Having seen a couple of these things, and then some Victorian replicas, got curious about how many of the original birds were about, and who by, where and when were they made. The answers are as follows:
How many? 46 eagle-lecterns, four desk-lecterns and two tall candle holders all made in the same workshop.
Who made themand where? Unknown. No church records identifying a maker or origin is knows, but recent analysis of the metal composition does point to East Anglia. As the surviving examples cluster around King’s Llyn, somewhere in Norfolk seems a fair bet.
It had been suggested that they could be continental in origin, as they resemble some Flemish products. However, this resemblance may just be coincidental and with the recent metal analyses opinion has shifted back to them being made in one or more long lost English workshops.
When were they made? Four birds have dates inscribed on them, ranging from 1484 to 1524. Differences in quality and design also point to the birds having been made over an extended period – the wooden forms used in the casting process would have become worn or damaged and parts would have been replaced, producing differences in design and detail over time.
Cessation of production may have been linked to the upheavals during Henry VIII’s reign and the frowning-upon of anything ‘Popish’.
Where are they now? Thirty-eight birds are in England, and one each in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. One found its way to Dubrovnik in Croatia and four others to northern Italy. The four double-desks and candle holders are all in England.
Many have been moved from their original locations. During the fanatical ‘iconoclasm’ of the 17th century (the disapproval of gaudiness or imagery in churches), birds would be melted down, sold off, destroyed or shipped abroad. Others may have been melted down for military use during the English Civil War, or removed simply to make way for more up-to-date lecterns.
In some cases birds were hidden to protect them from destruction.
Where they are:
1. Bovery Tracey, Devon.
2. Bristol, St Stephen (formerly in St Nicholas).
3. Cambridge, Christ College.
4. Cavendish, Suffolk.
5. Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire.
6. Clare, Suffolk.
7. Coventry, Holy Trinity.
9. Cropredy, Oxfordshire.
10. Croyden, London.
11. East Dereham, Norfolk.
12. Exeter Cathedral.
13. Isleham, Cambridgeshire.
14. King’s Llyn, St Margaret.
15. King’s Llyn, St Nicholas.
16. Upton (originally Little Gidding), Cambridgeshire.
17. Long Sutton, Lincolnshire.
18. Lowestoft, Suffolk.
19. Newcastle-upon-Tyne Cathedral.
20. Norwich, St Gregory.
21. Oundle, Northamptonshire.
22. Outwell, Norfolk.
23. Oxborough, Norfolk.
24. Oxford, Baliol College.
25. Oxford, Corpus Christi College.
26. Peterborough Cathederal.
27. Petworth House, West Sussex.
28. Redenhall, Norfolk (double-headed bird).
29. Salisbury, St Martin.
30. Snettisham, Norfolk.
31. Southampton, St Michael.
32. Southwell Minster.*
33. Upwell, Norfolk.
34. Walpole St Peter, Norfolk.
35. Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.
36. Wigginhall, St Mary the Virgin.
37. Wolborough, Devon.
38. Woolpit, Suffolk.
39. Wrexham (Wales)
40. Holyrood (Scotland)**
41. Dublin Cathedral (Ireland).
42. Dubrovnik (Croatia).
43-46. Italy: Florence (2 birds), Urbina and Venice (Italy).
47. Cambridge, King’s College.
48. Eton College, Berkshire.
49. Oxford, Merton College.
50. Yeovil, Somerset.
There is also a cast iron bird at Billingford, Norfolk. This may be a Victorian copy.
* Southwell Minster: There are also two tall candlesticks here which are believed to be from the same workshop.
** Holyrood: Also known as the ‘Dunkeld’ lectern, appeared in Scotland in 1522 (the exact date varies between sources), then in 1544 English soldiers destroyed the Abbey and took the bird to St Albans in England. In 1643 the bird disappeared, being rediscovered 105 years later concealed in a tomb in the side of the church. In 1972 thieves stole the three lions from the base. In 1984 Scottish nationalists stole the bird, but returned it anonymously in 1999, and in 2005 the St Albans church authorities decided that it should permanently remain in its Scottish home.
- Brownsword, R. (1998) English pre-Reformation Eagle Lecterns. The Journal of the Antique Metalware Society, vol. 6, pp 7-15.
- Cox, J. C. (1915) Pulpits, Lecterns & Organs in English Churches. London: Oxford University Press.
- Green, C. & Butler, R (2015) Late medieval brass eagle lecterns in England. Base Thoughts: The Newsletter of the Antique Metalware Society, Spring 2015, p 11.
- Oman, C. C.(1930) Medieval brass lecterns in England. The Archaeological Journal, vol. 87, issue 1, pp 117-149.