Two volumes by Adrian Barlow appeared in 2018 and 2019 on the work of Charles Eamer Kempe. The first of these, Kempe: The Life, Art and Legacy of Charles Eamer Kempe, is an excellent biography and the second, Espying Heaven, is more of a picture book focussing on his stained glass, featuring photography by Alastair Carew-Cox. My thoughts on these books have been published on Vidimus, the online journal devoted to (mainly medieval) stained glass.
I had a nagging feeling that I didn’t do Kempe justice in my Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, but it was hard to do any of the similarly important Victorian firms sufficient justice in a book covering seven centuries, even if only two of those chapters covered the period before 1800.
The earlier work of Wyndham Hope Hughes is in evidence in the west window depicting musical angels at Llangattock-Vibon-Avel, and Barlow contrasts it with the four standing figures in the same church by John Carter, who was Kempe’s senior designer from 1878 until about 1895. The rather Pre-Raphaelite style of Hughes contrasts with the Gothic character most closely associated with Kempe, and for those less disposed to Kempe’s usual style, is perhaps surprisingly attractive.
From the mid 1890s, John Lisle is identified as Kempe’s main designer, and he remained as such until he died in 1927, continuing a style of design after Kempe’s death in 1907 under Water Tower. Tower was his cousin three times removed, and inherited Kempe’s business as well as his house at Old Place in Lindfield, Sussex.
As well as being responsible for all but one of the windows at the Church of St Mary Monmouth, and all of those at the Church of St John, Barmouth, Kempe’s Studio was responsible for large east windows in Wales at Haverfordwest, Pembroke, Builth Wells and Rossett, as well as a series of large windows in Wrexham, now at the Church of St Giles.
Kempe’s work is presented in the books without any illustrations of contemporary firms, and in works of biography there is a danger of seeing the subject in isolation. While Adrian Barlow is sensitive to detractors of Kempe’s style, and deftly balances criticism of his work, he goes as far as to suggest that only John Thornton of Coventry and Barnard Flower in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were as influential on the stained glass of their time. Admirers of A.W.N. Pugin, J.R. Clayton, William Morris, Henry Holiday or Christopher Whall might want to disagree with that.
In fact Kempe’s windows, designed by his Studio and made at his glassworks under his own name or as C.E. Kempe & Co. after 1907, are not quite as unique and recognisable as they might seem. It is true that many of the firms and artists whose work might be mistaken by the untrained eye for Kempe’s were imitators, and some were former employees. Nonetheless, Kempe’s windows are often easily identified by their wheatsheaf mark (superimposed by Tower’s tower after 1907), while Clayton & Bell and Burlison & Grylls rarely signed their windows, and others who made work in a similar style to Kempe, such as Percy Bacon Brothers or Charles Powell, only occasionally signed their work. I even once found a window by John Jennings misidentified as a window by Kempe in a church guide, because it had three wheatsheafs included in its heraldry.
In his biography, Adrian Barlow explains the reason why Kempe’s name is more prevalent in Nikolaus Pevsner’s ‘Buildings of England’ series than many other firms. This was because of the lists of Kempe windows that were provided to Pevsner and his assistants, and had similar lists of other makers work been in circulation, they might have received better coverage. Barlow tries to suggest that Pevsner, hardly an enthusiast for the later Gothic Revival, was at least not anti-Kempe, and contributed to a revival of interest in his work. However, the evidence is a little thin. Citing an example where Pevsner rates a window of 1906 at St James, Sutton-on-Hull, as better than windows by Ward & Hughes from the 1870s and 80s at the same church, is not exactly high praise.
Kempe’s work is increasingly repetitive after 1900: there is little sign of innovation, and a sense that the firm was going through the motions. To some, such consistency of style is dull compared to the contemporary variation found in the work of James Powell & Sons and, to a lesser extent, Burlison & Grylls, while to others it might be seen for its strength and consistency of vision.
With such a high output, repetition is understandable and expected, as can be seen in details from the near contemporary east windows at Builth Wells and Rossett of similar dates. The scene of Christ carrying the cross shares common details in both depictions (over two lights at Builth, three at Rossett), but is reversed and is not exactly the same. In my recent little book of images of St David, I struggled to find any figures of the saint that reused designs or cartoons of others, which it was easy to do in the cases of Morris & Co., Shrigley & Hunt and Robert Newbery.
In Espying Heaven, small sets of illustrations show us examples of Kempe windows depicting particular subjects of different dates, and hint at the possibilities of making such comparisons. Of the largest stained glass firms, only Morris & Co. have been subject to the forensic indexing of designs and cartoons (published by A.C. Sewter in 1974), but with Philip Collins’ published Corpus of Kempe windows of 2000, much of the groundwork for such a task has been done. An online version of this, subject-indexed and with images, could really help us appreciate Kempe’s variety and ingenuity, as well as the necessity and extent to which designs were adapted and repeated.
In the meantime, the online Stained Glass in Wales catalogue remains the only place where it is possible to search for particular subjects by Kempe in order to compare them (or indeed those by other artists and firms). I was also grateful to the Kempe Trust for their financial assistance that enabled me to add more Kempe windows to the catalogue in 2018. Unfortunately it’s still not complete in its coverage of Kempe’s windows and presently restricted to Wales, as funding applications to expand the catalogue to cover other areas have not met with success.
These two books have much to offer to improve our understanding of Kempe’s work and those that he worked with. To order the books visit Lutterworth Press.
It feels a long time since last week. At the end of February I was in discussions to hold a launch of Depicting St David at the Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St David in Cardiff, and although events were beginning to be cancelled or postponed, on Monday 16 March 2020 I gave a short talk after the lunchtime Mass to a small gathering. That afternoon, new government advice discouraged all events of this type and events for St Patrick’s Day on the next day were cancelled. Within days all church services were suspended until further notice as a result of the pandemic, prior to the requirement for us all to stay at home.
The reason why it seemed appropriate to hold a launch of the book at the cathedral – albeit not in such circumstances – was the presence of a unique set of scenes of the Life of David in the sanctuary. Two pairs of two-light windows contain eight scenes from the Life of David, more than any other set of scenes depicting David that I have come across in any other churches.
There is however some uncertainty surrounding the windows. The devastation of Llandaff Cathedral, not far from the city centre, in the Second World War and its subsequent restoration in the 1950s is well known, but St David’s, built as a parish church for the centre of Cardiff in 1885–6, also suffered, and was gutted by an incendiary bomb in 1941.
In June 1897, The Tablet reported on the intention to fill the windows of the chancel with stained glass depicting the saints. David, Teilo, Iltud, Cadog and other local saints, as a memorial to the Vicar-General, the late Monsignor Williams. Although small roundels of Dyfrig, Patrick, Illtud and Teilo are found in the upper tracery lights, the scenes in the windows now are all of David, with Latin inscriptions. Teilo does appear in one of the windows, but in the context of his visit to Jerusalem with David and Padarn, where they are consecrated as bishops.
The survival of these windows in situ, given the terrible destruction of the sanctuary in 1941, seemed unlikely, and I had wondered whether the windows had been saved from four of the two-light windows in the nave and moved there when the cathedral, which had been largely derelict for most of the 1940s and 50s, was restored in the late 1950s. The windows are commensurate with a date of around 1897, and the work of Mayer of Munich. I spoke to Canon Peter Collins, formerly dean of the cathedral, who thought that the windows had indeed survived the bombing in their present position. In support of this possibility, a small amount of stained glass can be seen in a photograph of the interior. It may of course be possible that the original intention to fill the windows with scenes or figures of Teilo, Illtud and Cadog in June 1897 was changed, and a set of scenes of the Life of the patron of the church would have been very appropriate.
My visit to the cathedral afforded me the opportunity to look more carefully at the windows now in the sanctuary, which revealed a couple of important discoveries. Firstly, the inscription to Mgr Williams remains at the foot of one of the windows on the north side, and all of the windows have lost a number of pieces of glass, including some figures, which have been replaced, although the majority of the panels are intact. An amount of restoration would be expected given the long period in which the church stood derelict.
However, comparing the very small amount of stained glass, faintly visible at the edge of the photograph taken after the bomb fell in 1941, with what is in that window now, seems to show that the glass that is there now was not there then. Furthermore, the foliate tracery lights do not clearly match the architectural tops of the present windows, which might suggest that these are the original tracery lights, with the scenes of St David inserted in the 1950s from elsewhere in the church. Although the inscription is present, its continuity with the surrounding glass is not altogether convincing, and could have been inserted into the lower decorative panel at the time of restoration. Some of the two-light windows in the nave have no stained glass, and the main lights are of a similar width and appear to be only slightly taller than those in the sanctuary. Correspondingly, the design of the architectural canopies in the tops of the main lights of the sanctuary windows seem slightly truncated, which would have been necessary if they had been moved from the nave windows, where the upper part of the arched top is taller.
Whether or not these windows are in their original position, and whether or not we have lost scenes of other local saints, these eight scenes include images of certain episodes in the Life of St David that are not found anywhere else, and are therefore a fortunate and important survival.
I’m grateful to Jon Gower for the first review that I have seen of Depicting St David on Nation.Cymru, published on the site on St David’s Day. He titles the review as ‘a glorious little handbook full of unexpected treasures’, which is a very fine thing to say of it. A spread about the book by Jenny White also appeared in the weekend section of the Western Mail on Saturday 29 February.
The publishers are offering a 20% discount off all of their titles this week, until 9 March. That means that for those who don’t have a copy of my Stained Glass from Welsh Churches already, you can buy that and get Depicting St David (almost) for free, post included.
I was also contacted by Matt Lloyd at the BBC who wrote a lighthearted piece for the BBC website, although what I am quoted as saying isn’t quite what I said over the phone! I wasn’t asked for any images and it is not immediately obvious that the stock image at the head of the article depicts St David at all. I did my best to research the image, which is a detail of a stained glass window, and found that the accompanying text on the iStock website describes it as Victorian, which is clearly not the case. From what I can gather, this is an image of St Modomnóc (Modhomhnóg), presumably with David, and probably from a church in Ireland. It seems to show a scene from Rhygyfarch’s Life of David, in which Modomnóc departs to Ireland in the company of his bees. But I have not yet been able to identify the location of the window, which is perhaps at one of the churches dedicated to Modomnóc in Ireland.
Books on stained glass and other ecclesiastical arts from the modern period tend to focus on an artist, studio or designer, on a period or movement, or on a single church or region. This new book does something different, and approaches the field by way of subject matter and iconography, in this case the imagery of a single saint.
About 170 images of David are depicted in the book, from 1840 up to 2015, and most are from churches from across Wales. Some are found in churches that are now closed.
It is common for writers on stained glass to note the tendency of artists and studios to reuse designs and cartoons, and occasionally illustrate examples, as I did in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches. This book provided the opportunity to illustrate the reuse of designs by Heaton, Butler & Bayne, Morris & Co., Shrigley & Hunt, Burlison & Grylls and Robert Newbery, demonstrating that cartoons were not always copied exactly, and were sometimes subject to very different treatments.
For example, after going through all of the images of David that I have found, none of standing figures of St David by C.E. Kempe and his studio reuse the same design, although they are more than twenty in number. By contrast, I have identified eight figures of David by Robert Newbery that all use the same cartoon, which highlights two in particular that do not, in churches at Neath and Llansamlet. Initially I thought that there was a third ‘different’ image of David by Newbery at the Church of St Catherine, Pontypridd, in the west window. Having visited the church a few years ago, where the windows all bore the hallmarks of Newbery, I had assumed that all of the windows in the church were by him (except an obviously new work by Nicola Hopwood), although I was struck by the striking colour and quality of the west window. However, in the process of bringing together all of the images that I had found of David, I discovered that the figure of David in the west window at Pontypridd exactly matched another by Percy Bacon at Monkton Priory, thereby identifying this studio as the manufacturer of the west window at Pontypridd, and not Newbery. I nearly left the Monkton window out, but found a corner for it on my further reading page.
(see update below)
I have just recorded a piece about the book for ‘All Things Considered’, which is broadcast on Radio Wales. Among the things that I was asked was whether I might be annoyed if others wrote to me with further images of David that I had not included (making the assumption that all of the known images of David were illustrated in the book). I have well over a hundred further images of David on my list that there was not space to include, although the inclusion of some of them might have made the book itself rather repetitive, like the cartoons of stained glass. But there are certainly more to be found – as large or incidental figures in windows, and on reredoses and pulpits in various media. Many that I have come across were found by surprise, as probably less than half are documented in any published sources. As I continue to visit churches around Wales I am still finding more, and there are also more to be found outside Wales, although I have not the opportunity to research them.
Depicting St David is now available from the publisher, Y Lolfa, for £7.99 and will shortly be in bookshops, in time for 1 March, Gŵyl Dewi Sant, St David’s Day.
Update 2 September 2020
In the process of reviewing the references to windows by Percy Bacon Brothers at Monkton Priory, I returned to look again at my photographs of the various windows in the church. In the list of windows published by the British Society of Master Glass Painters of work produced by members in the previous twenty years (1930), windows by Percy Bacon include a series of windows in the chapel at Monkton Priory, and a four-light window (of the four evangelists) in the tower. The listing does not include the saints Nicholas, John, Alban and David in a very similar style, although the list makes no claims to be comprehensive, and is not.
It was my attribution of these four saints at Monkton Priory to Percy Bacon that made me reconsider the west window at Pontypridd, and attribute this to Percy Bacon as well, instead of Robert Newbery as I had assumed. The omission of the four saints from the list of windows by Percy Bacon made me look very closely at them and compare their treatment of the faces, the poses of the figures, the decorative detail and the lettering with others more securely attributable to Percy Bacon (at least one of which is signed). While they were close to the evangelists at the same church, I have come to the conclusion that I can find better matches for these elements in other windows by Robert Newbery of around 1920.
It therefore seems to me that my last-minute change of attribution for the image of David in the west window at Church of St Catherine, Pontypridd, was incorrect, and that this is in fact a design from Robert Newbery’s studio.
For some years I have been pondering on the attribution of four windows at the Chapel of St Non, which stands on the cliffs above St Nons Bay, near St Davids. The chapel was built in 1934 adjacent to St Non’s Well and the ruined medieval chapel, and was intended to provide a focus for Catholic devotion to St David and his mother, St Non.
The east window is signed and dated, both of which are something of a surprise. The window is dated 1920, before the chapel was built, as it was originally made for St Non’s House, while the name of the maker, ‘William Morris Westminster’, is not the William Morris known to most as the celebrated Victorian poet, artist and socialist, but an entirely unconnected designer of stained glass, whose work was popular in the 1920s and 30s.
The reason for my interest in other windows in the chapel is that they also depict Welsh saints and for some time I have been working on a book on the imagery of Welsh saints. One of the windows is a particularly fine one of St Brychan, who stands with the Nevern cross behind him. There is also a window depicting St David, and while I prepare the book, I have been working on a smaller study in the interim, on the imagery of St David, which is far more plentiful than the imagery of any other Welsh saint. So I wanted to include this window of David at St Non’s in this smaller book, which will be published shortly under the title Depicting St David.
There is a rather simple charm to the execution of the windows, and the figures have largely plain quarries around them and quite distinctive borders. I wondered whether they could be the work of John Hardman & Co., makers of many windows for Catholic patrons, but could not find any direct correlations. Another maker that I considered was Frederick Charles Eden, although none of the windows by him that I had come across appeared to be quite the same. I found that some had quite similar border patterns, but a similar kind of edging around the frame of a window was also used for windows by other studios, such as Burlison & Grylls and C.E. Kempe & Co. I even found a window that was almost certainly by the same maker, also in south-west Wales at Marros, although I could find no attribution for this window either, or any trace of any records that might help.
Not far away from Marros in Carmarthenshire is a complete set of windows at Eglwys Cymun that are thought to be the work of Frederick Eden, and span a period from 1906 to 1915. There are various differences in execution: some have none of the coloured bands and silver stained patterns around the edge of the windows, the style of text is different, and some have more decorative painted detail. This can be accounted for by the fact that during this period, in about 1909–10, Eden established his own studio to make the windows that he designed. As the last are nearly twenty years earlier than the windows at St Non’s, direct correlations need not be expected, even if the same designer or maker was responsible. Nonetheless I kept returning to what little I could find by Eden online and in my archive, because I sensed similarities in the painterly style and in the borders and lettering found at St Non’s, and at Marros.
As a result of this search, in which I also sought to find out about the studios that Eden worked with prior to the establishment of his own (I’m sure that I have come across or been told about a reference to a firm that he worked with somewhere before!), I discovered that a summary catalogue of Eden’s drawings from c. 1909–44 in the V&A Art and Design Archive was available online. I was delighted, and lucky, to find an entry for ‘Four grouped lancets’ for ‘St. Non’s Chapel, Pembrokeshire’. Nothing is included in the list for Marros, or Eglwys Cymun, so the list is far from a complete list of his windows. I did however note a design for St Deiniol and St Christopher, which I surmised would probably be in Wales somewhere, and concluded that it was one of the porch windows at the Church of St Deiniol, Hawarden. This window had been attributed to Haswall or (possibly Frank) Haswell in Malcolm Seaborne’s list of stained glass in Flintshire Churches, even though its companion window of the same date was attributed to Eden by Seaborne.
Another researcher who has used the V&A Art and Design Archive for researching windows in Wales is Peter Jones, who had kindly provided confirmation of my tentative attribution of Eden’s work at Llanfairfechan, and submitted another window by Eden at Llanbedr-y-cennin to the Stained Glass in Wales catalogue some years ago.
While continuing to search for more windows by Eden online, I did discover a very good match for the figure of David at St Nons, in the guise of Nicholas at the Church of St Peter, Henfield, and dated 1935, which has been added to Wikipedia. It also shares the same kind of lettering, painterly style and borders as the St Non’s windows. But as Peter Jones noted in his comment on the Llanfairfechan window, Eden had a severe stroke in 1934, around the time that the St Non’s windows were made. That a window so similar was made by Eden’s studio in 1935 suggests that by this stage the studio was able to continue to produce windows in his idiom without his direct involvement, and that a house-style was in full swing and could be replicated as required.
Plenty of questions remain, such as the name(s) of the studio that made Eden’s windows prior to the establishment of his own stained glass studio, and also the identities of the painters and glaziers who worked for him into the 1930s. But at least I am convinced that the four windows in the north and south walls of the chapel at St Nons are his designs and almost certainly the product of his studio, and I can attribute them as such in the book.
During the course of browsing through diocesan archives at the National Library of Wales some years ago, I noticed an abrupt change of policy in the commissioning of stained glass in the Diocese of Llandaff in the late 1950s. The change was from the endorsement of quite conservative design, and the avoidance of additional background detail and ornament, to a much more colourful and modern approach to stained glass design. There was also a concerted encouragement to commission stained glass by Welsh artists, which chiefly benefited the firm of Celtic Studios, in Swansea, and John Petts.
I noted this in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches (p. 268–9), and expanded upon it in a lecture given in Cambridge in 2016. This has now been published in my first article for the Journal of Stained Glass (vol. 42, 2018), and illustrates windows that I would have liked to have included in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches but didn’t have the space for.
One of the striking things about the distribution of stained glass by Celtic Studios is that, although their windows are found widely across the whole of south Wales, few were commissioned for churches in Cardiff. I pointed this out in a footnote to Stained Glass from Welsh Churches on p. 248, noting that windows by the firm in Cardiff were limited to two Anglican churches, a Presbyterian church and a synagogue. As a result of some recent fieldwork, one of these Anglican churches can be crossed off the list. A ‘major early window’ of theirs is mentioned by John Newman in the Pevsner (The Buildings of Wales: Glamorgan, 1995, p. 313) at St Mary’s, Whitchurch, and although it is not listed in the appendix of Maurice Broady’s study of the firm (A Vision Fulfilled, 2010), I did not question Newman’s reference as the window was described as ‘signed and dated 1948’.
I recently arranged to visit St Mary’s, which is usually locked, and discovered that this impressive window is in fact signed and dated, but by Powell’s of Whitefriars, and not by Celtic Studios at all.
Reflecting on this, and looking again at post-war commissions for stained glass in and around Cardiff, I feel that perhaps I should have given a little more weight to the number of these commissions that went to Powell’s in the 1940s and 50s, which included the replacement east window for St Margaret’s, Roath (Cardiff), a major work alongside that at Whitchurch and others. These are enumerated in Dennis Hadley’s list of works by Powell’s, compiled from their archives at the V&A in London. But, strangely, the west window at Whitchurch is not among them, although two earlier windows by them at the church are listed.
2018 saw the publication of Jasmine Allen’s book on the display of stained glass at the international exhibitions held in the second half of the nineteenth century.
In addition to the description of these exhibitions and some consideration of the stylistic and national diversity, the book includes a list of the artists and stained glass firms who exhibited work at the eleven exhibitions that form the basis of the study. It’s striking how many of them are completely unknown to us today.
My review of the book has now appeared in issue 127 of the online journal Vidimus.
The most recent issue of the Journal of Stained Glass (vol. 41, 2017, published 2018) was a special issue dedicated to the work and archives of the Glass House in Fulham, which was the hub of Arts and Crafts stained glass in London in the first half of the twentieth century. Primarily the work of Alan Brooks and Peter Cormack, the volume includes a transcription of their business archives and brief biographies of artists whose windows were made at the Glass House.
There is much to learn from this fascinating material and the accompanying essays, and I looked through the listings to see what might illuminate my research on stained glass in Wales. One entry that stood out was a window by Patience Hallward at the little church at Arthog, near Dolgellau in Gwynedd, and as I was giving a talk on the stained glass of Dolgellau and the surrounding area, I arranged to visit the church. The window was one of two stained glass windows at the church dated, but unattributed, in The Buildings of Wales: Gwynedd (2009).
Arts and Crafts stained glass is often associated with colourful and emotive original artistry and imagery, but the business archives are a reminder that the practicalities of earning a living as a stained glass artist can be rather more mundane. Among the listings for the one of the foremost artists of the medium, Margaret Chilton, are entries for the Marble Hall in City Hall, Cardiff, and the plain glazing of the Church of the Holy Spirit, Ewloe, which were commissions for restorations and repairs, and not original works. The window by Patience Hallward at Arthog is a relatively simple memorial window, with the dedication at the centre of the design. It is beautifully executed, with flowers and sheaves of wheat for decoration, and the lovely textured quality to the glass is typical of an interest in materials that characterised the Art and Crafts Movement. The artist had moved to Arthog with her father, Reginald Hallward, who was also an artist and also designed stained glass, so she would have been a local artist to the church in 1952 when the window was made.
The east window at Arthog is also quite unusual. The three-light window depicts the Annunciation to the Shepherds, but the scene is executed in white glass, with a single piece of pale blue glass used in the lower part of the scene to the left. The detail is provided by paint and silver stain, but the effect is rather monochrome. It reminded me of a series of monochrome windows that I came across relatively recently at Halkyn in Flintshire, which were so unusual that I was sorry to have found them too late to include in my Stained Glass from Welsh Churches (2014). These were listed by Malcolm Seaborne in his survey of Victorian and later stained glass in Flintshire and attributed to Heaton, Butler & Bayne, part of a complete glazing scheme provided for the Church of St Mary, Halkyn, in 1878.
On first sight, the east window at Arthog was also reminiscent of the work of the same firm, and I subsequently compared my photographs of the window with those at Halkyn. Not only was there a discernable similarity of style, but I discovered that the same cartoon had been used at both churches. What was different about the two versions was that the scene at Halkyn is entirely monochrome, with no silver stain. This is something that I have not seen in nineteenth-century stained glass anywhere else, although I am sure other similar windows will have been made elsewhere.
I could not easily measure the width of the panels at Arthog, but it looks as though they were slightly narrower than those at Halkyn, judging by the central panel depicting the two angels. At Halkyn, the arm of the left-hand angel is raised at the edge of the panel, but at Arthog there is not sufficient room, and a hand is folded in from the left. This panel also omits the narrow border found on the right and at either side of both of the flanking panels, to accommodate both hands of the other angel, and the complete halo of the left-hand angel.
This could suggest that the design at Halkyn might have been the original and the window at Arthog a reuse of the cartoon. Seaborne confidently dates the Halkyn glass to November 1878 from a newspaper report, while the Arthog window is of uncertain date, but probably early 1877 or later. It could have been made after the version at Halkyn, or the design might have predated both commissions, and adapted for use at both churches. It would be interesting to see whether the design was used for a coloured stained glass window, or whether it was reserved for largely or wholly monochrome windows as found at these churches.
I started this blog four and a half years after publishing Stained Glass from Welsh Churches in summer 2014. The book has now won a prize! It has been awarded the Mrs Foster Watson Memorial Gift, which is awarded every five years to a member of staff of Aberystwyth University for published work that combines scholarship with general interest.
The assessors commented: ‘It is a substantial work of pioneering scholarship, spanning the centuries. At the same time it explains the development of this specialist art-form and craft in terms that the wider audience of cultured readers will understand. It thus fits perfectly the criteria set for the competition and fully deserves the award’.
The news arrived a couple of weeks ago, while I was working with the publishers, Y Lolfa, on an application to the Welsh Books Council to help with publishing a book on the imagery of Welsh saints in Welsh churches. The award was formally recognised at a drinks reception held at Old College, Aberystwyth, 17 December 2018.
Early stained glass is quite rare in south Wales, particularly in comparison with north Wales, and much of the most notable early stained glass in the region comes from overseas. It was with some surprise that, on a recent visit to a number of churches in Monmouthshire, I came across some sixteenth-century heraldic stained glass that I have not seen noted anywhere before.
I arranged to visit the church to see its late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century stained glass, but was intrigued by some coloured and painted glass that I found in the chancel windows. The two two-light windows both had roundels containing complete or partial coats of arms, with coloured and stained fragments around the borders. The window on the north side also had an inscription along the bottom, and although most of the paint has been lost, the ‘ghost’ of the letters was faintly visible.
Sometimes early and mid-nineteenth-century stained glass can appear very faded as the paint sometimes deteriorates, and at the time, since I was not expecting anything so old, I wondered whether this was badly-fired nineteenth-century work. But the more I looked, I thought that there must be a good chance that this stained glass was indeed a few hundred years old, particularly given the way in which small parts of glass were leaded together in a rather irregular way. Nonetheless, the fact that I had not seen anything published about this glass weighed against such an assumption. It was not mentioned in John Newman’s ‘Pevsner’ for Gwent/Monmouthshire, and it is not included in Andrew Renton’s survey of pre-1700 stained glass in south Wales, published in Vidimus in 2009, although there are a few other omissions from this list that I have come across. Nothing about them was included in the notes on the building available at the church.
On returning home I checked the Pevsner once again and found the CADW Full Report for Listed Buildings, neither of which mentioned any early stained glass at the church. I then had a look at Joseph Bradney’s multi-volume History of Monmouthshire, to see if it might help with the heraldry found in the windows. In the past I have found this work particularly unhelpful for researching stained glass, but in this instance he does mention some stained glass that was formerly at the church, lamenting that it had only very recently been removed from the church (the book, his first volume, was published in 1904).
He describes the windows in heraldic terms, and it took me a little while to decipher the descriptions (e.g. Argent, a chevron sable between three ravens proper and Argent, a cross moline quarter pierced sable; Sable, a fosse between three escallops or, a crescent for difference), but the four descriptions match what is currently at the church very closely, suggesting that what was taken out in around 1903 has since been carefully restored. The glass was formerly in a three-light window, with a fourth heraldic roundel in a south chancel window, and it must be that the commissioning of the present east window (by Ninian Comper) displaced this pre-Reformation stained glass, which had no doubt hitherto been in its original position. At some unknown date, and possibly quite soon after the new east window was placed there in 1903, the glass was obviously carefully restored to the church: the three roundels from the east window joined by the one Bradney recorded in the south chancel window (but now in the north) in the north and south windows of the chancel.
As well as identifying one of the arms as those of Elizabeth, wife of Sir Charles Herbert, Bradney also transcribes an inscription, which asks for prayers in favour of Sir Charles Herbert and his wife Elizabeth ‘qui hanc fenestram vitriari fecerunt’ (who caused this window to be glazed). I have not yet discovered the date of their marriage, which would give us an earliest date for the window, but Charles Herbert of Troy (1500–57) would have been unlikely to have placed the window much before 1520. The donor suffered a decline in fortunes in the later years of his life, and also remarried, so Bradney’s suggested date of about 1540 seems about right.
The displeasure of an historian such as Joseph Bradney in learning of the recent loss of the windows is not unexpected. Nonetheless, these rather dilapidated reminders of sixteenth-century gentry patronage had probably outlasted their welcome for the congregation, who probably preferred the new modern pictorial window. At least Bradney’s worst fears turned out to be unfounded, and this important historical stained glass has continued to survive more than a hundred years since he pronounced it lost.