Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

Home » Posts tagged 'Beaumaris'

Tag Archives: Beaumaris

An Arts and Crafts Window by Clayton & Bell?

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.

Cover of Stained Glass at the Church of St Peter, Lampeter, with figure by Wilhelmina Geddes.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).

Detail of a stained glass window in Lampeter of an angel.

Lampeter window

Detail of a stained glass window in Beaumaris of angels.

Beaumaris window

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.

Detail of a stained glass window in Lampeter of stars

Lampeter window

Detail of a stained glass window in Beaumaris of an angel and stars.

Beaumaris window

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.

Llywelyn, Siwan and the Tree of Life

Window and effigy at the Church of St Cybi, Holyhead

Morris & Co., Tree of Life, 1897, over the tomb of William Owen Stanley by Hamo Thornycroft, Church of St Cybi, Holyhead

Diolch i Rhys Mwyn am dynnu sylw at fy llyfr yn ei bost diweddar. ‘Mae’n lyfr swmpus, yn gorlifo o wybodaeth ac yn frith o lyniau lliw’.

The post on his blog reflects on two windows in north Wales that are both included in the book, that of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Siwan at Trefriw and the window at Holyhead above the effigy of William Owen Stanley by Morris & Co. Why are these windows not better known, he wonders?

What struck me about both of them is that although he is (rightly) impressed by their colour and design, as works that are of gallery quality, neither might be thought of as art historically interesting to the stained glass historian. I identified the maker of the Trefriw window after consultation with the Church in Wales records at the National Library of Wales. It was made by A.W. Mowbray of Oxford, an example of the kind of ecclesiastical furnisher that seems to have been frowned upon by the British Society of Master Glass-Painters, which was formed in the 1920s. Similarly, the window of the Tree of Life at Holyhead, although made by the firm of William Morris, was made after Morris had died and was not the work of one of the firm’s most accomplished painters. ‘Morris’ firm with Morris dead is quite hopelessly bad’, was a quote from 1908 that I found recently when researching a booklet of the stained glass at Tenby (more on this to come shortly).

So why are these windows worthy of attention?

In the case of the window at Holyhead, wallpapers made by Morris & Co. have a broad appeal today, and although foliate panels such as this would have mainly been used as padding for larger windows in the nineteenth century, we are better able to appreciate its abstract design today. The patronage of both William Owen Stanley and his nephew Henry Stanley, third Baron Stanley of Alderley, is also of interest here and elsewhere on Anglesey.

Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Siwan at Trefriw are rare depiction of Welsh national figures in ecclesiastical stained glass, commissioned as appropriate subjects for the church that they reputedly founded in the thirteenth century. As far as I can recall I have not come across images of either of them in any other churches (the medieval grave slab of Siwan rests in the church at Beaumaris of course), and neither have I seen Llywelyn ap Gruffydd or Owain Glyndŵr (but I would be pleased to hear of any). Henry VII, on the other hand, is not so rare. There are reasons for this, such as the Anglicisation of most of the gentry patrons commissioning stained glass, and the preference, naturally enough, for biblical and other religious subjects. But the quality of the glass and the significance of these figures for contemporary Wales, even in a week when a poll has suggested that support for an independent Wales has hit a new low, can be recognised even in a modest work by a little-known Oxford ecclesiastical furnisher.