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Brass Rubbings done at Westminster Abbey

Updated on November 14, 2015
Brass rubbings I did at Westminster Abbey years ago when I was in London.
Brass rubbings I did at Westminster Abbey years ago when I was in London. | Source
Crayons used to make a brass rubbing
Crayons used to make a brass rubbing | Source

Brass Rubbings - a British thing to do!

Old brass rubbings have been a particular British thing to do or a great past time to do when visiting London. England and Scotland are full of brass plates that were once cast as memorials to those who died in middle ages Britain.

Over the ensuing hundreds of years, both the British and tourists have combed the churches, cathedrals and chapels rubbing these brass memorials onto paper to use as remembrances and wall hangings.

When I visited London years ago, I did my best to partake in the truly British past time of brass rubbings. Since the 1970s, the original brasses that are inlaid on the floor of churches and cathedrals could no longer be rubbed as they were being worn away by the rubbing process and the lack of care people took when rubbing them.

Reproductions have been made of these brasses and that is what are used today and there are many brass rubbing centers around the UK. The best one is at Westminster Abbey on Saturday mornings from 7 am, until noon. Here, you can choose from many different reproductions of the original brasses that are laid out all over Britain. This is a fun past time and a true reproduction of a British brass rubbing can be brought home as a remembrance or souvenir.

The brass rubbing process is similar to rubbing a pencil on a piece of paper over a coin. They are created by laying a sheet of butcher paper (usually black) on top of a brass and rubbing the paper with graphite, wax or chalk. The crayons are silver or gold color and sometimes other colors. I call it 'coloring for adults.'

The rubbing is a reproduction onto paper of the commemorative brass plaques and plates found in churches, usually inlaid on the floor, from between the 13th and 16th centuries.

During the middle ages the brass commemorative plaques were engraved sepulchural memorials in the early 13th century that began to take the place of three dimensional monuments and effigies carved in stone or wood. They were made of hard laten or sheet brass inlaid into the pavement of the church floor.

Many of these are of great value as historical monuments and sometimes the only authentic contemporary proof of the varieties of armor and costumes of the day. Also, sometimes these brass plates are the only authoritative records we have that details some family histories.

In England, they have been found to be in remarkably good condition and hence England's insistence that the original brass plates not be rubbed.

Brass commemorative plates were also used in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium during medieval times, but these other European ones have not maintained such good condition through the ages like the plates in Britain have maintained.

Some brasses remain in Scotland as the memorials of Alexander Cockburn (1564), regent Murray (1569) and in the collegiate church of St. Giles in Edinburgh.

The majority of monumental brasses are found in England with about four thousand of them remaining in various churches and in rather good condition. They are mostly located in the eastern counties of England and most are found in the churches of Ipsioich, Norwich, Lynn, and Lincoln.

English brasses have figures cut out to the outline and inserted in corresponding cavities into the slabs of the floor with the darker color of the stone serving as the background.

A few Flemish (Belgium) brasses can be found in England and differ from the English brasses in that the Flemish ones have figures engraved in the center of a large plate with intricate scroll work behind it. They are more floral in design and the inscription is placed around the edge of the brass plate.

The brass rubbings I made were on black butcher paper and rubbed with a gold wax crayon. I choose to rub a Shakespeare rubbing and the classic three little nuns. Both of these took me an entire Saturday morning from 7 am to 12 noon.

First, I placed my black paper over the desired brass plate and taped the paper to the back so it would not move as I rubbed the plate. Then, I chose gold wax crayons for rubbing my plates. As I rubbed, I could not work fast and had to take my time and make sure I hit all the edges and the plate with the same amount of pressure so the color would be consistent throughout the rubbing.

This is 'coloring within the lines.' It is important to exert the same pressure as you are rubbing the plate so when finished the rubbing looks evenly colored and not sparse in some areas.

It is fun but exacting work and not something that can be done quickly. It must be done painstakingly if you know you want to frame them and hang them at home.

Then, when I brought them home, I had them framed and they hang on the wall in my living room today. Following are some examples of brass rubbings that can be done in England.


Copyright 2013 Suzannah Wolf Walker all rights reserved.

Individual completing an brass rubbing
Individual completing an brass rubbing | Source
Brass plate of Westminster Abbey used for rubbing
Brass plate of Westminster Abbey used for rubbing | Source
Brass plate of Henry VIII used for rubbing
Brass plate of Henry VIII used for rubbing | Source
Brass rubbing of St. George and the Dragon using a bronze crayon for St. George and a silver crayon for the frame around the picture.
Brass rubbing of St. George and the Dragon using a bronze crayon for St. George and a silver crayon for the frame around the picture. | Source
Different color rubbings
Different color rubbings | Source
Original brass monument of Simon de Felbrigge and wife at St. Margaret's Church, Felbrigg, Norfolk, England
Original brass monument of Simon de Felbrigge and wife at St. Margaret's Church, Felbrigg, Norfolk, England | Source
Brass rubbing from Belgium with lacy intricate scroll
Brass rubbing from Belgium with lacy intricate scroll | Source
Graphite rubbing of a dragon on white paper
Graphite rubbing of a dragon on white paper | Source

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    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Vinaya: Thank you for reading this and I'm glad you enjoyed it. Brass rubbings are fun to make!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      5 years ago from Nepal

      I was not aware about this British pass time affair, however, I love to rub our ancestral brass items once in a while.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      donnah: What a great experience at summer camp. Thank you so much for reading and for your comments. Most appreciated!

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 

      5 years ago from Upstate New York

      I love the look of a brass rubbing. It is a unique piece of art. I have one that I did in Cambridge, England years ago. I worked for a summer camp and we brought in a women who talked about the history. She brought the plates and everyone got to try it. So much fun. Great hub!

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      MrsBrownsParlour: Yes, these are fun and interesting to do. You do leaf rubbings? That is also interesting and I have heard of them before. I have never done one of those though. Thank you so much for reading and for your comments. Most appreciated.

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image

      Lurana Brown 

      5 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Fascinating! I've heard of gravestone rubbings and I do leaf rubbings but I never heard of brass rubbings before. What an interesting topic. :-)

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Lesley: I did these brass rubbings years and years ago. I hope they are still doing them at Westminster. They were done in one of the stone hallways at the abbey. It was lots of fun and so interesting and I have a wonderful remembrance of my time in London. Hope you and hubby get to do some. Thanks so much for your visit and for your enthusiasm. Most appreciated.

    • profile image

      Lesleysherwood 

      5 years ago

      This is amazing. You are an encyclopedia of knowledge my lovely friend. I am ashamed that I didn't know this was a particularly British thing especially being a Londoner all my life and Westminster Abbey just down the road. Thank you for sharing this. I think me and hubby know what to do on our next day out.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Hi Nell: Yes, I did this years and years ago too. But, it is still being done all around England. So glad you enjoyed reading this. Windsor Castle would be another great place to do some rubbings. Thanks so much for reading and for your visit. Most appreciated.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Epi: You are too funny! Really, I can't believe you didn't know what a brass rubbing was. Well, I'm happy I could inform you. This has to be a first, though. Thanks for the high 5's and the 4's from Gabriel and Tiffy. Give them my love and yes, I'd be delighted to 'rub your brass anytime' lol. Take care - don't work too hard!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Oh this brought back memories! lol! I did brass rubbings years and years ago when we visited Windsor Castle, its something that was fascinating as I remember seeing many people doing it at the time, I don't know if they are still allowed to do it there, but this was lovely, great hub and voted up!

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 

      5 years ago

      Well Suzette, my favortie teacher in the whole wide world, now you know why I call you my renaissance lady here at the Hub. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would view and read a hub presentation on 'brass rubbings.' I didn't even know what the term meant .... until now. So thank you for this education and enlightenment.

      I have also been a big fan of Westminster Abbey and its history - now you have added another dimension to it.

      Sending you a high five from two hands (that's me) and 4 paws (that's Gabriel and Tiffy) and yes you can 'rub my brass' anytime , lol lol

      Off to work in a bit, have a safe, happy and nice evening.

      Colin and the cats, lake erie time 3:44pm , on a typical late April rainy day

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