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Over the last few months I have been collaborating on a book about the stained glass at the Church of St Peter, Lampeter. The initiative for the book came from John Hammond, an expert on stained glass war memorials, and we have written the book together, with publication funded by the church.
The difference between writing an overview of stained glass in churches and writing a guide that includes all of the windows in the church is that all of the windows need some attention, whether good or bad, and whether or not it is possible to attribute them. In the case of this church, only a few of the windows have signatures, and while the style of some other makers are clear, or have been identified from archives, a handful remained unattributed.
The church does contain a really fine window. The west window is the last monumental work by Wilhelmina Geddes, and the recent biography of the artist by Nicola Gordon Bowe is so detailed that it makes the window perhaps the most comprehensively documented stained glass window in Wales. Since the window contains a figure of the patron of the church, St Peter, it is featured on the cover.
This was the last window added to the church, but the first were windows by Daniel Bell working with Richard Almond in 1870, and also a window that I considered to be by Lavers & Barraud of the same date. Exactly how many of these 1870s windows were also by Daniel Bell (and Richard Almond, with whom he worked until 1875) was uncertain, and given the fact that relatively few windows attributed to Daniel Bell (brother to the better known Alfred Bell) have been published, it has been difficult to make comparisons with other windows by the artist.
Another window that I was particularly keen to attribute was an attractive First World War memorial. The window is more colourful than much contemporary stained glass, and exhibited unusually loose glass painting in a few areas of the background. The window had no makers’ mark that we were able to discern, and we did our best to go through all of the church and diocesan archives that might be able to date or identify the maker of the window. These efforts failed to find even the date of the window, and I thought that I ought to consult a few experts that I knew in case any suggested attributions came to light.
After a couple of conversations by email, I was at least approaching the idea that the window was not the work of an individual artist associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement, but was more likely to be by a larger studio, even if it was a livelier window than the usual output of the period. This was then corroborated by a suggestion from Neil Moat that it was the work of John Clement Bell for Clayton & Bell. Given the character of the other windows that I knew of by the firm from around the time of the First World War, this window was something quite different, and unlike anything else that I could find by the firm published online or in print – not that our libraries are full of illustrations of twentieth-century Clayton & Bell windows.
The only other vaguely comparable window by the firm that I knew of was at Beaumaris: a colourful five-light Crucifixion scene. There wasn’t quite the same freshness of colour and painting here, and the painting of the faces was rather different to that in the Lampeter window. However, when I looked at the painting of the angels above, there did seem to be a greater correspondence with the the faces in the Lampeter window. Surely there was a second glass painter at work here in the Beaumaris window (probably more of course).
But the most startling similarity between the two windows was a very tiny detail. Many Clayton & Bell windows, going back well into the nineteenth century, feature little stars that are nonetheless prominent in the design. These two windows also had little stars in the upper parts of the window, and are remarkably similar in execution.
Was the principal glass painter of the Lampeter war memorial working at Clayton & Bell’s studio when he or she painted it? Can we identify the influence of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic (a controversial idea, let alone a definable one) in the output of Clayton & Bell in the 1910s or 20s? Are there many more windows by Clayton & Bell of the period that remain unidentified because of their dissimilarity to what we expect their windows to look like?
The answers to such questions are known by the very few people who have in-depth knowledge of British twentieth-century ecclesiastical stained glass. And it is with sadness that I have to record that in the time since I corresponded with Neil Moat he died suddenly, so now there is now one fewer.
About two and half years ago I revisited the Church of St Gwenllwyfo, Llanwenllwyfo, in northern Anglesey, and began a conversation that has resulted in a new book on the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Continental stained glass at the church.
When I first attempted to write about the stained glass on the online ‘Stained Glass in Wales’ catalogue, I turned to the notes written by J.O. Hughes that were produced as a small unillustrated booklet in 1995. The booklet left a lot of unanswered questions as it did not list any sources, but, when writing Stained Glass from Welsh Churches in 2013–14, I was able to find further writing about the stained glass of the period in scholarly articles and catalogues which alluded to the dating, provenance and attribution of the panels at Llanwenllwyfo.
Some of this writing confirmed what J.O. Hughes had written about much of the earlier sixteenth-century glass, which was thought to have originated at the Leuven Charterhouse, and the important article by Yvette Vanden Bemden and Jill Kerr identified a number of them among the ‘Anglesea Group’, which also encompassed similar panels elsewhere. Some writers went further, and Hilary Wayment attributed couple of the panels to the Master of the Mass of St Gregory, the painter of a roundel of that name now at the V&A, or to his workshop. Although I admit that I found some of the arguments confusing, in the absence of any writing that I could find at the time to contradict this attribution, I broadly adopted Wayment’s attributions in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches. I also used his attributions in an article on the stained glass for Vidimus, published early in 2014, hoping that I might receive some feedback from scholars more versed in the stained glass of the Low Countries on the validity of these attributions.
Around the time that I visited Llanwenllwyfo again in 2014, a small bequest from the family had been set aside to publish the research of J.O. and Catherine Hughes as a small book, and I was very pleased to be asked to design and produce the book. This consisted of an introduction about the gentry families involved in the building of the church and the acquisition of the stained glass, and then descriptions of each of the main panels.
I also took the opportunity to look more closely at each of the panels and collate the writing on them in other sources. It was during this process that the attribution to the St Gregory Master appeared to me to be increasingly doubtful, mainly because the similarities between a group of the panels, here and elsewhere, seemed to be greater with each other than to those attributed to the St Gregory Master. I was also struck by their similarity to panels that had recently been associated with Jan Rombouts by Yvette Bruijnen. These panels were also from the collection of Sir Thomas Neave, but now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and at Prittlewell, Essex. Some of these conclusions will be published shortly in a feature for the online journal Vidimus, and are alluded to in a short contribution that I have written for the new book.
That it has been such a long time since Avril Lloyd at the church first discussed the draft of the text that she had prepared from the notes of J.O. and Catherine Hughes about two years ago is down to a variety of reasons. These included other commitments on my part, the time taken for the texts to be translated and checked and finally securing the funding to print the book as intended. The book is now available this autumn on my Sulien Books website for £10 + postage, and from the church.
A fuller account of Thomas Johnes’ collection of stained glass at Hafod has now been published in the online journal Vidimus. This is the feature article for the 100th issue, so congratulations to the Vidimus team on this milestone issue.
The website for Sulien Books will soon have details of another new book about another collection of sixteenth-century continental glass, that from the Neave collection now at Llanwenllwyfo, Anglesey. I am also working on an article about this collection to follow up what I have written about it in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches and in an earlier article in Vidimus.
Sulien Books was established in 2014 to publish material relevant to the visual culture of churches, particularly stained glass, and the decorative arts of the medieval period.
Also available on the website are my limited edition booklets featuring artwork based on the late medieval grotesques at Gresford, and the Cistercian tiles at Strata Florida. I have further plans to publish more small books on ecclesiastical art in Wales and welcome commissions for design, photography and the production of church guides and studies of stained glass and other decorative arts, as well as postcards and heritage interpretation such as leaflets and large displays.
The sorry remains of Thomas Johnes’ collection of sixteenth-century continental glass at Hafod seem to have escaped any scholarly attention since their arrival in west Wales in about 1803. Even the distinguished local antiquarian, George Eyre Evans, in his description of the church published a hundred years later, hoped that a ‘reader, who is well up in glass of this kind, would furnish an account of this window, at once full and reliable. My own opinions about it are as yet too crude and too immature for exportation.’ He was writing of the east window at the Church of St Michael, Eglwys Newydd, Hafod, and within thirty years the window was alomost completely lost in a devastating fire.
His faith in his knowledge about the glass matched my own when I added the panels to the online ‘Stained Glass in Wales‘ catalogue about five years ago, and I managed to fill a page of Stained Glass from Welsh Churches with two ilustrations and some information and references.
So when my colleague, Mary-Ann Constantine, was seeking contributions for speakers and contributors for a day of talks, performances and interventions at Hafod for an event as part of the Coleridge in Wales Festival, I didn’t think that I would be able to manage much more than ten minutes at best, which I was told would be fine. I then thought that a little picture book on the glass would be a good idea, and would help visitors to see the fragments, some of which are quite high up in the sanctuary windows that contain glass salvaged from the east window in 1932.
A newspaper report related the sorry story. ‘The Flemish window above the chancel lay beneath our feet, a mass of molten metal and coloured glass, intermixed with what remained of the Jacobean altar chairs and the slates from the roof.’ Today, reading the information about the stained glass in the displays and leaflets at the church can seem contradictory. There are stories that suggest that it was brought from a German convent, others that it came from Holland during the French Revolution, another tradition says that the glass was brought from the former Priory Church of St Mary of Cardigan. Although the glass was formerly in chancel window, earlier sources located the stained glass, given by Thomas Johnes, in a transept window or a north-west window.
So I have risen to the challenge of making something of these fragments, and produced not only a picture book of all of the main diamonds and roundels, but also a fuller account of what can be deduced from the glass and reconciling the few sources that mention it. This will be published shortly in the online journal Vidimus, and I am also very grateful to Joseph Spooner for sending on a transcription of a letter (discovered by Marie Groll) mentioning the stained glass bought by Thomas Johnes that sheds new light on its acquisition.
If only George Eyre Evans had troubled to explain even the subjects and arrangement of the panels, and perhaps discovered whether or not it had been recently moved, we would know rather more about the glass. I hope that my attempts to draw attention to the glass at Hafod may yet encourage a ‘reader, who is well up in glass of this kind’ to add to our knowledge of these fragments of Renaissance stained glass.
The book is available from me for £5 plus postage, but I will put a link up before long to a new website for my imprint Sulien Books, I will also add a note when the next Vidimus is published.
In an addition to a post about five months ago I mentioned an upcoming exhibition and book about the work of Margaret Rope.
Margaret Agnes Rope (1882–1953) was born in Shrewsbury and was trained in stained glass at Birmingham School of Art under Henry Payne. Her first major work was for Shrewsbury Cathedral and in September an exhibition about her work opens at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.
The exhibition ‘Heavenly Lights: The Untold Story of Stained Glass Artist Margaret Agnes Rope’ runs from 12 September 2016 to 15 January 2017.
As part of this initiative, Arthur Rope has produced a large-format book of her work with colour illustrations of full windows and details, and a list of her works. It is a considerable achievement, and a reminder of how little has been published on artists of this quality working in stained glass. Faced with a vast gap in developed academic study of the field of stained glass, and art in churches in general, books like this, as well as those by Roy Albutt and Alan Brooks’ study of Francis Spear, have mostly been privately published and rely on the strength of conviction (and financial commitment) of their authors.
These books, from the bottom up, if you like, easily outnumber those from the top down, such as Peter Cormack’s recent Arts and Crafts Stained Glass (2015). This is a book about which I have intended to write on these pages for some time, and may do yet. With such a huge range of material at his disposal, Peter Cormack’s book only illustrates couple of panels and one full window by Margaret Rope and does not have the space to discuss her work in any detail, which ably demonstrates the huge amount of work still to be published on the artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement. There are also those artists and studios earlier in the nineteenth century and later in the twentieth century about whom so little has been written, as well as the contemporaries of Henry Payne and Margaret Rope that have not been connected with the Arts & Crafts ethos, and remain (even) less fashionable.
Margaret Rope of Shrewsbury is announced on its title page as ‘an exhibition of her works in a book’, and since the book lacks a narrative, this is very much the case. Here, the contrast with Nicola Gordon Bowe’s recent book on Wilhelmina Geddes is stark, as her years of research and study have yielded a fascinatingly insightful portrait of the artist offering an absorbing narrative that sheds so much light on the windows.
In the case of Margaret Rope, she left few records, and there is an appeal for more information about her, as well as a team of volunteer archivists gathered by Shrewsbury Museum with the task of researching her life and work. In the meantime, we have a new book of her work, which will be available at the exhibition in September and beforehand via mail order, for details see Arthur Rope’s website.
The story of why medieval stained glass survives in some places and not in others is an intriguing one and not always well understood. This is something that I have recently written about in an article for Historic Churches, to be published in June.
The Reformation of the mid-sixteenth century turned the tide on the use of imagery in the church and it is often thought that windows were smashed when the altars were stripped and statues of saints removed and destroyed. It is not clear how much this was actually the case, and, as Richard Marks points out in his Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages (1993), attacks on stained glass ‘should not be overestimated’ and stained glass windows ‘were permitted to remain intact because of the expense of replacement’ (pp. 231–2).
We do know that pictorial medieval stained glass was destroyed in Wales during the 1640s, but a great deal was probably thrown away because of its gradual decay and neglect, even as late as the mid-nineteenth century. My article then gives examples of the ways in which medieval stained glass was retained and restored in medieval churches during the nineteenth century. Sometimes fragments of medieval glass were incorporated into new compositions, and often fragments were simply leaded together as a jigsaw without any pictorial meaning. In fact, these panels strike me as essentially abstract works, made in a period before abstraction was taken up seriously in visual art.
Historic Churches is an annual magazine and has published a number of useful articles on stained glass in recent years, particularly in relation to conservation. Many of these articles are available online, including a useful article by Sarah Brown that provides useful context on the iconoclasm of the Reformation and the Civil War in England. Perusing these articles I came across an article on the nineteenth-century Welsh pioneer David Evans, something that I am sorry to have missed a coupe of years ago, as it would have deserved a reference in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches.
Back in 2006 I first met Nicola Gordon Bowe at the first conference of the ‘Imaging the Bible in Wales’ project in Lampeter, when she gave a distinguished lecture on the Irish artist Wilhelmina Geddes. This was at a time when I had only recently begun to look seriously at stained glass, as part of my work on the project recording biblical art in Wales. Apart from the window that Geddes made for the Church of St Peter, Lampeter, I knew nothing of her work. Nicola’s lecture left none of us in any doubt that Geddes was a consummate artist, who, like many others who have worked in glass, had been neglected in the prevailing fashion for painters and sculptors and the usual canon of movements in western art.
This is underlined in Nicola’s masterly new book on the artist. Rightly known as the expert on that other Irish luminary of stained glass, Harry Clarke, her book presents a detailed survey of Geddes’ career with many illustrations of her work and archival photographs. While her windows and preparatory drawings are most prominent, work in other media demonstrate the extraordinary ability of the artist.
Wilhelmina Geddes is presented as an artist whose medievalism is not outweighed by her modernism, and who found modernism in the stained glass figures at Chartres of the eleventh and twelfth century. Her windows are often monumental, while attentive to detail, and unusual in their composition, as the detail on the cover demonstrates.
The importance of her window at Lampeter was recognised by my colleague on the ‘Imaging the Bible in Wales’ project, John Morgan-Guy, whose suggestion to invite Nicola Gordon Bowe to our conference was inspired. The window was the most significant of her late works, and the commission is given plenty of attention in chapters ten and eleven, with numerous illustrations.
Wilhelmina Geddes: Life and Work, by Nicola Gordon Bowe, is published by Four Courts Press.