St Mary the Virgin, Walthamstow, London/Essex - Monuments

St Mary Walthamstow, now part of north London, anciently in Essex, is a little away from the modern centre and Hoe Street, and has enough trees around it that it needs to be seen in winter to view it properly. It is all of a piece, beige cement over brick, five bays to the nave with a south porch, and a low, buttressed and embattled tower with a corner newel tower. The majority is of c.1535, mostly at the generous expense of two rich men: Sir George Monox [Monoux] and Robert Thorn [Thorne], who founded the Grammar School, and endowed almshouses nearby. A late 18th Century account said that by that time, there had so many repairs that there was little of the original, 12th Century Church to be seen. Vigorous 19th Century refurbishments in 1817, 1843 and 1876 obliterated most remaining original features inside and out. So while the outside is not so exciting – one popular 1900s guidebook dismissed it as being ‘as devoid of architectural interest as could be wished by the most austere of Puritans’, inside we have fine Victorian features, with tall arcades on slender pillars, a long gallery on one side, and wooden ceiling and pewing, all well matched, and because of the several tall pillars, giving an interesting and explorable space. And the monuments which we have come to see are everywhere – along the walls, in the gallery, and on those pillars –one pillar has no less than five panels clustered upon it.

St Mary the Virgin, Walthamstow: exterior and interior views.

Monuments

An important collection. There are something like 60 monumental panels, and two magnificent tombs of the 17th or early 18th Century with figure sculpture. Among the panels there is a bit more figure sculpture from the 19th Century, and a plethora of different shapes, making this a most representative collection of works from the 17th Century through to the 20th. The two grand early monuments include one by Nicholas Stone, most prominent among early English sculptors, and the other perhaps by William Cure the Younger. Later pieces by significant sculptors include a figural work by W.G. Nicholl, a Bacon and Manning tablet, and a simpler panel by Sir Richard Westmacott RA, and various 19th Century stonemasons are represented, including M.W. Johnson, Theakston of Pimlico, Bedford of Oxford Street, Burke & Co of Newman Street, and Brown of Great Russell Street.

We start with the two grandest monuments, and then take the rest in date order.

Lady Lucy Percy Stanley, d. circa 1630

Lady Lucy Percy Stanley, d. circa 1630. Her statue is kneeling in front of her prayer stool, under a tall, arched canopy. Above are two smaller female statues, and below, two more. She was the wife of Sir Edward Stanley, and daughter of the Earl of Northumberland. Lady Stanley is shown with an astonishing hairdo, beautifully carved, arched above her forehead, and with a coronet behind. Her face is young, rounded and modelled to show the delicate play of muscle and bone around the cheek and jaw. Around her neck is a wide ruff sticking out considerably behind. She wears some thick-sleeved garment over a vest, low at the front to push up her rounded breasts, emblematic of her fruitfulness in producing seven daughters. A many-stranded necklace falls to her waist from under her ruff. Her hands are lost, but would have been in an attitude of prayer. Below, she wears a many-pleated skirt, and over all she wears a cloak and mantle, thrown back to expose the shoulder. Her kneeling pose is perfectly upright, demonstrating youth and vigour.

Lady Lucy Stanley, d.c.1630, perhaps by William Cure the Younger.

There are bars in front of the monument, so the pair of female figures at the base – presumably two of the daughters – are less easy to appreciate, but unlike their mother, they are rather simply made, or just painted too thickly. They wear similar hairstyles and ruffs, in miniature and without the detail, and have plainer clothes, wider stays and so an odder profile to modern eyes. Between them is a prayer desk, as normal on such monuments. The small figures at the top, one headless, are similar but are full free-standing statues: they would at one time have been to the side of the monument (which has been moved), as it would be unusual to put them at the top, and certainly not praying to the family coat of arms. All four, like their mother, rest their knees on the tasselled cushions that were de rigour in kneeler monuments of the time (see this page). Between the two at the top is a painted shield of arms in a roundel, with perhaps some small amount of missing strapwork.

At one time ascribed to the sculptor Nicholas Johnson, or his circle, more recent attribution of this excellent sculptural monument has been to William Cure the Younger. He was an important sculptor working from at least 1605 to the early 1630s, making Royal fountains and architectural sculpture as well as statues and monuments. The attribution is on the basis of the style of the central figure of Lady Stanley and the way the face is sculpted, comparing to Cure’s documented monument to Sir Roger Aston and his family in St Dunstan, Cranford, Hillingdon.

Dame Mary Merry, d.1632, and Thomas Merry, d.1654

Dame Mary Merry, d.1632, and also commemorating her husband, Thomas Merry, d.1654, so made while he was still alive. There is a long inscription and eulogy to her, but the inscription to him was never added as intended. But. An important memorial by Nicholas Stone the Elder, an early English sculptor. The alabaster monument centres on the busts of the couple, above the main inscription, each in an oval niche. Unpainted alabaster, they are much more sympathetic and with more personality than had they been painted. She has a thoughtful, late middle aged face, curly hair to the sides, a cap on top, the head resting on one of the vast ruffs favoured in Elizabethan times. Her clothing is much padded in the arms, so that her head looks small on her. One hand rests on her chest, the other cradles a jawless skull, indicating her demise, unlike her husband, who holds a book. He has a long, calm face, narrow nose and high cheekbones, curly hair and a short beard. His smaller ruff is somewhat downturned, and he wears plate mail armour. As noted, one hand holds a book, a finger inserted as he is only part way through it, and, allegorically, only part way through his life. His other hand cradles this hand from underneath, a clever way to show the slight weight of the book, and suggests the pose was captured from the life.

Dame Mary and Thomas Merry, 1633, by the sculptor Nicholas Stone the Elder.

The spandrels (triangularish spaces) around the ovals are filled with low relief carvings of stylised foliage, with a winged cherub head at the top in the centre. To each side of the main inscription is a panel with relief portraits of two figures, who would be the offspring of the couple, by convention with the girls, youngish women with similarly curled hair but with necks exposed and wearing necklaces, underneath their mother, while the sons, with long hair, moustaches and differing collars, under their father. More inscriptions are underneath, including the blank space intended for Sir Thomas. At the top of the monument is an entablature, then a shelf with a curved pediment, open at the top to insert an oversized coat of arms, with its own pediment on top, very baroque. On the curved sides of the pediment sit two reclining girls, one of whom has lost her head and a hand, the other her hand and part of her support. But what excellent figures they are – in rather Classical robes, down to the ankles of the bare feet, wide sleeved, but with the tops folded down to expose their breasts, relaxed and easy in pose. The one with the head shows a youthful but non-idealistic face, plump in the cheek, narrow in the nose, mouth awry, and it is hard to imagine that this sort of face would have been given to what must be an allegorical figure in later times. An important work of art by the most accomplished of early English sculptors. Nicholas Stone kept careful notebooks which have survived noting nearly all his commissions, so we know this monument was executed in 1633. It has been altered, and, it is thought, has been cut down at the sides. Stone, born in England in 1586/7, was trained in part by Hendrick de Keyser in Amsterdam, and became a highly successful sculptor back in London from the 1610s through until 1642, when the Civil War abruptly curtailed his career. He made many surviving Church monuments, as well as statues and architectural sculpture, and had three sons who became sculptors, including Nicholas Stone the Younger.

Merry monument: portraits in relief, and reclining Classical girls.

Susannah Trafford, d.1689, and Sigismund Trafford, d.1723

  • Susannah Trafford, d.1689, and husband d.1740, Sigismund Trafford, d.1723. A grand monument indeed, with the figures of the deceased couple standing on either side of their daughter, a small child, on top of a long, mantelpiece-like tomb chest. Behind them, the monument rises to a massive entablature raised on receding side pilasters, like some great fireplace, rather overpowering the figures in front, and above this are seated a pair of mourning cherubs leading against a central urn. The figure of Sigismund Trafford stands in 18th Century mannerist fashion, one hand raised, the other gesturing eloquently at his chest, face slightly upturned, pose with one leg forward, the mass of the body falling on the other hip and leg. He has a full periwig, rather incongruously matched with the rest of his costume, which is that of a Roman solider, with armoured kilt and short sleeves, and either a naked chest and stomach or more likely a cuirass moulded to show the musculature underneath. His cloak is swept back in dashing style. His face is old, grim-faced and proud, his nearer arm powerful and hand expressive. Below, equally powerful legs protrude from Roman boots with rolled-down tops.

    Monument to Susannah Trafford, d.1689, and Sigismund Trafford, d.1721.

    Susannah Trafford is a more conventional Roman figure, standing fairly symmetrically, but head turned inwards on the long, columnar neck, her arms across her lower chest with one hand pressed upon the other expressing her heartfelt sorrow. Her face, like her husband’s, is of its time rather than being Classical, and she has the feminine roundedness without much musculature favoured in the later 17th and 18th Centuries. She wears a thinnish robe, tied at the waist and with sleeves gathered above the elbow and tied with a button. The robe clings round the legs, showing her slender form, and her feet are bare.

    Susannah Trafford and child.

    Between the couple is the statue of their small child, kneeling on a stand with winged cherub heads at the base. Her clothing is simpler, some smock with a bit of drape over one knee and caught up on the arm, but again the hair puts her far away from Classicism.

    The sides of the architecture behind and above them are decorated with beautifully carved and undercut flowers and fruits, and there is a tied drape above. Above this a painted shield of arms on a cartouche, which is just below the summit pot. The two naked cherubs are typical of the breed, all plump faces and knees, one with a handkerchief pressed against his face, the other with arm apparently behind the pot, and a drape just off the shoulder; unless it is damaged and there was drapery against that face too. Two urns to the side of the principle figures complete the ensemble, and the hard-to-read inscriptions are below on the mantelpiece-like altar tomb below.

    Rest of the Monuments

    17th Century Monuments

    18th Century Monuments

    19th Century Monuments

    20th Century Monuments

    Ancient Brasses

    Other brasses

    Also in the Church:

    Angel corbel, Royal arms, Ambulance memorial.

    Outside the Church

    The Churchyard has an impressive collection of monuments, including a large number of tomb chests, and the splendid casket tomb to Isaac Solly, d.1802, and his wife, d.1819, and others of the family. The pinkish stone casket is raised up on a plinth, and has lion heads with rings on each side, and stands on lion feet, and is decorated with repeating wavy patterns. Among many good pieces we may note Mary Wigham, d.1777, with a large festooned pot on top of the tomb chest, and Anne [Bainbrigge] Dobreis, d.1817, again raised up, with dying birds in relief underneath poppy heads. The lower tomb chest has a heavily carved coat of arms, and there are others in the Churchyard with similar, and some other ornament – look out for a book and chalice, and even a serpent looped round to entwine with its own tail, a symbol of rebirth much more common within a church than without. Among the humbler headstones are various decorated pieces with relief carving – shields of arms, winged cherub heads and so forth.

    St Mary Walthamstow Churchyard: tomb chests.

    With many thanks to the Church authorities for kind permission to use pictures from inside the Church; see the Church website at http://www.walthamstowchurch.org.uk/our-churches/st-marys/.

    Top of page

    Introduction to church monuments // Angel statues // Cherub sculpture

    Nearby Leyton Parish Church (2 miles south) // or west to Tottenham War Memorial and thence north to Tottenham Parish Church // Monuments in some other London churches

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