Thursday, May 07, 2009

A Bunch of Dunches: Little Wittenham Church

Out on a walk, a chance visit to the Church at Little Wittenham, near Dorchester, and a discovery there of a beautiful array of early modern tombs and inscriptions. All seem to be connected to the Dunch family, who must have had an ancestor who was hard of hearing, or outright deaf. The man who makes the money was William Dunch, auditor to the mint for three Tudor monarchs:

"Here lyeth buryed William Dunche esquire Auditor of the myntes to our late soveraigne lordes king henrie the eight, and kinge edwarde the sixte and esquire sworne extraordinarie for the bodye of our sovereigne ladie Elizabeth, he married Marie Barnes they had yssue between them two sonnes Edmonde the Eldest, and Walter the younger, which William deceased the [ } daie of [ ] in the yeare of our Lorde God [ ]"

The Dunches all lived in a manor house just yards from the church; it is odd that no-one got round to adding the dates.

Mary Barnes gets commemorated in a long set of verses in that thumping early Tudor verse form, poulter’s measure on a separate plaque. Again, there’s no set of dates, and the brass plaque seems to have a later and less capable inscriber add her name as an afterthought in an extra piece of metal. Maybe this plaque was moved when the main alabasters for Walter Dunch and his wife were installed:

"The touch stone of our life, is death, as I decerne

For by the present passing hence, the former life we lerne

And so through worlds reaport, they live that lie full lowe

The grave can claime nomore of right, then flesh & blud ye know

The people steies the same behinde, for causes good

By which devise the honest name is knowne and understode

Then lo this widow here a farington by birth

Must have the praise that she hath donne, whilst she was on earth

Her sober maners milde, and upright dealing just

In minde of man shall shrined be, though barns be turned to dust

By marriage barns she hight, by life a matron calld

And so among the gravest sort in seat she shalbe stalld

Well likd of poore and rich, her works so virtuous were

That much good will & neighbours love therefore hence did she beare

Of right theis verses sure, she claimes, I say nomore

And you that reades them, after must, for she is goon before

The heavens doo holde her ghost, the earth accompt must make

Of everything it hath receavd, when god shall reconing take

when lo the wormes shall yelde her bodie whole againe,

and she with us and we with her, in endless joy remaine."

The full effigies of Walter Dunch and his wife form my main image here. He died in 1594 aged 42, there is no date given for Deborah Pilkington, his wife, but there they both are, looking like uncomfortable passengers in a wagon lit or cross-channel ferry. Walter is in full plate armour, and I was struck by how realistically the sculptor has rendered the movement away from the body of this most unyielding of forms of outerwear, as he lies down, unable to sleep. Deborah is in high Elizabethan fashion, with ruff, shaved-back hairline, ‘wirey coronet’ and hood. The obelisks are in viviparan (Purbeck) marble (what did they think about that intricate matrix of what just had to be snail shells?).

In front of the tomb, the usual line up of children. I was interested in the way that the earliest monument, the brass plaque to William Dunch the early modern auditor, his children are presented as smaller than him, but simultaneously as adults: his boys have moustaches and beards.

On the floor in front of the chest tomb, an early modern woman writer has her say in one of the few poetic forms then allowed to women:

"In memory of her lovinge husband William Winchcombe, sonne and heire to Francis Winchcombe esquire of Buckleberry who died the 38th yeare of his age on the 29th of July 1614, Mary the eldest daughter of Edmund Dunch bestowed this monument

I lovd thee living and lament thee dead

But what in measure cannot be exprest

Yet love and sorrowe both will needes be read

Even in this marble (Deare) they do theire best

And tis for others too I put this stone

To me thy tombe shalbe my heart alone

Twise eighteene yeares he viewed heavens day

Sixteen he spent in happy wedlocks bonds

The Graces, Muses, and the Fates did lay

Untimely on his webb theire hastening hands

Of heire his house, of all there hopes his friends

Of progenie his wife bereft he ends."

Maths was not her strongest subject, but she was excellent at English.

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