Rebuilding Sir Roger
Visit this monument
St Michael and All Angels
Main Street, Edmondthorpe, Leics.
St Michael and All Angels
Main Street, Edmondthorpe, Leics.
The conservation of an important monument – and a local legend of a witch!
The monument to Sir Roger Smith (d.1665) and his two wives, son and grandson at St. Michael and All Angels church, Edmondthorpe, Leicestershire
Set against the east wall of the south aisle of this fine medieval parish church in the rolling hills of east Leicestershire is the first of the monument to the Smith family. Who held the manor? The church had fallen into a poor state of repair prior to being taken on by the Redundant Churches Fund (now the Churches Conservation Trust) in 1999. When I first visited in the mid 90s plants were growing through broken windows and starting to take hold on the monuments. Once the church was vested repairs were made to the fabric and then the monuments were tackled – their conservation being undertaken by Skillington Workshop Ltd during 2000.
The monument to Sir Roger Smith, his two wives, his son and his grandson was erected in 1658, three years after his death in 1655. We know this by virtue of a monogram and date carved into the back of the central cartouche, which was discovered during the conservation works. The date is accompanied by the initials WB, which Adam White speculates to be William Byrd, although the monument is attributed to Edward Marshall. Sir Roger’s first wife was Jane Heron, his second Anne Goodman (d.1652), represented by the lower effigy. Both son and grandson were Edwards.
The Smith family inherited the estate during the rein of Henry VII, changing their name from Heriz, with Sir Roger (the Roger commemorated in the monument) building Edmondthorpe Hall in 1621. This was destroyed by fire during World War II, when it was used as a prisoner of war camp. The last of the Edmondthorpe Smiths to hold the estate, Edward, died in 1762, when it was purchased by the Pochins of Barkby.
The monument, being set up in 1658, was thus carved – and presumably conceived – during the interregnum. This is a particularly fascinating period for monumental sculpture as it represents the change from the Jacobean tradition of mainly alabaster monuments with their Low Countries protestant influence, to the more purely classical and baroque monuments, usually in Italian marble, becoming the fashion after the Restoration. Sir Roger’s monument is right at the end of the old tradition, with very conservative architecture including a round-arched back panel flanked by obelisks, and very finely carved figures including the three semi-recumbent effigies and two excellent demi-effigies, facing forwards in simple niches, of the son and grandson. There are good wrought iron railings to the front – the date of which is not entirely clear.
When the (then) Redundant Churches Fund took over the church they firstly ensure the building fabric was made sound – patching up the roofs, rainwater goods an improving drainage, before commissioning the conservation of all the monuments – this all being under the direction of the architect Tim Ratcliffe of Donald Insall Associates. Sir Roger’s monument was in such a parlous state, not least of all with structural disruption caused by corroding iron fixings and the invasive woody plant roots, that the Skillington Workshop team of conservators had no choice but to completely dismantle and rebuild it – no mean feat considering it comprised well over 100 individual alabaster elements. The principal effigies were worked on in the church but the smaller pieces cleaned and repaired in our studio that at the time was near the church in Bottesford. There was no evidence that the monument had been rebuilt before, and the discovery of some remains of medieval polychromy on the walls behind (including a repeating fleur-de-lys pattern) affected the way it was rebuilt – influencing for example the decision not to use a full damp-proof membrane. It was also interesting to see that as well as using iron fixings in the construction some oak pegs had been used for tying canopy sections together – so in the rebuild we replaced the oak with new oak, and the old iron with stainless steel. One other point to note, not immediately obvious from looking at it today, is that the monument at one time had a ‘black shadow’ painted on the wall around it. The railings were taken out and reinstated during the works, the only treatment being needed to them being another coat of paint.
The monument continues to look well to this day, and is easily accessible to the public. The church is well worth visiting not just for this monument but for the other Smith memorials – the inscriptions of which all merit reading. The biggest threat since its conservation has been from the repeated theft of lead from the roof (2008, 2016), with some temporary covering subsequently being blown off in a storm in early 2020.
There is one bizarre footnote to the story of this monument. Quoting from the 1988 guide booklet for the church: ‘The lower recumbent effigy is that of Dame Anne Smith who died in 1652. According to local legend she was a witch who had the power to turn herself into a cat. On one occasion when she performed the transformation the butler at the Hall struck at her with a cleaver, she was wounded in the paw and blood spilled out on to the kitchen flagstones. Upon returning to her human self once again she bore the wound mark on her wrist and this is said to be reflected in the dark stain and crack in the alabaster of the wrist of the effigy. The blood stain on the flagstone could not be removed – try as anyone might through the centuries – and eventually, c.1920 when the Countess of Yarborough resided at the Hall she had the offending stone removed from the floor because the maids complained that however much they scrubbed the stain would not go away.’
Dr David Carrington ACR FSA
 White, A. (2009) ‘A biographical dictionary of London tomb sculptors c.1560-c.1660: Addenda and corrigenda’, The Walpole Society volume 71 pages 325-355, page 329.
 White, A. (1999) ‘A biographical dictionary of London tomb sculptors c.1560-c.1660’, The Walpole Society volume 61 pages 1-162, pages 83-94.