Guns and Roses (and Crowns)

There is an established link between the casting of firebacks and of graveslabs, distinctive motifs or styles of lettering indicating that their production sometimes shared a common pattern-maker or location. Some of the artisans who made firebacks would have been skilled in other branches of the iron trade, and a significant specialism of some of the furnaces in the Weald of south-east England was gun founding. So it should be no surprise to find decorative elements associated with ordnance having a secondary use on firebacks.

This splendid fireback is in a house near Rolvenden in Kent. It is undated, and while the initials ‘ER’ in all probability refer to either King Edward VI or his sister, Queen Elizabeth, there is no clue as to who was represented by the initials IC, which are likely to be of the founder or the person for whom the fireback was cast. The thrice-stamped crowned rose within a Garter, however, bears a striking resemblance to the badges that adorned early bronze, and some iron, naval guns, notably those made for the armament of ships such as the Mary Rose, which sank so dramatically at Portsmouth in 1545. It is comparable in size with examples that adorn medium-sized guns such as sakers and, being over-pressed into the sand mould into which the iron for the fireback was poured, the backing of this stamp shows that it would have originated as a piece of carved woodwork. My guess is that this was a reuse of a pattern or model made to decorate a gun. A brief examination of the badges on a variety of guns belonging to the Royal Armouries and the National Army Museum shows that they are unique to the guns on which they are found, and that gun founders used a different pattern for each of the guns they made. The French founder, Peter Baude, the Arcanus family from Cesena in Italy, and the Owen and Mayo brothers from England all made bronze guns for the navy in the Tudor period. The chances of finding a gun with the identical rose and crown are remote but were it to happen it would establish a link between the founder of that gun and an iron furnace in the Weald.

A fireback of 1695 in the collection of Brighton Museum. Sussex

This fireback also has a rose and crown stamp. Although of a much later date and a smaller size, the stamp is of a style that was typical from the second half of the 16th century and could also have originated as the royal badge on pieces of artillery and then remained in the stock of stamps at the furnace where it was subsequently used to decorate firebacks. No less than seven firebacks, made between 1677 and 1699, bear the same stamp. As yet, no gun has been found with the identical rose and crown.