples from different phases of Beny’s career.

Nothing more is yet known about John Beny, but it is worth noting that nearby Spaxton church also has a bench end bearing the initials IB, part of a set dated 1536. However, the rector of Spaxton 1531-1537 was John Bury, so it is usually assumed that the initials are his, and there is no notable similarity in style or workmanship between the Spaxton bench ends and the 1510 Trull bench ends.

Robert Daye.

DSCF3439 (2)
Robert Daye bench end, Altarnun, Cornwall.

Robart Daye, maker of this worke, is probably the best-known bench end maker, entirely because of this bench end and the rest of his set at Altarnun, Cornwall. I have a particular affection for the Altarnun ends and have spent a fair amount of time researching Robert Daye, with little success.

As well as the Altarnun bench ends Daye has been credited with making some of the ends at St. Winnow, but beyond some superficial similarities between a figure at St. Winnow and those at Altarnun there is little real reason to suppose that he was responsible for both sets. Other secular work by Robert Daye is known elsewhere.

The bench ends at Altarnun were probably made between 1521 and 1532, so if Daye was a local man then we would expect his name to be found in the 1522 Military Survey return. In fact, no person called ‘Daye’ or any reasonable variant thereof is listed in the Survey anywhere in Cornwall. Several members of a Day family, including a Robert, appear in Somerset documents in the right period, and there is some similarity between Day’s work at Altarnun and some Somerset bench ends, suggesting the possibility that he may have been brought from Somerset to work at Altarnun.

Master Glosse.

13
Glosse bench end, Stogursey, Somerset.

Like Matthy More, Master Glosse did not sign any of his bench ends, so it is impossible to identify them certainly. The church wardens’ accounts of Stogursey church, Somerset, list payments to Glosse, and his visiting Bristol and Wales to procure wood for the seating in 1524/5. It is a reasonable interpretation that he was the maker of the bench ends which still survive at Stogursey and are at least roughly contemporary with that date.

 

 

 

 

Simon Werman.

DSCF0727
Simon Werman bench end, Broomfield, Somerset.

Simon Werman’s name is almost synonymous with bench ends in Somerset, and he is the only maker known certainly to have made bench ends for two different churches: Broomfield (left) and Trull. At Broomfield Werman signed his whole name, at Trull he left bench ends with his initials, and both sets share the same punch mark. Bench ends at a number of other Somerset churches have been attributed to Werman on the slenderest of evidence. A single bench end at Stogursey may also be Werman’s work.

Of all the bench end makers Werman has attracted the most academic attention and a number of details about his life have emerged. He was an inhabitant of Bicknoller parish, not far from Broomfield and Trull, but, interestingly, probably did not make the bench ends there. He was married to Joan some time before 1527 and died in 1585. He had two daughters, Agatha and Edith, and a nephew Walter, but apparently no sons. Carving was not Werman’s sole occupation, he also farmed land at Bicknoller, but was carving still at least as late as 1560, when he left his name and the date on some panelling at Trull. Carved stone-work dated 1583 has been unconvincingly attributed to Werman

S. Peyd.

DSCF7068
S. Peyd bench end, Dowland, Devon.

This charming bench end at Dowland, Devon, is exactly the kind that bench-enders love. It has a date, 1546, a coat of arms, and a name. The coat of arms represents the families of Stowford and Menwenick: Robert Stowford married Elizabeth Menwenick in 1524. The name, S. Peyd, does not belong to the owner of the arms and is therefore likely to be that of the maker. In a single bench end, then, we know who made it, who paid for it, and when.

As yet, nothing more is known about S. Peyd.

 

 

W.B., A., and A.T.

 

 

Like Simon Werman at Trull, some makers signed their work only with their initials. With so many initials on bench ends it is impossible to say which might be those of makers and which of parishioners, but three in Devon stand out as probably belonging to makers. At Broadwoodwidger and Northlew the initials A and A.T. respectively are found on bench ends which also bear dates (1527 and 1537), and at Littleham the initials W.B. are surmounted by a pair of dividers, an essential tool for the wood carver. These men have not yet been identified (and in the case of Broadwoodwidger certainly never will be), because of the inherent uncertainty that the makers came from the parish in which their work is found. For example, a Walter Bond is listed in the 1525 Lay Subsidy Roll for Littleham parish, and is therefore a possible candidate for W.B., but he was far from the only man with those initials in Devon. At Northlew one of the most prominent families listed in the Lay Subsidy Roll was named Tekell, and A.T. may well have been a scion of that house. None of the listed Tekells had the initial ‘A,’ but the bench ends were made twelve years after the tax roll, so perhaps an Adam Tekell (or Aaron, Alexander, Abednigo etc) came of age in the intervening years. It is interesting that shortly after the Northlew bench ends were made a wood carver from Northlew by the name of John Parrys was employed on the rood screen at Atherington. Either Northlew was possessed of a glut of skilled carvers, or the parish brought in an outside craftsman in preference to their own man.
DSCF5730(Edit) When I wrote this article I’d quite forgotten about A.A. at Davidstow, Cornwall.

‘Master A.’

DSCF3689
‘Master A’? bench end, Poughill, Cornwall.

I will certainly write a fuller entry on ‘Master A’ in the near future (edit: I’ve written it, click the link). Examination of bench ends across the West Country leads me to believe that a single craftsman or workshop may have been responsible for making bench ends for a number of Cornish churches, based on very close similarities of style and subject matter. One feature which stands out in these sets of bench ends is the repeated use of a single letter ‘A’, such as that shown at Poughill, left.

Research into Master A and his work is ongoing, but at this time (29/3/2018) I believe he made the bench ends at Poughill, Launcells, Landulph, and Newlyn East, and may have been responsible for those at Stratton, Whitstone, and St. Austell.

Based on the bench ends at Launcells and Poughill, Master A was active between 1509 and 1536, and more bench ends of his have survived than of any other maker. You read it here first!

Punch marks

Across the West country, predominantly in Devon and to a lesser extent in Cornwall and Somerset, numerous bench ends are decorated with punch marks, or stamps. A simple design was repeatedly struck into the surface of the wood by means of a metal punch, leaving an imprint of the punch on the wood. In some cases the punch marks were used to augment the main design of the panel, in others it was used to create a stippled effect on otherwise bare patches of wood, often the background of the main feature.

Because each punch was hand-made no two were exactly alike, even when they shared a similar design. They are thus a form of signature, unique to a particular maker or workshop. Some sets of bench ends have no punch marks at all, but where punch marks are present in a church they are usually found on several or all of the bench ends. In some churches more than one punch has been used: sometimes this is indicative of different sets of bench ends in a single church, sometimes a single set includes more than one punch mark. Curiously, I have yet to positively identify a single punch which has been used in more than one church.

This page will be updated periodically as new punch marks are added to my collection. When I started cataloguing bench ends I had neither the means nor the inspiration to measure accurately the punch marks I came across, and some of the punch marks here have been sent to me by other people. More recently I have digitally measured punch marks and, where possible, will include measurements in the entries below.

Circular punches.
By far the most common form of punch mark is the circle and dot, which is found on bench ends right across the West Country. A plain circle is also common.

Alwington punch 9.6
Alwington. Devon. Circle and dot. (Unmeasured).

 

Braunton punch

Braunton. Devon. Circle and dot. (Unmeasured).

Buckland Filleigh punch 8.8
Buckland Filleigh. Devon. Circle and dot. 8.8mm diameter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donyatt punch1 5.9
Donyatt. Somerset. Circle. (Unmeasured).
One of five punches in use at Donyatt.

 

Christow punch
Christow. Devon. Circle. (Unmeasured)

Frithelstock punch 5.7
Frithelstock. Devon. Circle and dot. 5.7mm diameter.

Doddiscombsleigh punch
Doddiscombsleigh. Devon. Circle. (Unmeasured)
One of two punches in use at Doddiscombsleigh

 

 

Gorran punch
Gorran. Cornwall, Circle and dot. 6.6mm diameter.

 

 

 

 

Launcells punch
Launcells. Cornwall, Circle and dot. 7.2mm diameter.

 

 

 

 

 

Marwood punch
Marwood. Devon. Circle. (Unmeasured).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michaelstow punch 5.4 x 6.2
Michaelstow. Cornwall. Circle and dot. 6.6mm diameter.
Some of the Michaelstow bench ends were rescued from neighbouring St. Tudy. The quality of the bench ends remaining at St. Tudy is far superior to the punched ends at Michaelstow, possibly suggesting that this punch was originally used at Michaelstow.
One of two punches used at Michaelstow.

 

 

 

St. Enoder punch 9.4
St. Enoder. Cornwall. Circle and dot. 9.4mm diameter.

 

 

 

 

St. Teath punch 5.6
St. Teath. Cornwall. Circle and dot. 5.6mm diameter

 

 

 

 

Lewtrenchard-Staverton punch
(Possibly) Staverton. Devon. Circle and dot. (Unmeasured)
The bench ends of Staverton were scattered in the Victorian period. Some, including this one, may have ended up at Lewtrenchard. A second punch mark was added to the Lewtrenchard-Staverton bench ends in an act of Victorian vandalism.

 

 

Sutcombe punch
Sutcombe. Devon. Circle and dot. (Unmeasured)

 

 

 

 

Northlew punch 2
Northlew. Devon. Circle and dot. 6mm diameter

 

Trull punch 3
Trull. Somerset. ‘Button’ punch. (unmeasured)
One of four punches at Trull, and appears on ends known to be the work of Simon Werman.

 

 

 

 

 

Weare Giffard punch
Weare Giffard. Devon. Circle and dot. 5mm diameter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stars, Flowers and Wheels.

Cadbury punch
Cadbury. Devon. Cinquefoil. (Unmeasured)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donyatt punch1 5.9
Donyatt. Somerset. 8-spoked punch with central point. 5.9mm.
One of five punches at Donyatt.

 

 

Donyatt punch3 6.9
Donyatt. Somerset. 4-petalled flower. 6.8mm
One of five punches at Donyatt.

 

 

 

Lewtrenchard punch
Lewtrenchard. Devon. 8-pointed sun with central point. (unmeasured).
Reproduced as a 7-point star on Victorian copies.

 

 

 

Puddington punch
Puddington. Devon. 8-segment ‘cheese wheel’. 13.3-15.3mm.

 

 

 

 

West Worlington punch
West Worlington. Devon. 7-segment ‘cheese wheel’. 14.3-15.3mm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lattices and Grids.
A simple grid-patterned punch is among the easiest to manufacture and, after circular punches, grid patterns are among the most common punch marks on bench ends.

Broadwoodwidger punch (2)
Broadwoodwidger. Devon.
Small, slight lozenge, 4×4 grid pattern (unmeasured)

 

 

 

Broomfield punch
Broomfield. Somerset. 2×2 grid (unmeasured)
This punch was the property of Simon Werman, maker of bench ends for Broomfield and Trull, where he may have used the same punch (pending detailed measurement).

 

 

 

 

Donyatt punch2 4.4
Donyatt. Somerset. Circular punch, 2×2 grid. 4.4mm
One of five punches used at Donyatt.

 

 

 

 

Monkleigh punch 2
Monkleigh. Devon. Irregular 4×5 grid. 4.4mm
C.1508. The earliest of three punches used at Monkleigh.

 

 

 

Monkleigh punch1
Monkleigh. Devon. 3×3 rounded square. 8.3mm
Second of three punches used at Monkleigh. Also used on rood screen and roof bosses.

 

 

 

Monkleigh punch 3
Monkleigh. Devon. 3×5 rectangular grid. 7.1×11.9mm
Early 17th century. Latest of three punches used at Monkleigh.

 

 

 

North Tamerton punch
North Tamerton. Cornwall. 4×5 lozenge grid. 5.1mm (widest dimension)

 

 

 

 

Northlew punch
Northlew. Devon. 3×3 square. 8.1mmx8.4mm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ottery-st-mary-punch.jpg
Ottery St. Mary. Devon. 3×3 square. 5.5mm.
Similar to punch marks found in other East Devon churches such as East Budleigh and Venn Ottery.

 

 

 

 

 

Pancrasweek punch
Pancrasweek. Devon.
Too worn to be positive, but it appears to be a lozenge-shaped grid pattern. Unmeasured.

 

 

 

 

 

RAMM 128-1937-D3 punch (Kilkhampton)
RAMM. 3×3 rounded square. 8.8mm
Bench end 128-1937-D3 at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum is attributed to Kilkhampton church, but is not similar to any ends remaining there. None of the 103 bench ends at Kilkhampton bear this, or any other, punch mark.

 

 

Satterleigh punch
Satterleigh. Devon. 3×2+1 grid. 6.2×6.3mm.

 

 

 

 

Stoke Canon punch
Stoke Canon. Devon. 3×3 barred grid. (Unmeasured)

 

 

 

 

 

Trull punch 1
Trull, Somerset. 2×2 square. (Unmeasured)
This punch is a very curious anomaly. It appears on bench ends at Trull known to be the work of Simon Werman, and is possibly (pending measurement) the same as the punch used on his work at Broomfield (see above), but it also appears on a distinctly separate older set of bench ends at Trull, signed IB.
One of four punches used at Trull.

 

 

 

Trull punch 2
Trull. Somerset. Circular 2×2 grid. (Unmeasured)
This punch is found on bench ends known to be the work of Simon Werman.
One of four punches used at Trull.

 

 

 

Venn Ottery Punch
Venn Ottery. Devon. 3×3 rounded square grid. (Unmeasured)

 

 

 

 

West Bagborough punch
West Bagborough. Somerset. 3×3 square. (Unmeasured)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irregular Shapes.
Irregularly shaped punches are the most complex to manufacture, and accordingly less common than regular geometric shapes. Some irregular punch marks are clearly a representative design, such as that at Sandford; others are more abstract shapes whose meaning, if they had any, is difficult to discern.

Curry Rivel punch
Curry Rivel. Somerset. (Unmeasured)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doddiscombsleigh punch (2)
Doddiscombsleigh. Devon. (Unmeasured)
One of two punches used at Doddiscombsleigh

 

 

 

 

Donyatt punch4
Donyatt. Somerset. 10.8mm (w) x 9.6mm (h)
One of five punches used at Donyatt.

 

 

 

Michaelstow punch 2
Michaelstow. Cornwall. (Unmeasured)
One of two punches used at Michaelstow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandford punch
Sandford. Devon. Field maple leaf? (Unmeasured).

 

 

 

 

 

Trull punch 4
Trull. Somerset. Zigzag. (Unmeasured)
This punch appears on ends known to be the work of Simon Werman.
One of four punches used at Trull.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Initials or a Sacred Monogram?

As you know if you’ve been reading my blog, the question of how to date the bench ends accurately often comes up. Some have dates on, which makes it easy, others can be dated by placing the bench ends within the contextual history of the church they’re in, and some can be date by their carvings. One thing that can potentially help us to date bench ends is a name or initials of an identifiable individual, and at Sheviock, Cornwall, I thought I had found such an example.

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Sheviock, Cornwall

The general style of the Sheviock bench ends suggests a mid-16th century date, so John Smyth, appointed to the living of Sheviock in 1554 and remaining there until his death in 1564, seems like a very suitable candidate to have the initials I.S. carved on a bench end, and allows us to date them fairly confidently to that period. Initials of individuals are more usually carved side-by-side on bench ends, rather than in the form of a monogram, but perhaps John Smyth was prone to such affectations. I thought no more about Smyth, Sheviock, or the initials until I happened to read a webpage about East Brent church, Somerset, which suggested that the bench ends there could be dated to the late fifteenth century based on the initials of John Selwood, vicar there 1467-1493, appearing on one of them in the form of a monogram.

Quite a coincidence: two vicars, both with the initials J.S. (or I.S. since the alphabet lacked a J until the seventeenth century), who both chose to use a monogram instead of the much more common side-by-side arrangement of their initials.

On the very same day that I noticed the coincidence and started to mull it over I was searching through my collection of photographs for a bench end depicting a mermaid when I found, entirely by chance, another IS monogram at Lapford, Devon.

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Lapford, Devon

None of the known vicars of Lapford in the sixteenth century had the initials I.S., and there is no clue to anyone else in the parish with those initials, but in any case it started to look like more than a coincidence that people with the initials I.S. consistently chose to use a monogram rather than separate letters. The more I looked, the more I found other bench end with IS monograms, and I considered writing a blog entry about it. I was stirred into action when my father Ged (of Heraldry of the West Country fame) sent me a photograph of a sixteenth century altar tomb in the Church of St. John the Baptist, Winchester, adorned with IS monograms.

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The occupant of the tomb can no longer be identified, so it’s possible his name was John Sausage or something else with the same initials, but on the face of it it seems unlikely now.

Whether the IS monogram is simply a variant of the more familiar IHS monogram, or whether it has a specific meaning (Iesu Salvator?), it does mean that John Smyth at Sheviock and John Selwood at East Brent cannot be identified as being responsible for the bench ends in their respective churches, and we must look elsewhere for dating evidence.

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Thornbury, Devon

 

EDIT.
While looking for something else I found another IS monogram at Cardinham, Cornwall