Church Monuments Society


The early years of the CMS

By CMS in CMS news

At our 40th birthday celebrations in 2019, one of our founder members, Anne Norman, gave a fascinating account of the inception and early years of the Society. She has now written the lecture up for us to publish as a blog post. She has also very generously shared with us the PowerPoint which accompanied the lecture. This is a veritable cornucopia of early photographs, posters and excursion guides. For those who were in at the beginning, it will bring back many happy memories. For those of us who joined more recently, it reminds us of the depth of knowledge and tradition in the Society. The PowerPoint is a download at the end of the text of the lecture. Enjoy!



Anne Norman


The foundation of the Society was reported in the first Bulletin (1979) as follows:


‘A symposium on the subject of Monumental Effigies was held at the Tower of London in September (1978); those present at this conference resolved that a society should be formed for the study of church monuments. The International Society for the Study of Church Monuments has consequently been formed: its objects are to promote the study, care and conservation of funerary monuments and related art of all periods and countries.’


This would be achieved by bringing members together at a biennial symposium, and by publishing recent research in the Bulletin. A bibliography would be a regular inclusion, a section on relocations of monuments; and updates on the Medieval Effigy List project.  The Bulletin would appear ‘at least twice a year’ but this soon proved to be over-ambitious. Instead, an annual A4 publication of typed pages was produced, with a small number of black and white diagrams and drawings as illustrations.


There was certainly an urgent need for some action to be taken. The Carter monument to Thomas More at Great Bookham was only saved from disposal when the PCC discovered that it would cost more to remove the monument than to conserve it. A page from the catalogue of an

The page illustrated shows a variety of monuments and memorials – sculpture, brasses, hatchments – and comes from the catalogue of an exhibition organised at Lincoln in 1992 by Peter Fairweather shows how varied in design and material these monuments and memorials may be – sculpture; brasses; hatchments; tablets and inscriptions. The exhibition was called ‘Church Monuments: is it now disposable Art?’  The ‘Church Mouse’ signature which appears on the page will be referred to again later.


Not long after that first Monumental Effigies Symposium, Peter Fairweather sent the following report to the Council, which was published in ISSCM Bulletin 9 (1983):

Last September 18th and 19th when I attended the Society’s symposia at the Tower, I sat absolutely fascinated listening to all the experts in their won fields, especially to John Green from Ipswich. The subject was the conservation of the alabaster tombs in Harewood Church, Yorkshire.

                Little did I realise that within a matter of weeks, I would actually be reusing pieces of alabaster just as old from a hep or rubbish in my local church (St Helen’s, Boultham Park, Lincoln)…..pieces of a figures of St Lawrence (complete with book and griddle)….with traces of red pigment on the book and of gold on the garment front.’ With the permission of the Rector, the fragments were removed to the Lincoln Museum.

(Note: The article was mistakenly attributed to Peter Heseltine. A correction was published in Bulletin 10 (1984)


There was also the question of monuments being stolen – like the head from the full-length effigy of a knight, c.1270-1280 at Abbey Dore – and/or sold. After much legal wrangling, Burghfield had to pay £18,000 to recover and re-export their 14c wooden effigy, stolen in 1978 and subsequently tracked down to Belgium. A more recent auction lot, associated with a royal tomb, appeared at Sotheby’s in May 2011.  Sir Alfred Gilbert’s 19”/48cm high bronze figure of St George was designed as one of the twelve saints surrounding the tomb of the Duke of Clarence (d.1890) at Windsor. This figure was not stolen, but the sale of Gilbert’s additional versions of the saints did cause a scandal at the time. By 1898, the tomb was virtually complete – Queen Victoria herself placed the St George in situ – but by now, Gilbert was seriously in debt. In an effort to raise money, he agreed to cast four of the saints as separate bronzes and sell them to a dealer – even before main versions had been delivered to the Prince of Wales. Bankruptcy followed in 1801, and it was not until 1928 that Gilbert finally completed the five remaining saints. Sotheby’s estimate for this version was £70-100,000: it sold for £133,250.00.


One way of making theft and sale more difficult was to publish these church monuments. Issues of the Bulletin included remarkably comprehensive bibliographies, compiled by the Editor Nigel Ramsay, John Blair and Philip Lankester, listing publications on church monuments of all types and periods. The Volume I bibliography ran to 19-40 pages and subjects included:  ‘Tombs in 18th and early 19th century landscape painting’; ‘The tonsure on brasses’; ‘Sacred Corpse, Profane Carrion’; ‘Graveyard Monuments in East, North and Central Fife’ and by the late Brian Kemp, later President of the Society, ‘English Church Monuments’ (1981), which did much to spread the word about church monuments.


The Society owes its origin to two leading experts in the field of arms and armour: Claude Blair, Keeper of Metalwork at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and Nick Norman, Master of the Armouries at the Tower of London. Both were interested in establishing methods of dating armour, and realised that monumental effigies – figures of knights on tombs with related, dated, inscriptions – were a critical but neglected source of evidence. Nick invited Dr Harry Tummers from Nijmegen, Claude Blair, Enoch Powell and others to share their ideas over lunch at the Tower, and it was agreed that the subject of medieval church monuments merited a day Symposium, which was held at the Tower in 1978. It was at this Symposium that a vote was taken to establish a related Society, as reported in the record of the first AGM of the Society, published in ISSCM Bulletin No I (1979):


The Symposium Committee that set up the Society has for the time being formed the Council of the Society. The council members are:

President:                         Claude Blair (Keeper of Metalwork, Victoria & albert Museum)

Vice-President                A.V.B.Norman (Master of the Armouries, Tower of London)

Secretary:                         Robin Emerson

Assistant Secretary:     Margaret Scott

Membership Secretary:  Philip Lankester

Treasurer:                        Dennis Corble

Bulletin Editor:               Nigel Ramsay

Bulletin Production Editor:  John Blair

Co-opted for the purposes of the 1980 Symposium:

 Jill Kerr, as symposium organiser,

 Anne Buddle, as assistant symposium organiser

Up to six Ordinary Members would also be elected at the Society’s first AGM, on September 15th, 1979, at the City church of St Andrew Undershaft.


Initially, meetings were held at the Tower, sometimes with the instruction: ‘Enter from the Riverside and the Middle Drawbridge.’


One of the most challenging papers at the 1978 Symposium was entitled ‘Vertical or Horizontal,’ It included familiar images of recumbent knights and of the magnificent West fronts of Wells and other Cathedrals, which were then tipped through 90 on screen. The recumbent became vertical, and the Wells West front figures lay horizontal. ‘Could these upstanding knights now been seen as full of life, striding forward to fight for the heavenly kingdom?’ asked the speaker, Enoch Powell. The paper was brilliantly and elegantly presented, and offered a completely new approach to these figures. When it ended, you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium as everyone, including the experts, realised that they had never thought of tipping the figures up like this before.

I never quite understood why the paper was published, not in the ISSCM Bulletin, but in the Costume Society Journal. (Costume, 13 (1979).


At the 1980 AGM, it was proposed that the Society should organise local meetings and excursions, and an information sheet was circulated to members. I found the following related letter on file, to Mr Moad, Curator of Eastgate Museum, Rochester, where I began my museum life as a volunteer. I had written to him:  ’…..since I have no previous experience of organising such visits and there is no way of assessing what the response might be… I felt it would be less daunting to start nearer home. Am I right in thinking that some of the churches in the Lenham/Boughton area have some wall paintings as well as monuments?’ Mr Moad replied that he had been studying and drawing military monuments in Kent for some years. ‘It really is a revelation to me that there is in fact a society devoted to the study of sculpted church monuments.’ He wrote ‘I have felt rather lonely in my pursuit of the subject until now.’


The excursions programme, especially in the hands of my successors, Robin Millerchip and those who volunteered to lead excursions, did a great deal to spread the word about church monuments. Between 1980 and 1986, for example, 188 churches were visited in 29 excursions, sometimes with as many as 12 church visits in a weekend programme. The early excursion paperwork was illustrated with numerous images from the V&A Prints and Drawings Dept., where I worked at the time. The first excursion, in 9th May 1981, took in Cobham, Canterbury and the Wall Painting workshop, Hollingbourne and Rochester, and the accompanying notes included quotes from John Evelyn, Charles Dickens and an 1844 Pictorial Guide to Cobham: ‘Reader, we half suspect that you have not sufficient regard for antiquarian or historic lore ….’


The first weekend excursion was based at Exeter in October 1981. ‘Bring binoculars’, the programme advised. A visit to the Geological Museum in November proved surprisingly popular, attracting 35 members. At coffee-time, we had home-made biscuits topped with flaked oats. ‘’Ah,’’ said Enoch Powell, ‘’sedimentary deposits. How appropriate.’’


Many members helped to organise these events, among them Richard Marks at Warwick University in 1982.   ‘Our resources are not lavish,’ he wrote, ‘but I am sure we can offer you all a glass of sherry at least…we could offer the Society a 16-seater mini bus for about £10, including driver – probably me.’’


Contacting incumbents was not always easy. From Chester, a Rev. Canon wrote ‘The Directory which your clergy names were taken from (Crockfords) is at least 4 years out of date. Rev P left Bruera in 1979 and his successor died young.’ At St Mary’s Buttsbury, there would be no light except God’s and no heat (except in winter – a hot water bottle). Elsewhere, in 1984, at Lingfield in Kent, the couple getting married that morning had decided not to pay for heating after all, so the Vicar warned that the church would be cold. For Wells, we were advised that ‘the light shines on the service books, but is otherwise of the pilot light variety,’ while the Keeper of the Privy Purse, who was our contact for the visit to the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, wrote ‘The Mausoleum is a gloomy place and is seen to best advantage when the sun is high in the sky.’ For the visit to St George’s Chapel, Windsor, our contact was a Major-General, CB, MC, and our visit was noted at Buckingham Palace


1983 was a busy year and included a visit to Bruges, Antwerp and Ghent, via Jetfoil from Dover to Ostend. It was a packed 4-day programme, and Harry Tummers travelled from Nijmegen to join us. We were a party of just four, but we did feel that we had represented the international interests of the Society, at that time still known as ISSCM – The International Society for the Study of Church Monuments. We made our mark too in raising our concerns about the monument of Hugo II at the Bijloke Museum in Ghent. The Director of the ‘Dienst voor Culturele Zaken, Oudhiedkundige Musea’ replied to our letter: ‘It is true that an accident during the assembly of an exhibition of postage stamps caused some damage to the effigy. I can assure you all measures will be taken in order to prevent similar incidents in future, and in particular, an iron balustrade will be put in place.’


The appointment of Moira Gittos as Publicity officer in1981 quickly began to make an impact on the Society’s image. Moira designed and produced two greetings cards in 1982, and another two designs in 1984, selling at 12p each. There were sales too at the 1983 AGM at St Mary at Lambeth, the Tradescant Church. 97 photographs were mounted in an exhibition, including photos of monuments now lost or missing, and a section focussing on the representation of flowers on monuments, to reflect the fact that we were meeting at the Garden History Museum.


Another landmark was the Wells Symposium, ‘Problems of Monuments Conservation,’ initially proposed by the Cathedral architect, Martin Caroe, whose letter to Claude Blair, the Society’s President, listed the problems which Martin felt needed to be addressed. He referred specifically to a major problem for conservators of church monuments, namely that architects and parishes too often lacked the knowledge of how to proceed when monuments problems arose. Claude acknowledged the letter and then passed it on with the message ‘Anne, Would you mind please dealing direct with Caroe.’


It took nearly a year to sort out dates and the programme for this event, and even then, the Dean, who had been very instrumental in setting up the Wells Conservation Centre, regretted that there had not been sufficient consultation. He would not be able to attend because the date clashed with that of the Diocesan Synod. The Bishop was rather more understanding, and explained that the Synod date had been booked 2 years ago and he would have to attend. However, he was sending his wife to represent him and join us at the Symposium.


It was interesting reading some of the clergy letters about dates. At Cobham, there were no weddings on the date we proposed – as it was Cup Final day. Hotels for the Warwick excursion were very difficult to book – because of the Birmingham Motor Show. One local organiser at Ledbury was trying to harvest – if only it would stop raining. For our visit to Wells, there were three Sundays to avoid: one with a large Civic Service; then Palm Sunday which would be ‘chaotic’ with representatives of all the churches of the Castle Carey Rural Deanery in attendance; then Easter Sunday, which would be ‘pretty hectic’ with a great number of communicants and ‘services running late as usual.’


The 1984 Symposium introduced the first Members’ Forum, providing an opportunity for individual members to share current research. Members had also been asked by the Publicity Officer for their views on the Society’s activities and a number of questions had been raised: Could the cost of excursions be reduced? Could the Society give more value for money to members? Could the Symposium be narrower in scope and cheaper? Could related a questionnaire be circulated to all members? There was also a feeling that the Society’s name – International Society for the Study of Church Monuments, sounded too academic and would deter many non-experts from joining.

So on 10th November 1984, an Extraordinary General Meeting was held, at which it was proposed and agreed that ‘the name of the Society should be changed to The Church Monuments Society.’ A new leaflet, pale blue in colour, was produced to help publicise CMS and its aims. The logo of the bedesman and wreath, drawn by Blanche Ellis, was quietly phased out and eventually disappeared altogether.  10 copies of the leaflet were sent to every Dean and 2 to each ordinary member of the Society. Notices were sent to The Church Time, the Irish Georgian Society, Country Life, Burlington Magazine, and The Times. Peter Fairweather, a Lincolnshire member, placed leaflets in numerous churches, and also admitted slipping leaflets into all the books on churches in local branches of W.H.Smith.  Peter did an amazing amount for the Society, usually at his own expense. The only reference he might leave were the words ‘Church Mouse’ – a signature which you may have noticed on the very first slide I showed from Peter’s 1992  ‘Church Monuments: is it now disposable Art?’ exhibition.


Robin Millerchip was also very keen to broaden membership, to work with other societies on excursions, and also to make money for the Society from these events. Peter Fairweather’s Norwich weekend made £187, and the Lincoln weekend (1992) secured accommodation at The Old Palace for £13.04 per night, inclusive of VAT (£11.50 for approved groups or clergy-related visitors).Note the word ‘Coffee’ on the cheerful Churchyard image. Those were the days when Stilton toasted fingers cost 20p at the White Hart, Exeter, and a beefsteak and oyster pie and asparagus cost £3.10. Cod and chips at Lincoln cost £1.25, and John Havill reminded the organisers of the Ross weekend of the famous Egon Ronay Walnut Tree Inn between Llanvetherene and Abergavenny at the White Hart. For the first excursion, in Kent, one member brought home-made scones for the whole party, and The Leather Bottle pub at Cobham, where we all met for coffee, were quite happy to allow the home-baking to be consumed on their premises.


Churchyards themselves were not included in the CMS remit, although at this print shows,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              effigies might be found outside in churchyards, as here at Calder Abbey, a lithograph published by Thomas McLean Hay in 1822. The engraving, c.1860, of the Oratory of the Beauchamp Chapel, Warwick, with four helmets sitting on top of a low, metal-strapped, wooden chest, from the London excursion on 23rd November 1985, brings us back to medieval arms and armour and effigies, which remain a strong interest for many members. The image is also a reminder of Claude Blair and Nick Norman’s never-ending crusade to persuade incumbents to chain funerary helms to their perches, and not to sell the church silver.


Meanwhile, behind the scenes on the Committee, not all was plain sailing. By 1986, the

Information-flow between membership applications, tally of members, acknowledgements and any queries appeared so inadequate and impractical that the Membership Officers, Maura Coghlan and Winifred Abbott, presented a flow-diagram at one Council meeting, and insisted that Council all contributed towards getting membership details accurate, up to date and on computer. ‘‘The strained atmosphere at Council meetings has to stop,’’ declared the Vice-President, Nick Norman, at one meeting. At another, the President, John Physick, refused to tolerate ‘report mindlessly following report’, and insisted on written reports from Officers at meetings, none to exceed 2 minutes. Focussing on a key aim of the Society, the preservation of church monuments, and with 68 unresolved cases outstanding in the late 1980s. Council were asked to attend meetings at 11.30 a.m., instead of 2.30 p.m., in order to tackle the backlog of business. It was John Lord who reported the 100th case, at Blyborough, and for many years, Clive Easter managed the cases portfolio.


There were also very positive developments. No.13 was the last issue of the A4, typed Bulletin, replaced in 1985 by a published Journal, with black and white plates, printed by Maneys of Leeds. Peter McGrath, the publisher, attended a Council meeting to ensure that all the Society’s requirements were understood and met. Nigel Ramsay edited the first volume: Richard Knowles and Anthony Wells-Cole edited and produced subsequent issues. The Dean of Chichester offered to sponsor a very long but very valuable article by Dr Harry Tummers, of Nijmegen, on the floor slabs at Chichester Cathedral.


A Newsletter was also launched, with Pam King as Editor, later succeeded by Moira Gittos. The first issue had 26 pages and was photocopied by Pam at her London University office. It was later produced commercially, by off-set litho.


It is not possible to name individually all the members who made contributions to the early days of the Society. The following mentions are representative of very many others.

John Lord wrote out – by hand – his 1985 Stamford excursion programme, giving details of all the monuments to be found in each church, including the splendid double-monument of the 7th Earl of Cardigan and his wife, (1868) by Edgar Boehm, at Dene. John Physick and Julian Litten were early in politely insisting that the Society should also take interest in 19c monuments, not only medieval ones; Adam White was an early voice for the 17th century, later joined by Clive Easter; and the Ripon Symposium in 1988 brought us into the 20th century, with Judy Collins’ paper on Eric Gill.

Moira and Brian Gittos are among the longest-standing members of the Society. Among their many contributions are the triumph of arranging for members to mount the scaffold and see the Wells West front figures face to face; a very successful Oxford symposium in 1986, another in Ripon in 1988, and the Sherborne weekend in April 1985, including not only sculpture, but monumental brasses and medieval tiles. There was much extra to learn on these visits: Keith Kissack at Ross in 1983, produced his article on Thomas Tudor, a local watercolour artist; at Ledbury, the redoubtable Miss Robinson, ‘better than any monument.’ as the local contact described her, who ensured that a local Girl Guides event extended to providing coffee for CMS visitors; Mrs Grant from Compton Martin, who had a large collection of 35mm slides of monuments; and John Nevinson who wrote: ‘At Hollingbourne I had never seen the hearse cloth before, and the Culpeper embroidery, tho’ they are mentioned in the Little Guide to Kent, and really ought to be written up.’


In 1987, CMS collaborated with MBS in a centenary exhibition at the V&A, Witness in Brass, and that year, we also finally tackled the Churchyards question, with a study day: ‘Churchyards: which Path?’  The V&A print used to illustrate the programme sheet included an inscription with lines from Gray’s ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard.’


The final symposium I organised was in 1990, at Imperial College, with yet another collage of images from the V&A Print Room as the programme sheet. It was definitely time to step down. The Symposium had made a deficit, as Denis Corble, the long-standing and patient Treasurer, set down in his accounts. In 1986, the Wroxeter excursion had nearly been cancelled, but did take place in late September, not August, thanks to a local conservator, Bruce Induni, helping out with transport. In contrast, in 1989, there had been a surplus of £880 from the 1988 symposium, plus £315 surplus from excursions. The President’s Report at the 1988 AGM therefore reported a very positive first decade for the Society: £3,700 spent in grant aid; membership up to 485; profits on most excursions; the milestones of the Society’s new name, The Church Monuments Society; the excellent Journal and Newsletter; the Society’s tie and the new Membership Form. A photograph from the 1992 Symposium at Newton Abbot includes many of those who made these achievements possible, among them 4 Presidents: Mark Downing, Claude Blair, Nick Norman and the late Prof. Brian Kemp. Also included, in the back row, next to Nick Norman, is founder-member Prof Harry Tummers, who celebrated his birthday on 19th September, two days before the CMS celebrated its 40th anniversary.


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