*  Of interest to Family Historians - Hertfordshire Church of England Parish Registers from 1538 are now available online - only most recent registers are held at the church   *
The Somers Memorial


St Mary’s has a number of fine memorials of which three are rather special. The 14th century brass of William de Kestevene, the 16th century alabaster Beresford tomb, and the 18th century marble of Lord Somers. Many churches have doors to the vestry in the chancel, but not many have a door like that at St Mary’s!

When the NADFAS church recorders were doing their survey of the church, they were astonished to find that the door was part of a memorial to John, Lord Somers. He was an interesting character who, after an illustrious career during which he was one of the men who invited William III to assume the crown, fell into disgrace in 1700 because he was involved in the affairs of the pirate Captain Kidd, and ended his days in obscurity at Brookmans.

The monument, by the famous sculptor Paul Scheemakers, is of white, grey and black marble, and reaches to roof level. The door to the vestry is of white marble. Lord Somers was Lord High Chancellor of England, and the figure of Justice, wearing classical draperies and sandals, sits on a black sarcophagus, with a grey obelisk behind. This arrangement of classical figures was very popular in the early 18th century.

(Important Tudor memorials had a figure of the deceased, his wife and his family, with a row of children, boys on one side, girls on the other, often brightly coloured. The tomb of Robert Cecil, (who died in 1611), in St Etheldreda’s church in Hatfield, has a life-size figure of the earl, and underneath a skeleton, showing that however powerful one was on earth, in death all were the same.)

On looking around the church one can see the great changes in memorial sculpture. The earliest are the medieval brasses, originally on the floor, now on the chancel walls, the latest the 21st century memorial to Sir George Burns near the entrance.

Medieval and Tudor memorials usually depicted an image of the dead person, and were on the floor or in recesses. By the 18th century memorials were attached to the wall, and there are many of these in St Mary’s. Made of marble and stone, some have busts of the deceased, but most are quite flat and rather plain having only epitaphs recalling the apparently perfect life of the deceased. Children are amused by the wording on the memorial of the tutor to the Duke of Leeds’ children who apparently ‘expired without a groan’.

By the 20th century memorials took the form of flat marble plaques attached to the wall, no figures, but often with coats-of arms. The memorial to Sir George Burns is a fine example of modern craftsmanship as are the smaller plaques on the North wall. There are also a number of brass plaques - a medium popular from the late 19th century. By this date inscriptions usually have only biographical details and dates.


Some years ago, Patricia Cook, a former Churchwarden at St. Mary's, wrote a series of informative articles on interesting aspects of the fabric of St. Mary's for the Parish Magazine. These are reproduced here, together with line drawings by Jean Atkinson, a well known local artist, who has been closely involved with St. Mary's for many years, including serving on the PCC.

The Amber Tankard Holy Water Stoup The Mass Dial
Seating over the years A hidden gem Gargoyles, Corbels or Label-stops?
Decalogue Board A rare tomb Elephants and Royal Arms
Pulpit Kesteven Brass The Somers Memorial
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