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Tour of St Lawrence Church

14. Archdeacon William Sponne's tomb

Following an education in Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, William Sponne became Rector of Heavingham and Blofield in Norfolk, resigning the latter on being collated to the Archdeaconry of Norfolk on 21st December 1419.
In June 1422 he became Rector of Towcester, a post which he held until the appointment of his successor, Thomas Taylard, in February 1447. He died later in 1448.

Drawing by T. Trotter
Drawn on the spot by T. Trotter 1801

His monument in the church is very similar to that of Bishop Richard Fleming of Lincoln (died 1431), in the same diocese. The monument is medieval and of a form in fashion at the time for higher ecclesiastics.
It is a chest tomb, having a fully clothed effigy of the person on the top wearing a cassock, surplice and tippet, with fur-lined sleeves and collar. Beneath his effigy and inside the arches in the lower section is a representation of his emaciated corpse, indicative of mortality and evidently meant to teach humility.
Cadaver tombs or table tombs were the fashion between 1420 and 1480, and surviving examples are rare, there being only about 150 still in existence.
Whilst this design is rather unusual, it is the type of monument normally associated with large establishments, such as cathedrals and abbeys, and to find one in a typical parish church such as St. Lawrence, clearly suggests that William Sponne was highly regarded in his own lifetime.

The monument is of clunch stone. The sides of the tomb are open arches and on the ledge, the arms of Sponne are repeated. The head and hands are carved locally of oak with the face as a portrait; they were restored to the tomb in 1992 after being removed in 1884, lost and finally re-discovered in the attics of the Vicarage in the 1980’s.
At that time it was believed that the wooden appendages were themselves replacements, however radiocarbon dating in 1984 confirmed that the present wooden head is the original.

The tinted prints inscribed “Drawn on the spot by T Trotter” dated 1801, show clearly the wooden head attached to the tomb at that date. Over time the figure has been repainted several times and not always in the same colours.
An article in the Sunday Telegraph tells of a disaster in the early 1980’s when someone, not suitably qualified, repainted Archdeacon Sponne using "Humbrol" paint. Considerable restoration work was required to repair the damage. (For more information and photographs of Sponne's Tomb click here).

Drawing by T. Trotter
Drawn on the spot by T. Trotter 1801

The present position of the monument is not the original and a closely adjacent floor slab notes the following:

"In a vault beneath this stone lie the remains of the Rev. William Sponne Archdeacon of Norfolk whose monument was removed from this spot in November 1835 to make room for the new pewing of the Church. He died A. D. 1448"

When this monument was removed from its original position in the chancel it was discovered that the skeleton was reportedly in a perfect state of preservation, lying on a bed of fine white sand. Within a few hours of the grave being opened the bones had crumbled to dust. The tomb has since been returned to its former position. This was supervised by Mr. G Forsyth Lawson (Church Architect) in 1938.

In 1440 Archdeacon Sponne bought a dwelling, known then as the Tabard (changed in 1635 to The Talbot Inn), with adjoining lands. This was amongst his properties when he died and continued in the Charity’s ownership until it was sold in 1895.
The shield within the East window of Sponne's chapel is glass bought from The Tabard Inn, once owned by the charity.

Image of Sponne's shield in window

Shield of Sponne surrounded by fragments of green drapery and canopy work and the inscription Willi(a)m Sponn, in Gothic textura.

William Sponne founded a small college or chantry of two priests. One priest to say mass for his soul after his demise, in the chapel at the east end of the south aisle of the parish church. The second priest to teach the youth of the town. A house for the chantry was purchased next to the church.
Archdeacon Sponne gave Towcester it's first Grammar School. Sponne's bequests to the town are recorded on a board in the northeast angle of the chapel. He gave property to the town with the direction that....
the revenue was to be devoted to pave and repair the pavement of the town, the remainder to be distributed among the poor at the discretion of the feoffes.

Image of bequest board