ID SAL_CFN / Elaine Barker

TitleSalcott Coffin-Slab
AbstractAccording to the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments 1922, in the churchyard of St Mary's Salcott, west of the church tower was sited a coffin-slab, coped with double hollow-chamfered edge, cross with foliated ends on stepped calvery, 13th century. Another broken slab with hollow chamfered edge also probably thirteenth century was noted.

Coffin slabs were the stone lids of massive stone coffins in which wealthy or important people were interred in early times. They range from 3 - 6 or 7 inches in thickness, are usually six to seven feet long and from 20 to 25 inches in breadth at the head, tapering to 10 - 15 inches in breadth at the feet. Their sides are usually splayed , often with a plain round moulding or double hollow worked all round the upper edge The motif was usually a cross of elegant design in relief, though occasionally incised. Sometimes the effigy of a warrior in low relief or some other design appears instead of the cross.

They were never meant to be interred in graveyards; the intention seems to have been the interment was to be in the church in a prominent place and to be sunk only so far beneath the surface of the ground as to leave the upper surface of the lid level with the flooring. Intended therefore to be part of the floor they served the double purpose of a coffin and monument. The original position is most likely to have been before or near the altar due to the status of the deceased.

Miller Christy in his 1899 article Essex Coffin-slabs knew of only one coffin-slab in Essex that had an inscription (at Faulkborne) and commented on the difficulty therefore of dating them. In general he concludes the Essex coffin-slabs seem to be from between the twelfth and the fourteenth centuries with most from the thirteenth.

Most coffin slabs are no longer associated with the coffin they covered and many have been removed elsewhere. Some were moved to side-chapels, porches, vestries and, in the case of Salcott's, leaned carelessly up against the wall to be out of the way.

It was in the re-building of Salcott Church in 1891 that the architect, Frederick Chancellor, noted two coffin-slabs were discovered. Of one he gave no details other than it too was thought to be thirteenth century. The one that still exists bearing its cross in relief was rescued from the churchyard in 1971.

In Salts and Wigs Monthly village leaflet for July 1971 there is a report that the Church Council decided to restore the coffin-slab to its probable original position. As the newsletter author points out, this coffin slab would pre-date, by about 100 years, the oldest part of the current church building.

Drawing by Tom Millatt of the Coffin slab now in the nave of St Mary's Salcott

Elaine Barker

Sources
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (N.E. Essex - 1922) Essex Vol IV page 206
Essex Coffin-slabs Transactions of Essex Archaeological Society Vol VII p.368 by Miller Christy esah1852.org.uk

Read More
A History of the Parish Church of Salcott Virley

AuthorElaine Barker
PublishedSeptember 2020
SourceMersea Museum
IDSAL_CFN