Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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Looking for windows by Tim Lewis and Glantawe Studios

It is always good to receive about windows in Wales that I did not know about, and these discoveries are nearly as good as finding them for myself, something that I have been unable to find much time for recently. Neither has it been easy to visit churches as many have been locked over the last eighteen months that used to be open regularly. This has been all the more apparent as I have arranged a few visits recently in order to photograph a few additional examples of stained glass and sculpture for my forthcoming book on Welsh saints. Although this takes more time and effort, clergy and keyholders have been helpful and generous with their time as ever.

So I was pleased to hear from Sally Davies at All Saints, Rhiwbina, Cardiff, about the two large windows at the church, a church that I have not visited. She noted that she could not find them on the online ‘Stained Glass in Wales‘ catalogue, and I replied, as I usually do, by saying that (a) I have yet to visit all of the churches in Wales and (b) that hundreds of windows that I have photographed have yet to be catalogued on the website.

Tim Lewis, West Window, 1990–1, Church of All Saints, Rhiwbina, Cardiff (photo courtesy Sally Davies)

The windows turned out to be large windows by Tim Lewis, one of the most important artists in the medium working in Wales in the second half of the twentieth century, who was still making windows until recently. It might reasonably be asked of someone like me, who has been researching stained glass in Wales for more than fifteen years, why I didn’t know about these windows. An easy answer is that if you haven’t visited a church you wouldn’t know, but there are some sources that list stained glass, notably the ‘Buildings of Wales’ series (or Pevsners), and I’m sure that the author of the Glamorgan volume (1995), John Newman, might well have mentioned windows like this, although space in the volumes is so tight. However, the church itself, built in the 1930s, is not even mentioned in the book. Neither is it included in Coflein, the online catalogue of the built heritage in Wales.

The appendix listing all of the windows by Celtic Studios in Maurice Broady’s A Vision Fulfilled is a very rare (99.7%) complete list of a single firm’s work, and the huge number of windows not listed in any other sources is testament to the amount of unrecorded stained glass not only in Wales but across Europe and beyond. A huge proportion of the windows that can be found on the online ‘Stained Glass in Wales‘ catalogue are not found in any other sources, sometimes not even the church guides – whether professionally printed or photocopied notes – that can be obtained in them.

I have also been accumulating notes on stained glass in churches from chance finds on websites or diocesan newspapers (spotting windows behind photographs of new incumbents or episcopal visits), and sometimes skirting around the outside of churches when I have been passing by but found them locked. I learned of windows from talking to artists working in Wales, not least Tim Lewis himself during the process of researching Stained Glass from Welsh Churches.

Tim Lewis, The Healing Power of God’s Love, 1986, Church of St Samlet, Llansamlet, Swansea

It has often struck me that, while we are fortunate to have a list of the windows made by Celtic Studios from the 1940s until the 1990s, there must be many by Tim Lewis, and many made at his Glantawe Studios that were designed by others such as Colwyn Morris, John Edwards and Bryan Tobias Evans, that remain unknown to the researcher beyond those that know and use the buildings.

The windows at Rhiwbina would have been installed in the church not long before the time that John Newman was visiting and researching for his Glamorgan volume. Unlike his predecessors who wrote the Powys (first edition) and Clwyd volumes. he took the trouble to selectively list examples of recent stained glass. For example, he mentions Colwyn Morris’ window made by Glantawe Studios for Hebron Welsh Independent Chapel, Clydach (the window has since been moved to Capel y Nant), and Tim Lewis’ window at Porth, a church that has now been closed and sold.

Glantawe Studios, Christ Stilling the Storm and the Miraculous Draught of Fishes, 1995, Church of St Cattwg, Port Eynon, designed by Colwyn Morris

However, windows have continued to be made for churches that John Newman visited over the course of the last thirty years, so Bryan Evans’ window at Porth (1998) is only found on the ‘Stained Glass in Wales‘ catalogue, and although the windows by Celtic Studios at Port Eynon are mentioned in Glamorgan, the subsequent windows made by Glantawe Studios (1995 and 1996) are not. The Church of St Joseph, the Catholic church in Neath, has many windows made at Glantawe Studios over the years, mainly designed by Colwyn Morris, but, as in the case at Rhiwbina, the church is not even listed, even though John Newman made some note on the church that are found in his archive at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and
Historical Monuments of Wales. The Catholic church in Whitchurch is briefly described in the book, but the set of windows by John Edwards was made in 2004. A couple of windows at these churches, or details of them, can be found in my book, Stained Glass from Welsh Churches.

More recent volumes of the Buildings of Wales have been better at listing works by Glantawe Studios, such as Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, and the second, and much expanded, edition of Powys. So, for example, the window by Bryan Evans at Llangynidr of 2003 is listed, although those by Colwyn Morris at St Harmons, of 1990 and 2000, are not.

Glantawe Studios, Virgin & Child, 2000, Church of St Garmon, St Harmons, designed by Colwyn Morris

The second edition of Powys was published in 2013, two years after the ‘Stained Glass in Wales’ catalogue first appeared, and I am increasingly finding that Coflein entries refer to windows that I have recorded on the catalogue. I am therefore unable to escape the conclusion that, here in 2021, I am now part of the problem, as people come to the site hoping to find information that I have yet to add, or, as in the case of Rhiwbina, did not know about. Just as the windows by Colwyn Morris at St Harmons that I found when I visited are ‘not there’ in the new edition of Powys, they are ‘not there’ on the ‘Stained Glass in Wales’ catalogue. There are probably still many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of windows listed in the Buildings of Wales volumes that I have yet to visit or add to the website, and although the site has continued to grow, I have been unable to keep pace with all of the windows that I have found and recorded, and that is just in places of worship. Not only that, windows have also been installed at churches since I last visited them. I can think of examples at St Dogmaels and Prestatyn for example.

I have detailed the current position regarding what is and is not yet on the site, and my hopes to see it grow, in a previous post, so there is no need to explain the reasons for this again, and the benefits that would come from better recording of stained glass.

At the time of writing, searching for St Harmon on the catalogue finds a brief record of the east window that I probably added to the database many years ago when I did an initial trawl of old guide books as part of the initial research on the ‘Imaging the Bible in Wales’ project in 2005–6. Looking at it now, it always feels easy to just process and add my images of the window, or add the attribution to Robert Newbery (not Burlison & Grylls as suggested in Powys), but then I would want to process and add the photographs of other windows, check my written notes, write descriptions, transcribe inscriptions and subject index them, and suddenly it’s a couple of hours work – just for one fairly small church.

For this reason it’s a mixed blessing to receive information about windows that are not on the catalogue, because it reminds me about all the windows that I have recorded – on accidental and targeted visits – but have not published on the catalogue yet. But without such information, these windows would only be known by their local congregations and communities, and I will endeavour to steadily increase the amount of information on the ‘Stained Glass in Wales’ catalogue, or hopefully find the funding to make it happen faster. Even then, the work that remains to turn such information into biography, history and thematic studies, such as my forthcoming book on the imagery of Welsh saints, also awaits.

In the meantime, the windows by Tim Lewis at All Saints, Rhiwbina, can now be found on the catalogue thanks to Sally Davies taking the trouble to get in touch. They serve as a reminder that there will be more windows by Tim Lewis at Glantawe Studios, and by other artists and studios of all periods, still to find.

New Reviews

Reviews of Stained Glass in Welsh Churches have recently appeared in two Welsh journals, the county journal Ceredigion and Archaeologia Cambrensis, the journal of the Cambrian Archaeological Association that was first published in the 1840s.

Writing in Ceredigion (vol. 18, no. 2, 2014), Elizabeth New also reviews my little book on the stained glass at Llanfihangel Genau’r Glyn, published in 2013, since the church is in the county, located a few miles north of Aberystwyth. Her review appropriately notes examples from Ceredigion throughout her summary of the chapters and her ‘minor quibbles’ perhaps suggest some of the things that others might have hoped to find in the book, For example, she notes that I did not write much about the ‘extent of the loss of medieval glass, particularly through deliberate destruction’. In fact I think that I noted every reference to destruction of medieval glass in Wales that I came across, all of which were at the time of the Civil War, and none of which were in the sixteenth century. This surprised me and I would be very interested to learn of examples of the destruction of stained glass in Wales by Protestant reformers in the sixteenth century. To write about the extent of the loss of medieval stained glass in a county such as Ceredigion would rely on pure speculation. Elsewhere she notes that I do not comment on the use of the Welsh language in inscriptions, a subject on which I could write an interesting chapter but for which I simply did not have the space in the book or the leisure to research in more detail. It’s not unimportant, but this is a book about visual art. Along with the theme of the memorial window, which she notes recurring throughout the book, such things would be fruitful areas of new research.

I found it curious that she commends the layout as ‘user-friendly’: a term that we used to use in multimedia design in the 1990s, and therefore seems odd to me as a description of the printed page. But I hope that the book is indeed user-friendly.

Julian Orbach captures the essence of what the book tries to do in his review published in Archaeologia Cambrensis (vol 163, 2014). Noting my involvement in the ‘Visual Culture of Wales’ and ‘Imaging the Bible in Wales’ projects, both of which ‘stepped outside art-historical judgement’ and took an inclusive approach, he notes that this ‘even-handedness gives place for glass that has fallen thoroughly from fashion’, both in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At the same time, some of the less inspired windows that I have illustrated contrast well with the best, and his list of windows by Leonard Walker, Richard Stubington, Karl Parsons, Harry Clarke Studios, Martin Travers and Wilhelmina Geddes more or less sums up the best of the best in my view. Julian Orbach’s own contribution to the study is not inconsiderable, having contributed to volumes of the ‘Buildings of Wales’ series, and those of the series that are most informative on stained glass are those on which he worked. He was also very generous in sharing his notes on stained glass in Wales with me some years ago. He concludes the review by describing the book as ‘the best survey of stained glass published anywhere in Britain’. On all counts, my thanks to him.