Hidden in plain sight: a fifteenth-century grave-slab rediscovered in Puttenham church

(So, in the end, Puttenham Church Week got away from me! Only one post done and dusted within the week, but stacks of work done on the three – yes, three – others I had planned. They were all more or less on the cusp of being done at the end of the week, but required extra reference chasing or photos to get them across the line. Happy to say this process is now complete for the second of them – look out for the remaining two coming your way very soon!)

This post brings closure to a suggestion I made via a series of tweets a few weeks ago. To recap, I had popped into Puttenham church in the midst of new seating being installed in the western end of the nave. As a result, the back of the church under the belfry was in a bit of a state, with rolled-up old carpets and other furniture piled up hither and thither. For reasons I don’t think I’ll ever truly understand, it was in these impropitious circumstances that my eyes alighted upon a distinctive area of stone paving below the south wall of the tower. Closer inspection revealed it to be a single long rectangular slab of rough stone, dark in colour, and quite distinct from the York Stone slabs that make up the rest of the tower’s ground floor surface (as well as substantial parts of the nave and aisle).


Told you I really know how to pick my moment…

What was this slab? It certainly looked old, older than the paving around it, but could this really be the case? The slab measures 160cm in length and 60.5cm in width, aligned on an east-west axis. Closer inspection showed one half of it was relatively smooth and featureless, whereas the other half had uneven axial pitting, with what has the look of a filled-in fracture more or less separating the two. Here are some better photos from my most recent trips to the church, and after five minutes spent with a dustpan and brush:

A thought came into my mind. Was I looking at an old grave-stone or casement, perhaps one of medieval date? And then it struck me – might this be the slab originally associated with the memorial brass of Edward Cranford, rector of Puttenham from 18th December 1400 until his death on 8th August 1431?


The present position of the Cranford brass relative to the high altar in the chancel, showing the lightness and polish of its present slab.

Today, the Cranford brass is fixed to an off-white marble slab, which is clearly non-original. Ascertaining what it replaced by means of published sources turned out to be a much more frustrating exercise than I’d anticipated. Our earliest witness, John Aubrey in the fourth volume of his The Natural History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey, transcribed Cranford’s memorial inscription, stating it came from ‘a Brass Plate fix’d to a Grave-Stone‘ (Aubrey 1718, 24; bold text = my emphasis, here and in following quotations).

Manning and Bray, in the second volume of their The History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey, add a mite more information than Aubrey by referring to ‘… a brass plate, on a plain stone, with the figure of a man in Priest’s robes’ (1809, 20). That’s still better than later antiquarian works, which mention the brass but not its steading (e.g. Hussey 1852, 340). It’s not until J. G. N. Clift’s short article in the Journal of the British Archaeological Association of 1908 that we find another relevant reference, in this case that the brass was ‘affixed to a plain stone slab, forming part of the flooring between the eastern end of the choir stalls’ (Clift 1908, 263).


The beautiful engraving of Edward Cranford’s brass preceding the first page of Clift’s 1908 article – note the lack of any attempt to depict the slab to which it was fixed.

Much more specific (and so useful) testimony comes in a Surrey Archaeological Collections article by the leading authority on brasses, Mill Stephenson, one of a series cataloguing all extant and recorded memorial brasses in Surrey churches published between 1912 and 1920. It’s not clear in what year Stephenson visited Puttenham church and made his observations on the Cranford brass, but regardless they are valuable for providing the following information: ‘The brass, relaid in a new slab 60 by 24 inches, is on the floor of the chancel’ (Stephenson 1918, 124; reprinted in Stephenson 1926, 422). The tower slab is, in old money, 63 inches x 24 inches – near enough a perfect match in one dimension, but some way off in the other. Hmmm…

It’s clear from the above that many antiquarian eyewitness accounts are brief and ambiguous. The earliest authors, however, also had the advantage of being in an unrestored church in which existed a much larger number of medieval and early post-medieval monuments than survive in the present day. Aubrey’s detailed account of the memorials in the church is particularly important, because it describes four that are not recorded in later works, or else had undergone significant changes in form:

  1. The ‘Altar-Monument of Free-Stone’ of Nicholas Lusher (died 1566), then located ‘on the North Side of the Chancel’ (Aubrey 1718, 24)
  2. The ‘Grave-Stone’ bearing a brass ‘Scrowle’ with the generic motto ‘O Mater Dei memento mei‘, then located in the nave (Aubrey 1718, 24-25; Manning and Bray 1809, 20, add that this was ‘issuing from the mouth of a woman’, but only the scroll remained at the time of their writing)
  3. A ‘Brass Plate, on a Grave-Stone’ commemorating Agnes Manory (died 1445), possibly in the nave (Aubrey 1718, 25)
  4. ‘another Brass Plate fix’d to a Grave-Stone’ memorialising Francis Wyat (died 1634), probably in the Lady Chapel (Aubrey 1718, 25-26)

Of these, the second and third have disappeared completely. The fourth survives in part; the brass is now mounted on a black marble slab fixed to the north wall of the Lady Chapel. Much the same is true of the first, and its story is especially interesting. By Manning and Bray’s time the stone monument had disappeared and only the inscribed brass remained (1809, 20). It may have been irreparably damaged in the great church fire of 1735 (see Dugmore 1972, 74-75), or, if Manning and Bray were correct to modify Aubrey’s account by stating this apparent altar tomb formerly stood ‘on the North side of the North Chancel’ (my emphasis), when the Lady Chapel was patched up in 1770 for use as a private chapel of the owners of neighbouring Puttenham Priory. However, a portion of it, reassembled in what looks to be a credible form, can be seen today inside the porch. It should be noted, however, that the fragments have the appearance of a fine limestone (as per the complete monument’s description by Aubrey as being constructed of ‘Free-Stone‘), quite unlike the darker, coarser tower slab.


Reconstructed portion of Nicholas Lussher’s altar monument, relocated to the inside of the porch from the north wall of the Lady Chapel at an unknown date after 1910.

Working on the testimony of the published descriptions alone left me with a multiplicity of options, but no ready means of determining which was the tower slab’s true origin (and this is not to mention the possibility of it deriving from an unrecorded monument). What I needed was a new source of evidence, and I fancied I knew where I might find it. So the other evening I paid a visit to the Puttenham and Wanborough History Society’s Muniment Room to consult a brace of records, both written by G. B. (Bruce) Gosling, an architect and local historian who was very active in the parish in the first half of the 20th century (indeed, he was a churchwarden for several years).

The first record is a series of documents pertaining to the north chapel (a.k.a. Lady Chapel) of Puttenham church, probably assembled by Gosling (Puttenham and Wanborough History Society 10/13). The most interesting of these are a list, in neat writing on thick card, of ‘Fragments of Medieval Lady Chapel 13th to 16th cent. found in piercing north door 1911’ (Puttenham and Wanborough History Society 10/13b), and a less tidily-written manuscript entitled ‘Corrections on Mr Kerry’s account of the North Chapel as ascertained during the Repairs & Alterations made in the Chapel in the years 1909 & 1910’ (Puttenham and Wanborough History Society 10/13e – ‘Mr Kerry’s account’ is item 10/13d, an earlier series of handwritten sheets but is irrelevant for the purposes of this post).


Gosling’s list of stone fragments, then relegated to the churchyard! Most of the smaller stuff was built into the wall around the east window of the Lady Chapel; the wall has been plastered and nothing can now been seen.

Three stone fragments, mentioned by Gosling as lying in the churchyard circa 1910, might be commensurate with the tower slab: either of ‘Two Large double chamfered slabs’ or a ‘Dark hard stone with moulded order side’ (Puttenham and Wanborough History Society 10/13b). No information about their dimensions is provided. Gosling posited the former were ‘probably top slab of lower part of altar tomb of Nicholas Lussher 1566’ – see his reconstruction below, showing them to be much smaller than the tower slab – whereas the latter was ‘possibly slab at Lady Altar’, and there seems to be no reason to doubt these identifications. So nothing doing here.


Gosling’s 1911 reconstruction of Nicholas Lussher’s later 16th-century altar tomb (from 10/13e). Red crosses and labels identify stonework found in 1910. Compare the form and details of the pointed central panel in the illustration with the photograph of the reassembled fragments in the porch above.

The second source was Gosling’s ‘Notes on the history of the parish of Puttenham Surrey’, an unpublished parochial history-cum-miscellany, possibly written in 1939 (Puttenham and Wanborough History Society 5/6). Gosling’s architectural background really comes to the fore in his detailed analysis of the church and the changes made to the building over the centuries. He provides a half a page account of the Cranford brass, including the information that it was:

‘moved to present position at Restoration of Church or before and set on York stone slab. Remounted 1927 on Roman stone.’ (Gosling, ‘Notes’, 48)

On the back of the previous page are two successive notes that add further details, yet on first reading they seem to contradict one another:

‘This brass formerly lay about the east end of the south stalls near the S. Wall but it may have been moved there out of the way. The flaked York stone on which it was mounted when found was inappropriate and ill protected the edges. The brass was fixed with screws.’

‘Mr. Gawthorp F.S.A. reset it in 1927 with rivets on a slab of Roman Marble. The Purbeck stone matrix of this brass found in 1929 under the S. Choir Stall was much damaged taking the brass out. It is now under the Tower.’

(Gosling, ‘Notes’, facing 48)

Having read and re-read these statements several times, I understand now what Gosling was trying to convey through them. The first describes the ‘new slab’ seen by Stephenson, which probably dated from work done in the chancel in 1861 – his reference to the brass ‘when found’ is nothing more than a case of poor choice of words given it never seems to have been lost or hidden. The second note is key. In Gosling’s understanding, the original casement was placed out of sight under the chancel floor (it is after all a sizeable piece of stone and so must weigh a lot) until further work in 1929 uncovered it once more. The mention of damage hence pertains to the time of the work done in 1861, not 1927 or 1929. Gosling records that the improvements to the church effected in the latter year included the relaying of the chancel floor ‘with York stone in 2 colours’ (‘Notes’, page 38). Annoyingly, he fails to mention equivalent replacement of flooring elsewhere in the church, but the presumption must be this was carried out around the same time. There’s an obvious logic to reusing such a large slab instead of new paving stones, albeit that it was too pitted to be used in a location with heavy footfall.

The question is, can we accept Gosling’s equation of the slab found in 1929 with the original casement of Cranford’s brass? Given its concealment and rediscovery happened not so far apart, moreover during the period when we know Gosling was closely associated with the church, it would appear he was drawing on his own memory in making the connection. Inspecting the features of the tower slab can help to secure this link. The brass, 62cm in length and a maximum 40cm in width, would fit within the pitting at one end of the slab. Indeed, the extremity of this pitting is contained within a shallow round-headed recess, regularly spaced 22cm away from the edge of the slab. It’s unclear why not far shy of half of the slab (68cm) is featureless with what was probably a smooth (polished?) finish, but at least this portion provides positive evidence for the outer 10cm of the stone being slightly bevelled, as if is central portions – and the brass – were raised up slightly above floor level.


Detail showing the indentation where Edward Cranford’s memorial brass was formerly situated; the curving white-ish line at the top of the image marks its limit, within which the head of the figural brass would have been housed.

Therefore, I think it’s certain that the slab in the tower is the original casement for the brass of Edward Cranford. It’s a rough piece of sculpture – if it even counts as sculpture! – but as an earlier fifteenth-century work it is undeniably ancient. Working off Stephenson’s list, the memorial brass formerly affixed to it is the 25th oldest extant or recorded in Surrey (I’ve bumped it up a place ahead of the memorial brass in Okewood chapel of Edward de la Hale, as he died a month after Cranford: Stephenson 1926, 397, 550). We know comparatively little about Edward Cranford. His brass supplies his status as rector and date of death. The register of Bishop Wykeham provides his date of presentation to Puttenham, and moreover the fact that he came from West Clandon in an exchange of rectories with Roger Paternoster (Kirby 1896, 230). He had not been rector of West Clandon for long; an earlier register gives entry the date of his presentation – confusingly under the name ‘Edmund Cranfolde’ – as 28th December 1397 (Kirby 1896, 214). (Paternoster had been instituted as rector of Puttenham on 17th June of the same year (Kirby 1896, 209).)

I have also just rediscovered a note concerning an indenture of 1442, seemingly now lost but not before it was translated by the great Godalming historian Percy Woods, in which two of the four grantors of a messuage on the south side of The Street in Puttenham village are named as ‘Sir Thomas Craneford Clerk’ (given the context I’d wager his title is probably better rendered as ‘Master’) and ‘John Craneford’ (Woods, 17, 247-48). Initial searches have failed to turn any additional references to either man, but their blood relationship to Edward seems a virtual certainty. As such, the Cranfords may have been a important family in the parish and wider locality in the first half of the 15th century.

All things considered, it’s a wonder that the slab has come through the last 150 years or so and is visible today. Gosling mentions other grave slabs found in Puttenham church that were reburied (or weren’t moved from their below-floor-level locations owing to their immense weight) – it’s possible some of these may have been the “grave-stones” on open display in Aubrey’s day. We should also be grateful that the slab was placed the right way up when it was relocated and reset, else there would have been no way of proving this was Cranford’s casement! In fact, its current arrangement may replicate the original orientation of the grave, with the head of the figural portion of the brass at its western end facing east, just as this faces towards the high altar on its present stone mounting.

Excitingly, this may not be the only medieval stone from Puttenham church that has been awaiting rediscovery. As mentioned above, some of the stones listed by Gosling in 1910 – both from the Lussher table-tomb and other, possibly earlier fragments, are last heard of as lying in the churchyard, where (if they weren’t tidied away by a grave digger or nabbed by a parishioner for their rockery) they may still remain. Thus, in the coming months, I’m hoping to get permission to clear some of the ivy that covers the surface of the churchyard around some of its margins. I’ve found a fair few bits of medieval pottery in the churchyard over the years, but medieval stonework – wow, that would be amazing.


Aubrey, W., The Natural History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey, Volume 4 (London: E. Curll, 1718)

Clift, J. G. N., ‘The brass of Edward Cranford’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, New Series, 14 (1908), 263-65

Dugmore, R., Puttenham Under the Hog’s Back (Chichester: Phillimore, 1972)

Hussey, A., Notes on the Churches in the Counties of Kent, Sussex, and Surrey (London: John Russell Smith, 1852)

Kirby, T. F., ed., Wykeham’s register, volume 1 (London and Winchester: Simpkin & Co. and Warren & Son, 1896)

Manning, O., and W. Bray, The History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey, Volume 2 (London: John White, 1809)

Stephenson, M., ‘A List of Monumental Brasses in Surrey’, Surrey Archaeological Collections, 31 (1918), 85-128

Stephenson, M., A List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles (London: Headley Brothers, 1926)

Woods, P., ‘Godalming Hundred’, Volume 17 (unpublished manuscript in Godalming Museum Local Studies Library)



About Robert J S Briggs

Back to being a part-time early medievalist; Surrey born, London based, been known to travel
This entry was posted in Archaeology, Architecture, Church, Puttenham, SMPCW and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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