Museum replies in church brass row

A UNITED States museum accused of harbouring a "stolen" medieval church brass said yesterday it had believed that people in Suffolk were content with a deal negotiated 15 years ago.

A UNITED States museum accused of harbouring a "stolen" medieval church brass said yesterday it had believed that people in Suffolk were content with a deal negotiated 15 years ago.

The brass, showing a member of the prominent Colby family, was removed from St Laurence Church at Brundish, near Stradbroke, at some time before the 1950s.

It was discovered in the early 1980s in a collection held by the Museum of Art in Philadelphia and, following an intervention by the Monumental Brass Society in the UK, a formal request was made for its return.

The parochial church council at Brundish later accepted a deal whereby the original would stay in the museum and a copy would be made for the church.


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However, calls have recently been made by US descendents of the Colby family for the original to be returned to its proper home.

Norman Keys, spokesman for the Philadelphia museum, said yesterday that an inquiry about the return of the brass had been made in 1988 when the issue was investigated.

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"We came to an amicable agreement at the time and thought the matter was settled," he said.

If a further request was received it would be dealt with on a "one step at a time" basis.

Villagers at Brundish and descendents of the Colby family have expressed their dismay that the original brass is not even on display in the museum, being stored in the vaults.

But Mr Keys said that might not always be the case. "The display is always changing," he said.

Gerald Western, churchwarden at Brundish, said the parochial church council would be discussing the question of whether to make a renewed request for the brass to be returned.

"Times and attitudes have changed. We have new people on the church council and we have been encouraged that some of the Colby descendents wish the brass to be returned," he said.

One descendent, Robert Lewis, a professor of art in Tennessee, had visited the church this week and had stated his willingness to help achieve the return of the brass.

Another descendent has filed a formal complaint to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and an inquiry has been launched.

Mr Western said he had been in touch with the parochial church council at Brinkley in Cambridgeshire where there had also been calls for the return of a brass taken from the local church and now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

"We will be liasing with them further," he added.

david.green@eadt.co.uk

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