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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.
There are many windows in churches from the nineteenth and twentieth century for which we do not know the names of the artists or studios responsible. Sometimes windows are signed or their makers are identified in secondary literature, archive sources or as signatures. Occasionally new names crop up in this process. For example, I found a signature on a window in the Church of St Augustine, Rumney, attributing it to H.W. Lloyd, although I have been unable to discover anything more about this artist/studio. The signature notes their address, which may read 107 Hanley Road, although unfortunately the name of the town is lost into the muck and sill of the window.
It would be good to identify any commercial stained glass studios that existed in Wales prior to the 1930s, as none making pictorial glass have yet come to light. A window at the former Ebenezer Welsh Independent Batist Chapel, Cardiff, is very clearly signed ‘W. Davis & Son, Cardiff’ but nothing more is known of them. One possibility is that W. Davis & Sons was a maker and supplier of leaded window lights, who occasionally bought in painted panels like this rather than make them in their own studio, and then assembled and installed the window in the chapel.
Examples of misattribution can happen as a result of the building contractor or other supplier being credited for the making of a stained glass window that in fact was bought in from a stained glass studio. In these instances, correspondence and invoices may survive in church records relating to windows installed or supplied by the building contractor or glazier, but which do not not necessarily provide the evidence of where a window was made.
An example of this may be found at the recently closed Church of All Saints, Cwmffrwdoer, Pontnewynydd. The west window of the church contains four figures from two windows brought from the Church of St Luke, Pontnewynydd, which closed more than twenty years ago. These were both war memorial windows (1924 and 1948), and the names provided for the windows by John Newman in The Buildings of Wales Gwent/Monmouthshire (2000) are J. Newton Whitely for the 1924 window, and E.G. Croney for the later window, both of Bristol.
I could not find anything further about these makers/firms, and while that does not mean that they did not exist, the earlier figures look very much like the work of J. Wippell & Co. of Exeter and the later ones have similarities with G. Maile & Son, who were busy in the region soon after the Second World War (for identification of windows by Wippell’s see my previous post).
Some months ago I received an enquiry about a fine window in Llandrindod Wells, which I also sought advice on when preparing Stained Glass from Welsh Churches. I was grateful to Alan Brooks (author of books in the Buildings of England series) who pointed me in the direction of William Pearce of Birmingham. Following this suggestion, the similarities with other windows by the firm that I had seen looked obvious, but I hadn’t come across anything as good as this by the firm. However, this more recent correspondent discovered that, according to a contemporary newspaper report, the window was supplied by G.A. Rowson of Shrewsbury.
This seemed to be an obvious case of a firm supplying a window made by another studio, but the same correspondent had discoverd that G.A. Rowson was indeed in business as a glass stainer (not simply a glazier), in a bankrupcy notice from 1927. Perhaps he wasn’t very good! The name Rowson was familiar to me because a window at the Church of St Illtyd, Llantwit Fardre, had been attributed to G.A. Rowson in a little guide to the church. When I looked at the window again, I immediately recognised the style of William Pearce in the treatment of the faces, and so it could be that once again Rowson was supplying work by Pearce. But there may be other possibilities. Rowson could have been employing a glass painter who worked before or after for Pearce, or perhaps Rowson was trained by Pearce and then left to set up his own firm.
In the same guide to the church at Llantwit Fardre, three windows are attributed to the architectural practice Caroe & Partners, who have never made stained glass to my knowledge, but all of these windows closely match the style of Alfred Wilkinson.
So, in conclusion, it is great to find a signature on a window or a newspaper article naming the firm who supplied a stained glass window, but that doesn’t necessarily correspond with the actual maker of a window. On the other hand, I don’t think that we should be surprised to find the names of makers that we currently know nothing about.
And finally, a word of warning. Many of the windows under discussion here are not of great artistic quality or interest, although they have other kinds of cultural significance. Furthermore, two of the examples are now in churches that have been closed, and while one is now safe in the hands of another denomination, these windows, as importance evidence of stained glass practice, are sometimes at risk of being lost.
I have been able to attribute a small set of windows in the Swansea area to Wippell’s of Exeter after looking at them again in the light of other attributed windows.
A correspondent recently drew my attention to his research on the First World War memorial window by the firm at Bedwellty, where there is also another three-light window by the firm, depicting Faith, Hope and Charity, of a similar date.
Only a few weeks previously I was looking again at a group of windows at the Church of All Saints, Kilvey Hill (now closed), and the Church of St Mary, Briton Ferry, that I realised were all by the same maker. This was most clearly seen in the lettering but also the manner of the paintwork and the hint of an Arts & Crafts style.
Realising that the heads in the Faith, Hope and Charity window at Bedwellty had similarities with some of the saints in the Kilvey Hill chancel windows, and comparing the lettering and colouring, it became clear that the two pairs of saints at Kilvey Hill and the east window and a south aisle window at Briton Ferry were clearly all by Wippell’s as well. This includes the impressive Ascension at Briton Ferry of about 1922, a three-light east window, that I would probably have included in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches if I had been able to identify the maker. I had been unable to discover the identity of the maker from archival work, or of the saints at Kilvey Hill, so the discovery is very welcome, and hopefully will provide the basis for further attributions.
It has also become clear that there may well be more windows of the period by the firm in the south Wales area, not all that far from its base in Exeter, as I found two more recently when visiting the Church of All Saints, Barry (one of which is signed), and another of the the mid-1920s can be seen at the Church of St Hilda, Griffithstown.
‘Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant and the Welsh and Scottish Tour (1760-1820)’ is a current research project run by my colleagues at the Centre for Welsh and Celtic Studies.
I have recently been providing a little bit of additional design for their present website, and will be contributing to an exhibition this autumn related to travellers around Wales, and in particular the naturalist and antiquary Thomas Pennant. The website also has a series of posts by artists making work for the exhibition, and my most recent post for this project concerns some stained glass, now lost, at Llanrhos, near Llandudno, but recorded in illustrations found in an extra-illustrated volume of Thomas Pennant’s Tour:
I will be adding further posts relevant to the project in the coming weeks, concerning recent visits to churches in north Wales.
It’s well understood that stained glass studios produced multiple versions of their windows, making use of their designs and cartoons at different churches. However, it seemed a bit excessive to discover the same design three times over the period of two days in the south Wales valleys this week.
These designs by Robert Newbery, ever-present in this part of Wales, are at churches in Gelligaer, Treharris and Pontypridd. Treharris is about three miles east of Gelligaer and five miles north of Pontypridd. In my introduction for Stained Glass from Welsh Churches I estimated that there were over a hundred windows by this London maker in south Wales. Having continued to visit further churches, including a handful this week, I have discovered more that have not been listed previously, confirming that this is quite a conservative estimate.
The dates on the three windows suggest a range of about thirty years, corresponding with his activity in Wales. The earliest date for the window at Gelligaer would be 1895, which would make it the earliest known window by Newbery.
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.