If you visit Worcester Cathedral by entering through the cloisters you will find a horizontal, stone effigy behind the ramp that leads into the Cathedral church through the Prior’s door. The plaque on the wall next to this effigy states that the figure probably represents John Fordham who was Prior at Worcester between 1409 and 1438 when the cloisters were built.
However, at one time the effigy was thought to represent Alexander Neckham who was Abbot of Cirencester in the thirteenth century. Neckham is said to have died at Kempsey in 1217 while on a journey to visit the Bishop of Worcester and was then buried at Worcester Cathedral Priory. The effigy is very worn, and it is said that this is a result of schoolboys sharpening pencils on it, and people using it as an umbrella stand – obviously in an era when monuments were not cared for as they are today!
Alexander Neckham was born on 13 September 1157 in St Alban’s, on the same day as the future King Richard the Lionheart, and Alexander’s mother was chosen to care for the small prince. Alexander Neckham was often called ‘Alexander de Santo Albano’, and ‘Neckham’ was probably a nickname. Neckham’s knowledge was extensive and he wrote fifty-five books on various topics, including astronomy and natural history. He understood the use of the compass, which was not widely known in this era, and an account of this is to be found in De Utensilibus. At Worcester Cathedral Library we are fortunate to hold a copy of De Nomine Utensilium in Manuscript Q 50, and some of Neckham’s sermons in Manuscript Q 78.
The Concise Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. III, N-Z (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
Moore Ede, W. Worcester Cathedral – Its Monuments and their Stories (Worcester: Phillips and Probert, 1925).
Floyer, J. K., ‘A Mutilated Effigy in the Cloisters of Worcester Cathedral, said to represent Alexander Neckham’, 1898, originally for the Worcester Diocesan Architectural and Archaeological Society, printed in Worcester Cathedral Notes and Monographs, Chapter House, 1863-1898, pp. 188-196.
Thomson, R. M., A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval Manuscripts in Worcester Cathedral Library (D. S. Brewer on behalf of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, 2001).