Being very definitely an on-trend kind of person, I am self-isolating at home at the moment. This is mostly because my friends and colleagues are none too keen on meeting up with my coughing, snivelling, snotty self. No, I don’t have a fever, or difficulty breathing, merely(!) the only cold I’ve caught so far this season. I blame London in general, though specific vectors may have been the Tube, Tate Britain, or the invisible aura of germ-pool which the grand-daughters bring back from nursery.
The consequence is mostly a virtuous one, in that I’m spending more time reading and knitting (or both simultaneously) than usual. Arguably less virtuous is that I’m also spending more time on social media … but it was by this vector that I first came across the euphonious Epiphanius Evesham.
This was yet another of those #MeEither moments, which I owe to C.B. Newham, FSA, aka @cbnewham, director of the Parish Church Photographic Survey (https://www.parishchurches.org), of which the excellent aim is to cover ‘nearly every rural Church of England parish church in the country, effectively forming a national photographic archive of parish churches’.
Inside the church of the Holy Cross in Felsted, Essex, is the elaborate memorial to Richard, first Baron Rich (1496/7–1567), Speaker of the House of Commons and later Lord Chancellor of England.
Those of my generation will remember Rich as portrayed by the very young John Hurt in Robert Bolt’s film version of his play, A Man for All Seasons (1966); more recently, he has played a major role as the evil and implacable enemy of our hero in C. J. Sansom’s ‘Shardlake’ series.
Newham describes him as: ‘Perhaps one of the most evil and duplicitous men to have ever attained high office in England’; and the ODNB agrees: ‘since the mid-sixteenth century he has enjoyed a reputation for amorality and treachery with few parallels in English history’.
On the other hand (and like so many of his contemporaries), he did good in his immediate neighbourhood, adapting the chantry he had founded in Felsted in 1554 on the death of his eldest son to a boys’ free school ten years later, founding almshouses, and paying for a brick tower to be added to the church of St Andrew in Rochford.
Rich died in 1567, but it was not until about 1620 that his great-grandson commissioned Epiphanius Evesham to create the splendiferous monument – piety, or an effort to counteract his ancestor’s unfortunate reputation?
Evesham was born in Wellington, Herefordshire about 1570 (possibly on the feast of Epiphany???) and died at some point after 1623, possibly as late as 1633. He was the youngest (some accounts say he had a twin) of fourteen children. Nothing is known about his education and artistic training, except that in an two-part article in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1818 (vol. 88, p. 490) he is described as the ‘best scholar’ of one ‘Richard Steevens, a Fleming’ (who produced, inter alia, the tomb of the earl of Sussex in St Andrew’s church, Boreham, Essex) and as ‘our first native artist’. His first recorded work was a sundial, dated 1589, and probably made for his brother John, which is now in Hereford City Museum and Art Gallery (I couldn’t find a picture).
Intriguingly, by 1600, Evesham was working in Paris, first in the studio of sculptor Mathieu Jacquet, but later on his own: he got into trouble with the painters’ and sculptors’ guild for claiming their skills when he was a mere ‘sawyer and polisher of marble’, but was accepted into the guild in 1604. As a consequence, there is a rather better record of his activities in France than there is in England, and the ODNB lists some of his works, including a spectacular-sounding Neptune with three sea-horses – though sadly none of them seem to have survived.
By 1617, he was back in England, where he seems to have focused on memorial and tomb sculptures, some of which he signed. The Gentleman’s Magazine claims that he ‘made the bust of J. Owen, the Epigrammatist, in Westminster Abbey’; but the ODNB entry for Owen (1563–1622?, aka Joannes Oenus or Audoenus) says that ‘He was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral. John Williams placed a memorial brass there to him, with his effigy and six lines of Latin verse.’ This ‘effigy’ may have been by Evesham, but it was presumably destroyed in the Great Fire.
Other tomb sculptures executed by Evesham include a monument to Sir Thomas Hawkins and his wife in St Peter’s and St Paul’s church at Boughton under Blean in Kent (c.1618), and a table tomb for Edmund West in All Saints’ church, Marsworth, Buckinghamshire, from the same period.
Another spectacular effigy tomb is that of Christopher Roper, 2nd Lord Teynham (d. 1622) at Lynstead, also in Kent.
From analogies with these signed works, others have been attributed to Evesham, including Rich’s memorial at Felsted and the equally startling tomb of Sir Adrian Scrope (1563–1623) in St Leonard’s church, South Cockerington, Lincs.
From the iconography of these monuments (and from Evesham’s period in France), it has been suggested that he was a recusant. It is certainly a remarkable coincidence (if that is what it is) that he worked for the Roper family of Lynstead, the descendants of William Roper, staunch Catholic (after an early wobble) and son-in-law of Sir Thomas More, the betrayal of whom by Richard Rich was claimed to be the first of his very many amoral deeds.
I was interested to learn that the twentieth-century revival of interest in early modern (as opposed to medieval) English sculpture was spearheaded by Katharine Esdaile (1881–1950), who I knew of as an authority on Roubiliac. I hadn’t realised that she was a niece of E.W. Benson, and therefore a cousin of his talented if eccentric tribe, and that after studying classics at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and working on ancient sculpture and coinage, she had gradually moved to more modern works during her marriage to Arundell James Kennedy Esdaile, later Secretary to the British Museum.
Her son Edmund (himself an art historian) described the revelation of Evesham: ‘The first that anyone knew of his work, as well I remember, came at breakfast over the eggs and bacon [who now remembers the post coming at breakfast time?] when my mother opened a letter from the late Ralph Griffin, FSA, and before our astonished eyes, photographs of the 2nd Lord Teynham’s monument were revealed. It was an incredulous moment; like stout Cortes we gazed at each other with a wild surmise. New and unsuspected waters lay before us.’
This opens a whole new world to me, too – Felsted is in fairly well known territory, but once I’ve ticked Lord Rich off, I need to venture, it seems, to Kent, Bucks., and Lincs., if not further. Though I will have to wait until I can actually hold the steering wheel with both hands, instead of needing one of them to wipe my streaming nose.