Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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St Nons windows, Pembrokeshire

StNons_DSC1225_52AFor 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 The window is dated 1920, before the chapel was built, as it was originally made for St Non’s House, while the name of the maker, ‘William Morris Westminster’, is not the William Morris known to most as the celebrated Victorian poet, artist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.

StNons_DSC1245_52A

Frederick Eden, St David, c. 1934, Chapel of St Non, south wall of the nave.

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.

Dire windows and provincial firms

I have stated elsewhere that Stained Glass from Welsh Churches was not intended as a book of the best stained glass in Wales (and said as much on p. 7 of the introduction). In his review of the book recently published in the Journal of Stained Glass (vol. 38), Peter Cormack goes further, noting the ‘number of feeble or positively dire examples’ that I troubled to include from the later nineteenth and twentieth century, which potentially reinforces a negative view of stained glass that persists among many people. However, negativity, or at least indifference, towards the medium seems more characteristic of art historians than of people in general in my experience. He also claims that the work illustrated reflects ‘the relative poverty of Wales’, and I wonder whether such a claim would have been made if the book had focussed more on high-class works such as big east windows during the same period by Clayton & Bell, Hardman’s, Powell’s and Burlison & Grylls.

In the previous post I quoted another reviewer who commended the ‘even-handedness’ of an inclusive approach to stained glass, and Peter Cormack also praises the inclusion of work by many provincial firms, ‘often for the first time’, in addition to those that are better known. In fact he goes as far as to say that ‘it would be difficult to think of a book that might be more useful to groups such as NADFAS Church Recorders in introducing them to the vast subject of Vicorian and later glass.’ High praise indeed.

stained glass window

Seward & Co., The Good Shepherd, c.1923, Church of St Mor and St Deiniol

stained glass window

Edward Woore, The Good Shepherd, 1926, Church of St Mary, Cwrt Henri

There are certainly windows in the book that are poor but which demonstrated something I wanted to convey, and there are others that I couldn’t bring myself to include. There are certainly several in the chapter on late nineteenth-century memorial windows and saddest of all is perhaps the Good Shepherd by A. Seward & Co. of Lancaster which was included to point up the originality of the work of Mary Lowndes and (particularly) Edward Woore in the following chapter on the Arts and Crafts Movement. But my choice of themes for certain chapters was deliberately chosen to include work by lesser known makers, good and bad. Somewhere there will be a window by Seward & Co. that is genuinely cherished by a congregation unaware of my opinions or those of Peter Cormack. They would be probably be interested to know more about the maker and about other windows that the studio made, and these people need books about stained glass as well as art historians primarily interested, for good reasons, in the best that our culture has produced. There is also another reason why the photograph of the Good Shepherd by Seward & Co. was chosen for the book. It is in a church that has long been closed and may never be accessible to the public again, if indeed it survives.

The review in the Journal of Stained Glass is followed by another positive review of my little book on the stained glass at the Church of St Mary, Tenby, which adds some further useful detail on the architect J.D. Coleridge, who advised the rector on the commissioning of Karl Parsons. Interestingly, Peter Cormack notes the probability that Edward Woore assisted Karl Parsons with the war memorial window at Tenby.

Brycheiniog review

My thanks to Elizabeth Siberry for reviewing Stained Glass from Welsh Churches in the 2015 issue of Brycheiniog, the journal of the Brecknock Society and Museum Friends.

She mentions two shortcomings of the book. One was that the locations of the churches in remote locations will be unfamiliar to those without a good knowledge of Wales, and I am reminded that I had intended to add a map to the volume to help with this. As things worked out I simply ran out of time when completing the design of the book this time last year, although I had not yet worked out in my mind how I was going to reference several hundred place-names on a single map.

stained glass window showing Christ in Majesty with symbols.

John Petts, The Risen Christ, 1989, Church of St Mary, Brecon

The other was that there are important windows in the old county of Breconshire (Brecknock) that are not mentioned in the book (as there are throughout Wales). One that she mentions is John Petts’ east window of 1989 at the Church of St Mary, Brecon, which I overlooked in favour of other windows by the artist, partly because it was included at a generous size in Alison Smith’s chapter on the work of the artist in the 2010 volume Biblical Art from Wales. In fact I tried to complement the illustrations in her chapter by including photographs of windows for which only the cartoons were illustrated, and his east window at Llansteffan, which was represented in Alison Smith’s chapter by a photograph of him working on the window. In this instance the window was reproduced in the Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion Pevsner (2006), but as it was such a personal window, it seemed particularly important to the history of stained glass in Wales.

Stained Glass from Welsh Churches is an attempt to present a full range of stained glass in the churches of Wales, and a book of the best stained glass in Wales would have been a different book and even more subjective.

Mentioned in the review are Carl Edwards’ windows at Llyswen and David Pearl’s windows at the (now closed) Catholic church in Crickhowell, and these are perhaps of particular importance. Also in the book from the old county are details from the fine Tractarian church at Beulah and the excellent Modernist work of Harry Harvey at Maesmynys (the images far too small to show off this window).

stained glass window depicting Christ carrying the cross.

C.E. Kempe, Christ Carrying the Cross, 1903, Church of St Mary, Builth Wells, detail of the east window.

So what else from Breconshire might have deserved a mention in the book? Along with John Petts’ window in Brecon there are good windows by Powell’s and Horace Wilkinson in Brecon Cathedral. Another important work in Brecon is the unusual window by Clayton & Bell to J.P. Seddon’s design at Christ College Chapel, Brecon, which merited a colour illustration in Martin Harrison’s Victorian Stained Glass (1980). Now part of Brecon, the church of Llanfaes is represented in the book by a late Morris & Co. window, but not the east window designed by James Hogan at Powell’s in 1924.

At Builth Wells I found and illustrated a small window in Alpha Chapel that I attributed to Burlison & Grylls, partly because of the amount of their late work in the area, notably nearby at the parish church where there are large late works by them. There is also a large east window of by C.E. Kempe that I tried, and failed, to find a home for in the book.

A search for windows in the county is possible by searching for churches in the county of Breconshire/Brecknockshire on the Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue, although I have much more to add from my archive when I have time one day. The catalogue also shows locations of the churches listed on Google maps.

And if you’re wondering where Breconshire is, it’s the lower part of central Wales.

Victorian Review

Many thanks to Michael Hall for his review of the book in the November issue of The Victorian, the Magazine of the Victorian Society.

Christ standing in the boat, calming the storm.

Burlison & Grylls, Christ Calming the Storm, early twentieth century, Church of St John the Divine, Cwmbach Llechryd

Michael Hall’s book on the architect G.F. Bodley is published this autumn, and is a long-awaited study of this important Gothic Revival architect. Although relatively few churches in Wales were designed by his architectural practise, Bodley & Garner, the firm that he favoured from the 1870s, Burlison & Grylls, made many windows for Welsh churches from the 1880s until the closure of the firm in the 1950s.

I have been asked to speak for the Wales Group of the Victorian Society in Llandaff on the 22 November 2014.