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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.
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.
I have been writing a booklet about the stained glass at the Church of St Peter in Carmarthen, which is being published this month. The opportunity to write this short study raised a couple of intriguing questions regarding the attribution of two of the windows in the church.
The window on the north side of the nave, depicting the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, had been attributed to the London firm Heaton, Butler & Bayne, but this did not appear to be correct according to what I have seen of their work around this date (1870). In considering other possibile makers of the window, I thought about Joseph Bell of Bristol. This long-lived firm made two windows in the south aisle of the same church, and one at the east end of this aisle, an area formerly used as a consistory court. This big east window was signed by Bell (1864), and the ones on the south side were either attributable to Bell from newspaper reports, or by clear stylistic parallels.
Although the style of the 1870 window is quite different from these earlier works, there were nonetheless parallels with the east window of Trinity College Chapel, Carmarthen, made by Joseph Bell in 1873. In both windows there are some similarities in the poses, lettering, the red halo used for Christ, and they have a darker, richer, palette. The contrast to the brighter colours and Neo-classical style of drawing found in the windows by Bell of the 1860s is nevertheless quite marked, and shows how a window could be very different from another made only six years earlier by the same studio.
A further window at the church posed a more difficult problem. The window is situated between the Crucifixion and Resurrection window and a First World War memorial, which I had been able to attribute to Percy Bacon Brothers from the British Society of Master Glass Painters list of 1930, a detail of which was used in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches (2014). The main scene in the window, depicting Christ as the Good Shepherd with St Peter, looked markedly different from other windows that I have come across from this period, although the Gothic framing around it was very conventional. But I could not find anything else that seemed to match the style and identify the maker.
Finally, I came across a newspaper report of the unveiling service which contained the information that I had sought, which came with a surprise: ‘The design which is in beautiful stained glass represents the Good Shepherd and also St. Peter with the Keys. A suitable inscription on a brass plate at the foot, completes the memorial, which was carried out by Mr W. B. Simpson, of Martin’s Lane, London’ (The Carmarthen Weekly Reporter, 2 October 1903, 4).
At first I thought that this firm had only made the brass plate, but after reading it again it seemed likely that Simpson’s had made the plate and the window. However, I had not heard of the firm before, certainly not as makers of stained glass, so, having found a name, it was an unexpected one. Some further research revealed that they did indeed have a stained glass studio at St Martin’s Lane in London, and also that the artist Lewis Foreman Day had quite a long association with the firm, designing for their products in various media. Whether he was the designer, or how typical the window is of their output, has been impossible to easily assess, as I have yet to find any other images of their stained glass.
The firm was apparently better known as producers of ceramic tiles, making many thousands of them for public buildings such as hospitals and theatres in the late nineteenth century, as well as the London Underground. I also found that I had come across their tiles already in Wales, as Simpson’s firm was responsible for tiles at St Asaph Cathedral, and made the pictorial tiled scheme designed by Horatio Walter Lonsdale depicting scenes from the First Book of Kings for the roof garden of the Bute Tower of Cardiff Castle.
The Stained Glass of the Church of St Peter, Carmarthen, is now available from Sulien Books.
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.