Sword Rests, Mace-Rests and Civic Ceremony

By Cathy Terry

Following on from Wayne’s fascinating discoveries in his’ History of Mayors of Norwich’, I’ve been investigating the collection of sword rests and mace-rests and finding out just how unusual they are……..

The museum’s collection of sword rests and mace-rests are amongst its’ most curious objects. Sword rests are tall brackets of wrought iron with decorative scrolls or foliage, painted name plates referring to former mayors of the parish, coronets and coats of arms. They were once found in churches throughout the city of Norwich, and although some remain in place, a number have come into the museum’s care over the years. They were intended to be fixed to pillars, walls or benches within the parish church. A pair of mace rests for the City’s maces was positioned either side of them. Their purpose was to hold the civic sword and City’s maces during civic services which formed part of the annual round of events in the Mayoral year. The mayor was expected to attend his own parish church with the corporation and city officials in full regalia during his period of office. So the surviving examples together form a remarkable record of the mayors of the city and of the pride of each parish in its eminent residents.

The examples we have in the museum’s collection are quite consistent in style and quality, although not all of them are in good condition.
In style no two are exactly alike, but they are matching in form and painted in a similar manner, with a limited range of colours to match the City’s livery and clear but decorative script. Most appear to date to the late 18th / 19th century. However, we know from references in parish records such as churchwardens’ accounts, that the tradition itself dates at least to the beginning of the seventeenth century and that the brackets were purchased and maintained by the individual parishes, for instance:

St Stephen
1617 – 18 special expenditure recorded ‘for making the ironwork for the sword; for gilding and painting the said iron, 3s 5d’

St Peter Mancroft
1637 Paid for gilding the iron Branch for Mr Major’s Sword, 3s and 4d
1647 – 8 Item paid to Joseph Dacket for’ gilding the branch for the sword’ 4s 0d

The whereabouts of 34 sword rests and 31 mace rests was investigated by Stanley Wearing and published in his article in Norfolk Archaeology in 1946. He details what is clearly the largest collection outside the City of London, although they were also to be found in Bristol, and locally in both Kings Lynn and Yarmouth. In Norwich, parishes represented include not just the large wealthy city churches like St Andrews, but less well-known ones such as St Etheldreda and St Saviour.

Within the NMAS collection, the earliest named mayor on the plates is Robert Cooke, a worsted weaver, Mayor in 1693 who lived in the parish of St Peter Parmentergate. Like many of his fellow mayors he was a benefactor to the poor and he endowed an almshouse built by his brother and known as Cooke’s hospital. Taken together, the names on the rests read as roll-calls of the great and good; the dutiful citizens who elected to take civic office. These effective merchants and businessmen were responsible for endowing its churches public buildings, founding its charities, hospitals, libraries and welfare organisations.

Robert Cooke - Mayor 1693

Robert Cooke – Mayor 1693

This Sword rest (see photograph’s below) is from the parish of St Saviours, Magdalene Street exemplifies the tradition. It commemorates three leading citizens of the 18th century Barnabas Leman, Mayor in 1813 and 1818, John Whittaker Robberds Mayor in 1814, and John Patteson Mayor in 1825.

L1975.5.2 - This Sword rest from the parish of St Saviours, Magdalene Street exemplifies the tradition. It commemorates three leading citizens of the 18th century Barnabas Leman, Mayor in 1813 and 1818, John Whittaker Robberds Mayor in 1814, and John Patteson Mayor in 1825.

leman

Leman was one of the first directors of the Norwich Fire Office (later Norwich Union). He lived in Magdalene Street and was involved in two of the most heavily-contested elections of the 18th century at a time when local politics was as keenly followed as the football is today.

Barnabas Leman, painted in 1819 by Joseph Clover.

Barnabas Leman, painted in 1819 by Joseph Clover.

John Whittacker Robberds was a crape, worsted and bombazine manufacturer who also found time to write and publish a memoir of local German scholar and former manufacturer William Taylor. John Staniforth Patteson’s was son of John Patterson, the great manufacturer and Mayor turned MP of the late 18th century. Involved with the early Norwich Union Life Office, John Staniforth’s main business interest was in brewing, and the Steward and Patteson brewery went on to own a vast empire of local pubs during the 19th century. Sadly John died in 1832 of heart failure following the traumas of political agitation on the issue of the Great Reform Act of 1832.

Sword rests and mace rests are still used on processional occasions such as the annual Civic Service at the Cathedral, and fine examples can also be found in their original position in city churches, including St Andrew, St Peter Mancroft and St Giles.

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