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St Mary's church silver

Donald Foster

Apart from the modern chalice and paten (plate or small salver) for normal use, St Mary's church, Wymeswold, has just three pieces of silver ware – but the quality is notable. Two items date to 1705 and the undoubted ''jewel in the crown' is the cup of 1512.

We have full information about the 18th century pieces. They were presented in 1705 as the Parish Registers show :-

'Memorandum. That Dame Katherine Yorke, Relict first of William Leeke Esqre, Serjeant at Law, and then of Sr. William Yorke of Lessingham in the County of Lincoln Knt. did, upon the twenty sixth day of May, (Whitsun Eve) in ye year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Five , give to the use of ye Community of ye Parish Church of Wymeswold a Silver Flagon & a Silver Salver inscribed 'Soli Deo Honor et Gloria.'

This entry was signed by the Vicar, Edward Moises, and the two Churchwardens, Thomas Turner and William Burrows.

The William Leeke in this entry is, of course, the distinguished lawyer whose memorial now stands at the west end of the church, under the tower (he was buried in the chancel on 13th October 1687). Because the monument blocked a south window, Henry Alford, vicar in 1844, had it moved to its present position -- a sensible action and perhaps a courageous one, although there were no Leeke descendants in the village in Alford's time.


Wymeswold chalice from the 1890
Inventory of the Church Plate of Leicestershire.

The paten is plain, with gadrooned edges, 7 inches (180 mm) in diameter and weighing 6.5 ounces (185 g); the lidded flagon stands 10.5 inches (265 mm) high and weighs 31.8 ounces (900 g). It is, as usual with 18th century flagons and chalices, straight-sided. Both these pieces can be seen without fee or fuss if you take the trouble to visit the Charnwood Museum in Granby Street, Loughborough.

In the same display stands St Mary's celebrated silver cup of 1512. As you may know, there has been much controversy in recent years about this artefact! What may surprise you is its smallness – it stands a mere 33/4 inches (95 mm) high. There is nothing extraordinary about its workmanship. Yet it is valued at something in the order of 250,000. Why? The answer is its rarity. Pre-Refomation chalices are few. No other such piece stamped with the hallmark of 1512 is known.

Unfortunately, nothing is known about how it came to Wymeswold. It could have been designed for use in church (but which church?) as a ciborium or pyx (the vessels in which the consecrated bread of the Eucharist is kept). More likely, it was made to be a 'secular ' vessel, a 'loving cup', to be passed round at feasts or festivals. Such a custom persists at some Oxbridge colleges to this day.

The chalice was in regular use here fifty years ago. The late Mr Bill Hickling remembered keeping it in a kitchen cupboard and cycling to church on Sunday mornings with the cup in a paper bag! Nowadays he would require a police escort. Without becoming embroiled in argument concerning the best location for the cup or the issue of its sale, in my opinion it is certainly better placed where it is than in the dark vaults of a bank.

Originally published in Wolds Reflections 1997.

Copyright the author.

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