We have in Pembridge Church four fine stone carved effigies which date from around the 1380’s. According to “English Church Monuments in the Middle Ages” by Nigel Saul they are Nicholas Gour and his son John. One was a Sergeants-at-Law and the other was a steward for the Mortimer Family. Sergeants-at-Law were an elite order of Lawyers who had exclusive privilege of arguing before the Court of Common pleas and the Court of the Kings Bench. For six centuries, starting in the 1300’s, they ranked above all other lawyers in the kingdom. Only twelve hundred men were ever promoted to the dignity of Sergeant, the last dying in 1921.
Nicholas and John are accompanied by two ladies who we assume are their wives.
We have a number of different descriptions for these figures dating back several centuries and, while there are variations in the descriptions, they all suggest that these are high status individuals.
The earliest description is from Richard Symonds, a trooper in the English Civil War who visited Pembridge in 1645 and, fortunately for us, kept a diary.
South Window, chancel.
Under this window, upon a low altar tombes of playne stone, lye the four bodies of men and their wives, ad hayne formam, old:
This is observable, for never afore have I seene a thing of that age (unless a churchman) without armor.
The other is a fashioned habitt, not so observable, in a kind of a long robe, without anything on his head.
The inhabitants say they were in memory of the Gowres of Worcestershire.
Thirty years later, in 1675, Thomas Blount wrote:
“Within the church are two chapels or chancels; one called Marston Chapel and the other belongs to the Lochards. In the first are two ancient monuments of man and wife (drawn by Dingley in p. cclii.) said to be Gours, former lords of of Marston, which now belongs to Monington of Sarnesfield. In the window, a lyon rampany gules. Williams. Monington.”
It is interesting to note that Symonds saw them under the south window of the chancel while Blount saw them in what is now the north transept.
The tombs were also described in some detail by Mary Langston in 1934.
On the north side of the chancel are four effigies, two men and two women on an altar table, said in Blount’s MS, to belong to the Gours, Lords of Marston, which effigies were, in 1675, in the north transept, or Marston Chapel; from there they were moved to the south side of the chancel, then to the west end of the north aisle, and in 1909 were placed in their present position, as there the original foundation of the monument was found. Two of them represent a man and woman in the dress of the fourteenth century , and as at that date it was very unusual for a man of position to be depicted
in civilian dress, not in armour, this effigy is of exceptional interest. The Rev. J. B. Hewitt, in an article contributed to the Woolhope Transactions in 1901, thus describes them:-
“He (the man) wears a short tunic with sleeves laced close round the wrists, a coat with somewhat shorter sleeve, and a long flowing cloak fastened to the right shoulder, and thrown back. Low shoes fastened across the instep with a narrow strap. His only weapon is a short sword, hanging from a jewelled belt. He wears a moustache and divided beard . . . . The dress of the lady beside him, evidently his wife, shows the sleeve of the garment buttoned closely to the arm, that the outer one is lying open, but having buttons and button-holes throughout the length. She wears the square headress of the period, and the veil round the throat and chin. Another effigy is that of a Nun, which being the same mourning habit, was sometimes given to a widow dying within a year of her husband, so it is possible that the popular idea of these figures may be so far right that this lady was the second wife of Gour, having survived him a few months.” “The fourth effigy is that of a priest in the robes of on of canonical rank. He wears the ‘Toga talaris” or ancient cassock, the skirt not being visible, but the sleeves appearing laced tightly to the wrist. Over this is the Alb with its close fitting sleeves shorter than those of the cassock , and over all the short tippet with bands, but showing no sign of fur. Upon the head is the close fitting cap fastened under the chin. The upper lip bears the moustache, but the chin is clean shaven. Upon the right side is what appears to be a cord, passing through the robes, and carrying some article, which has unfortunately been broken away. This figure measures only 5 ft. 4 in. It s interesting to find that one Thomas de Penebrugge (the old name for Pembridge) was Prebendary of Bartonsham, and treasurer of Hereford Cathedral in 1317. This date would seem to throw a difficulty in the way of assigning the effigy in question to him, as the church was probably not built till towards the end of the fourteenth century; but here again the existence of the earlier building may give a solution to the difficulty. If the effigy is that of Thomas de Penebugge the cord at the side may have the keys, or possibly the purse to signify his office, and it may well have been removed from the earlier Church to the present one, were a sepulchral arch (now empty) in the south wall of the chancel was probably its resting place.”
So, whichever description you favour they all suggest that these are rare and interesting effigies that deserve further investigation and preservation.
A chance meeting with the author and medieval clothing specialist Sarah Thursfield at the Leominster Medieval Pageant in the summer of 2015 led to the suggestion that re-creating the costumes worn by the effigies would be a useful exercise. This would lead to a better understanding of how people would have dressed in Pembridge in the fourteenth century while, at the same time, provide an added benefit to tourists and historians alike and help to keep Pembridge and St Mary’s church on the map.
If you would like to be involved in this project, then please contact email@example.com.