Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published July 22nd 2010
Before inventing cricket or Big Brother, the eccentric English used to spend their spare time visiting churches and admiring the floors. This is not because it was pre WeekEndNotes, but because on the floor of many churches are laid medieval brass plaques or carved flat stone monuments, depicting religious and memorial scenes, and from the 17th to 20th Centuries people used to amuse themselves by laying paper over them and rubbing them with graphite or crayon so that they could take a relief copy home with them as a souvenir.
It might sound like a staid and Victorian past time, or something you would have been made to do on a school excursion, but according to the Monumental Brass Society there are some pretty racy brasses: the ones depicting key characters in the 100 Year War with France, the War of the Roses and the Civil War are supposed to be some of the most exciting, but there are also brasses commemorating princesses and nuns and knights, and at Ewelme in Oxfordshire, there's even a brass commemorating the son and daughter-in-law of poet Chaucer. They're like medieval comic strips.
The easiest way to play ye olde England and try it out is at the London Brass Rubbing Centre at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. They make it easy by having resin copies of famous brasses that are like big fat tiles so there's no need to prostrate yourself on the floor of a church. Their selection of brasses includes St. George and the Dragon, Shakespeare and some well dressed but little known knights and ladies, who just happened to have excellent memorial artists. They've also got all the best rubbing equipment, including specialist papers and metallic waxes, so you can take home a very professional looking rubbing in gold on that velvety black paper. Like the ones the wealthiest families used to have on their walls - sent as gifts from young men doing Grand Tours of Europe - and now worth thousands!
Kids are welcome at the London Brass Rubbing Centre as well, and prices start at £4.50, so if they're not particularly artistic it's not going to break the bank. They're a pretty organised crew running it, and very experienced rubbers, so if you make a mistake they can help you make it look as if you didn't.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields has a very decent cafe, in the crypt, if you're looking for ideas for keeping the kids entertained rather than exploring ideas for new hobbies.
If you are considering new hobbies, there's more than one way to get a brass rubbing – churches with impressive brasses are used to people asking if they can take rubbings of them, and many are apparently happy to let you, especially if you book a time with them that won't clash with other church events and offer a small donation in return. If you need more direction on the practical side of how to rub brasses check out this step by step, illustrated demonstration.