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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.
I am grateful to the Glaziers Trust for a small grant to enable the addition of the stained glass from more churches in Wales to the Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue.
I have continued to add and correct information occasionally since the funding for the Stained Glass in Wales Project ran out in 2011, so this represents the first significant batch of new windows on the site for some time, despite the fact that I have continued to visit dozens of churches in the intervening period. Occasionally, users of the site have also submitted new windows for inclusion using the special online form provided since 2012.
After considering my proposals, the trustees asked for the prioritisation of stained glass from churches that have now closed, and also for windows by artists that are not already represented on the resource. Each collection of stained glass at individual churches have their own stories, and sometimes form an interesting narrative in terms of the patterns of patronage, the choice of subject matter, and the changes in style. For an example of this, here are a few observations on the windows from the Church of St Jude, Mount Pleasant, Swansea.
The Church of St Jude closed in 2015. Its final service was held on the 8th of February, just a few months short of its centenary, and I visited in the few weeks before this service. The pictorial glass is all of the work of two studios: two east windows and three south windows that are all from around 1920, and windows of 1949 and 1965 by the local firm Celtic Studios. Three of the five Charles Powell windows are war memorials, and to date this doubles the amount of glass by the artist on the catalogue. In the past I have had some difficulty untangling his work from that of his son, Christopher Charles Powell, as his work demonstrates a clear continuity of style, further underlined by these windows.
The west window is a really impressive early work by Celtic Studios, so much so that I was a little surprised that Maurice Broady didn’t make more of it in his book on the studio (published in 2010 after he died, but based on his unfinished writing). I did much additional photography for this volume, but it wasn’t included on the shortlist drawn up for additional illustrations – but we were not short of choice. If I had seen it prior to completing my Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, I would probably have tried to work it in. With a big Christ figure at the centre, there are four ‘virtues’ at either side, and a set of scenes not only depicting the armed forces, but also a set of scenes depicting the home front: the Women’s Land Army, the fire service, shipping and mining.
In combination with the First World War memorial windows, the amount of war memorial stained glass in the church is greater than of other memorial glass, at least per square foot.
But what will become of this glass now the church has closed?
Over the last couple of years I’ve been aware of the patronage of Sir W.T. Lewis, first Baron Merthyr of Senghenydd, and featured a couple of the windows commissioned by him in the chapter of Stained Glass from Welsh Churches discussing memorial windows in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He commissioned more than a dozen windows for at least six churches and at least one in Llandaff Cathedral. Among these is the really unusual window at Merthyr Tydfil dedicated to the ‘Captains of Industry’, many of whom were coal-owners in the south Wales valleys.
A report in the Cardiff Times from 1899 (although the window is dated 1896) claims it as ‘a bold departure from the conventional treatment of subjects in memorial glass’ and its unconventional use of biblical subjects and texts (including extracts from the Book of Job) is accompanied by the depiction of a pithead and blast-furnace in the scene below.
I’ve been adding further notes on the window for the ‘Stained Glass in Wales’ Catalogue, and looked up the Cardiff Times report that I had a note of but had not consulted. Another reason for my interest in the patronage of W.T. Lewis is his fairly consistent patronage of the studio of Robert Newbery, and his interest in depicting Welsh saints, particularly Elfan, in the windows that he commissioned. His family also continued these two aspects of his patronage after his death in August 1914.