Church Monuments Society

st stephens bristol blanket1

The tomb attributed to Edmund Blanket at St Stephen’s church, Bristol

Month: July 2021
Type: Chest tomb   Effigy  
Era: 14th Century

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St Stephen
21 St Stephen's St, Bristol BS1 1EQ

More about this monument

The tomb of a wealthy Bristol woollen manufacturer – and is this the origin of the word ‘blanket’?

Edmund Blanket was the eldest of three brothers engaged in the woollen trade in Bristol. Each was extensively engaged in the manufacture of coarse woollen cloths, for which, at that time, Bristol was famous. Tradition has it that what we know as blankets were named after the family.

A wealthy burgess, Edmund owned a property on Bristol Quay, as well as others in Redcliffe Street, St Thomas Street, St Michael’s Hill and Marsh Street. He was keen to progress socially and also become politically active. Initially a bailiff of the Bristol Corporation, he was elected mayor in 1349-53. He was also a member of parliament for the constituency of Bristol for the years 1362 and 1369. A chantry known as Blanket’s chantry was established in St Stephen’s church to pray for the souls of Edmund and others and to celebrate an anniversary and yearly obit and to give alms to Bristol almshouse and to other poor people in the city. Edmund died in 1371 and is believed to have been buried in St Stephen’s Church, alongside his second wife Margaret.

Edmund and Margaret are associated with a canopied tomb-chest with effigies to a civilian and lady in a recess in the north aisle. Although the monument is lacking an inscription, the evidence that the Blankets are memorialised here is strong.

The current church dedicated to St Stephen was built c.1470 on the site of a thirteenth century Benedictine cell of Glastonbury abbey. The lower part of the wall against which the Blanket tomb is sited redates the rebuilding and the tomb is set on the original floor level, while the rebuilt church has a higher floor level. It was not the only monument rescued from the old church. The civilian effigy attributed to Walter Tyddestille d. 1385 now set in a recess in the north aisle was found hidden in the south aisle by wainscotting installed c. 1630.

At the time of the rebuilding of St Stephen’s the Blanket tomb was modified; this is indicated by a silver Spanish coin of 1454 being found during works in 1844 underneath the man’s head. The tomb was covered up by wainscotting c. 1630; to enable the paneling to sit flush, the projecting parts of the tomb were sawn away. Considerable damage was also inflicted on the outer side of male civilian figure, with the outer edge of the effigy slab being left rough. Most of the lost elements of the civilian effigy, apart from the head of the lion, were restored in 1861.The worst injury was to the original canopy, which was of a simpler triple-arched form. This is shown in the watercolours from the Braikenridge collection in Bristol Archives. The canopy was completely replaced in the nineteenth century.

The tomb is a marriage. The first stage consisted of the original canopy and the tomb chest. The weepers on the tomb chest are in a marked hip-shot stance, typical of the 1340s. The canopies over each figure are also consistent with such a date. What was previously on the chest is unknown. The niches on the chest are separated by blank shields, however, indicating that the person or people originally commemorated were armigerous. This firmly rules out Edmund Blanket and indeed other contemporary merchants. The arms azure a bend between 3 crosses trefly fitchy or are recorded for a Sir Edmond Blanket of Gloucestershire but they are in a fifteenth-century source and perhaps refer to a descendant of the merchant.

Neither of the two effigies was thus originally associated with the canopy and chest. They date from are a generation later, both being consistent with production in the third quarter of the fourteenth century. Unlike the weepers they are not hip-shot but of a straighter stance. The lady is shown wearing a supertunic with a close-fitting bodice and short which flares to her feet. Over it is a cloak fastened by a chord below her heck. A wimple encloses her chin. The lady’s headdress is key to dating her effigy. It consists of a complex arrangement of veils worn over a square topped under-prop with a tightly fluted edge next to the face. The form developed over the period c. 1360-90. The man’s dress is typical of that of merchants and franklins at this period. His hood is shown around his shoulder. Beneath is a close-fitting supertunic buttoned down the front. Round his hips is a buckled belt decorated with large squares, probably meant to represent metal. The shoes have long pointed toes, which curl over the back of the lion at his feet. He rests his head on a pair of pillows while she just has one, yet the bobble decoration at the corners of the cushions are identical. The inescapable conclusion is that the pair belong together and are of a date to have come from the old church but were re-sited as part of the reconstruction.

This monument, especially the effigies, are of at least regional importance as they date from the period when merchants changed their preferred form of memorialisation, abandoning relief effigies in favour of brasses.

I am grateful to Bob and Barbara Tucker for taking photographs for me and to Marc van der Griendt, the Church Administrator, for opening the church specifically and clearing the area round the monuments for them.

Sally Badham

Main sources:

Ida Roper, The Monumental Effigies of Gloucestershire and Bristol (privately printed, 1931).

Margaret Scott, A Visual History of Costume: The Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries (London, 1986).