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The Wootton St Lawrence Helmet

by Ian Williams

The Wootton St Lawrence helmet is a rare and important North European armet of about 1500 probably Flemish which was converted to funerary use in England in 1677 with a spike for the attachment of a funerary crest. It hung until recent years over a bracket in the church marked with the initials T. H. of Sir Thomas Hooke who died in 1677, whose monument it formed. He acquired Tangier Park in 1660 and built a house there in 1662 which his son sold in 1710.

It was on loan to the Royal Armouries H.M. Tower of London and Leeds, where it was on exhibition.

Although broadly conforming to the Italian fashions of about 1440-1520 the Wootton St Lawrence armet’ like all other examples of its kind preserved in English churches’ lacks the marks usually found on Italian-made armour of that period. It further differs from its Italian counterpart in having ventilation-slots pierced in the right of its visor and hearing-holes in each of its cheek-pieces. As such slots and holes are a common feature of Flemish armets and close helmets of the early 16th century, mostly deriving from English churches, it seems probable that the Wootton St Lawrence armet, like much armour used in England in its time, would likewise have come from the Low Countries.

Although it is heavily patinated, it is in good condition for an object 500 years old. It retains substantial traces of funerary painting consisting on the cheek-pieces of alternating foliate scrolls of gold within a linear border of the same colour on a black ground and elsewhere with foliate scrolls and flowerheads of red within linear borders of the same colour on a gold ground

Its history is well-documented, F. H. Cripps Day A List of Churches Containing Armour in Laking 1920-2 Vol. V p. 187 and Victoria County Histories (Hampshire) Vol. IV p. 242.

There is a similar helmet in St Mary’s Church, Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire, lacking its visor and cheek-pieces. It has precisely the same form of skull, the same form of brow-reinforce and the same form of piercings over the ears. Other armets are recorded in the churches at Beverly, Yorkshire; Buckland, Berkshire; Hawstead, Suffolk; Aldenham, Herts; and Cobham, Kent.

It was sold by the Diocese to an American collector in December for £45,000 (plus commission). Graeme Rimer, the Academic Director of the Royal Armouries said: “It is rare for us to oppose exports but this helmet is of real historic significance.”


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