One thing leads to another – from brass rubbing to DACs to FKC

When I first I moved to Kent I lived near St Mary the Virgin, Newington-on-the- Street. This lovely church, its photographs amid orchards in blossom gracing many a calendar, was my introduction to medieval architecture, art and artefacts. I had the great fortune of seeing Dr Eve Baker patiently reveal the doom painting on the east wall of the north aisle, but it was the monumental brasses that fired my imagination. I did my first rubbings there and they introduced me to a cornucopia of interests: costume; armour, heraldry, medieval Latin and Norman French; religious symbols; calligraphy; family history; stone types such as Purbeck and Bethersden and much else.

One thing about brass rubbing is that it’s not good for the knees and you spend all the time looking down. So, when the knees get sore and the back feels stiff, you get up for a stretch or, when rubbing a large brass, a necessary walk round the churchyard. And, looking up and around, you realise that this House of God is full of other stuff, interesting and exciting stuff, like table tombs, choir stalls, misericords, screens, pulpits, wall paintings, fonts, hatchments, royal arms, poor boxes, pews (yes, pews can be interesting) and stained glass.

There are so many things to see in a church and, before you know it, you have accumulated a library on all of it. And you have joined lots of other societies and they produce lots of Newsletters and Journals, and Transactions and you join more committees and you get lots of minutes and stuff and so it goes on. And it’s wonderful!

I joined the Monumental Brass Society in 1968 and met conservator Bryan Egan, to whom I became plumber’s mate on his weekend visits to repair loose and broken brasses throughout Kent. One such job brought us to St Clement, Sandwich where we met the Rector, Canon David Naumann, who just happened to be chairman of Canterbury DAC. And who also just happened to be looking for a consultant on brasses. So in 1981, I became a DAC consultant. Then Rochester DAC heard about me so I became their consultant too. And I am still doing it. When I took early redundancy from the day job, after a seemly interval, I was invited to become a full member of both.

Then I was recruited by the Chairman of the Friends of Kent Churches, Jennifer Raikes, who knew I served on both Canterbury and Rochester Diocesan Advisory Committees and thought I might be useful and I became a Trustee of the Friends and member of the Grants Committee.

Over the years one learns a lot, and one forgets a lot, but putting one’s experience to use in supporting the Friends of Kent Churches do what they do best, helping look after the wonderful legacy of churches, is probably the most satisfying part of all.

Leslie Smith

This brass is 6′ 2” long and it took Leslie
three hours the first time he tried it but
when he realised how poorly his efforts
compared with experienced rubbers he
went back and did it again, taking twice the
time.
Dating from c1310, it depicts Sir Robert
Septvans in armour with a lion at his feet.
The device on his shield and on his armour
shows seven grain winnowing tools, called
vannes, a play on his name common at the
time.

 

 

Sir Robert Septvans, St Mary Chartham,
one of the first brasses Leslie rubbed.