Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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St David panels at Cardiff Cathedral

It feels a long time since last week. At the end of February I was in discussions to hold a launch of Depicting St David at the Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St David in Cardiff, and although events were beginning to be cancelled or postponed, on Monday 16 March 2020 I gave a short talk after the lunchtime Mass to a small gathering. That afternoon, new government advice discouraged all events of this type and events for St Patrick’s Day on the next day were cancelled. Within days all church services were suspended until further notice as a result of the pandemic, prior to the requirement for us all to stay at home.

The reason why it seemed appropriate to hold a launch of the book at the cathedral – albeit not in such circumstances – was the presence of a unique set of scenes of the Life of David in the sanctuary. Two pairs of two-light windows contain eight scenes from the Life of David, more than any other set of scenes depicting David that I have come across in any other churches.

There is however some uncertainty surrounding the windows. The devastation of Llandaff Cathedral, not far from the city centre, in the Second World War and its subsequent restoration in the 1950s is well known, but St David’s, built as a parish church for the centre of Cardiff in 1885–6, also suffered, and was gutted by an incendiary bomb in 1941.

In June 1897, The Tablet reported on the intention to fill the windows of the chancel with stained glass depicting the saints. David, Teilo, Iltud, Cadog and other local saints, as a memorial to the Vicar-General, the late Monsignor Williams. Although small roundels of Dyfrig, Patrick, Illtud and Teilo are found in the upper tracery lights, the scenes in the windows now are all of David, with Latin inscriptions. Teilo does appear in one of the windows, but in the context of his visitto Jerusalem with David and Padarn, where they are consecrated as bishops.

The survival of these windows in situ, given the terrible destruction of the sanctuary in 1941, seemed unlikely, and I had wondered whether the windows had been saved from four of the two-light windows in the nave and moved there when the cathedral, which had been largely derelict for most of the 1940s and 50s, was restored in the late 1950s. The windows are commensurate with a date of around 1897, and the work of Mayer of Munich. I spoke to Canon Peter Collins, formerly dean of the cathedral, who thought that the windows had indeed survived the bombing in their present position. In support of this possibility, a small amount of stained glass can be seen in a photograph of the interior. It may of course be possible that the original intention to fill the windows with scenes or figures of Teilo, Illtud and Cadog in June 1897 was changed, and a set of scenes of the Life of the patron of the church would have been very appropriate.

My visit to the cathedral afforded me the opportunity to look more carefully at the windows now in the sanctuary, which revealed a couple of important discoveries. Firstly, the inscription to Mgr Williams remains at the foot of one of the windows on the north side, and all of the windows have lost a number of pieces of glass, including some figures, which have been replaced, although the majority of the panels are intact. An amount of restoration would be expected given the long period in which the church stood derelict.

CardiffCathedral_DSC0046BHowever, comparing the very small amount of stained glass, faintly visible at the edge of the photograph taken after the bomb fell in 1941, with what is in that window now, seems to show that the glass that is there now was not there then. Furthermore, the foliate tracery lights do not clearly match the architectural tops of the present windows, which might suggest that these are the original tracery lights, with the scenes of St David inserted in the 1950s from elsewhere in the church. Although the inscription is present, its continuity with the surrounding glass is not altogether convincing, and could have been inserted into the lower decorative panel at the time of restoration. Some of the two-light windows in the nave have no stained glass, and the main lights are of a similar width and appear to be only slightly taller than those in the sanctuary. Correspondingly, the design of the architectural canopies in the tops of the main lights of the sanctuary windows seem slightly truncated, which would have been necessary if they had been moved from the nave windows, where the upper part of the arched top is taller.

Whether or not these windows are in their original position, and whether or not we have lost scenes of other local saints, these eight scenes include images of certain episodes in the Life of St David that are not found anywhere else, and are therefore a fortunate and important survival.

Stained Glass and Modernism in the Diocese of Llandaff

During the course of browsing through diocesan archives at the National Library of Wales some years ago, I noticed an abrupt change of policy in the commissioning of stained glass in the Diocese of Llandaff in the late 1950s. The change was from the endorsement of quite conservative design, and the avoidance of additional background detail and ornament, to a much more colourful and modern approach to stained glass design. There was also a concerted encouragement to commission stained glass by Welsh artists, which chiefly benefited the firm of Celtic Studios, in Swansea, and John Petts.

stained glass depicting the Crucifixion.
Celtic Studios, The Crucifixion, 1960, detail from a window designed by John Edwards, Church of St Mary and Holy Innocents, Merthyr Vale

I noted this in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches (p. 268–9), and expanded upon it in a lecture given in Cambridge in 2016. This has now been published in my first article for the Journal of Stained Glass (vol. 42, 2018), and illustrates windows that I would have liked to have included in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches but didn’t have the space for.

One of the striking things about the distribution of stained glass by Celtic Studios is that, although their windows are found widely across the whole of south Wales, few were commissioned for churches in Cardiff. I pointed this out in a footnote to Stained Glass from Welsh Churches on p. 248, noting that windows by the firm in Cardiff were limited to two Anglican churches, a Presbyterian church and a synagogue. As a result of some recent fieldwork, one of these Anglican churches can be crossed off the list. A ‘major early window’ of theirs is mentioned by John Newman in the Pevsner (The Buildings of Wales: Glamorgan, 1995, p. 313) at St Mary’s, Whitchurch, and although it is not listed in the appendix of Maurice Broady’s study of the firm (A Vision Fulfilled, 2010), I did not question Newman’s reference as the window was described as ‘signed and dated 1948’.

I recently arranged to visit St Mary’s, which is usually locked, and discovered that this impressive window is in fact signed and dated, but by Powell’s of Whitefriars, and not by Celtic Studios at all.

Large stained glass window.
Powell & Sons. Resurrection and Ascension, 1948, Church of St Mary, Whitchurch

Reflecting on this, and looking again at post-war commissions for stained glass in and around Cardiff, I feel that perhaps I should have given a little more weight to the number of these commissions that went to Powell’s in the 1940s and 50s, which included the replacement east window for St Margaret’s, Roath (Cardiff), a major work alongside that at Whitchurch and others. These are enumerated in Dennis Hadley’s list of works by Powell’s, compiled from their archives at the V&A in London. But, strangely, the west window at Whitchurch is not among them, although two earlier windows by them at the church are listed.

Attributing windows, unknown makers, and suppliers of stained glass

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.

signature of H W Lloyd on a stained glass 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.

signature of W. Davis & Son on a stained glass window.

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.

stained glass window with figures.

West window containing figures from war memorial windows previously at the Church of St Luke, 1924 and 1948, now at the Church of All Saints, Cwmffrwdoer, Pontnewynydd

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).

stained glass window of the Ascension of Christ.

Probably William Pearce, The Ascension, c.1908, Church of the Holy Trinity, Llandrindod Wells

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.

Bristow Wadley & lost windows

With the closure of churches and chapels a little bit of stained glass history can also slip away. Sometimes the buildings retain their windows after changes of use, and in other cases windows are moved to other places of worship. But windows from closed churches have also been sold or destroyed.

When trying to untangle some of the references to the work of the Cardiff firm Bristow, Wadley & Co., in an attempt to trace a history of stained glass firms based in Wales, I came across references to a window designed by Ivor Davies and supplied by Bristow, Wadley & Co. for the Church of St Catwg, Bedlinog. According to the Diocesan Faculty this was designed by Ivor Davies and made at Bristow Wadley’s Swansea studio. However, Maurice Broady lists the windows as by Celtic Studios (who were based in Swansea), and all of the references to a stained glass studio owned by Bristow Wadley’s that I have seen elsewhere locate it in Mill Lane, Cardiff. The firm sold all kinds of decorative supplies, not just glass, but paints, wallpaper etc, and had a number of outlets in the south Wales area.

stained glass window with an image of Cadog.

Probably Bristow, Wadley & Co., St Cadog, 1952, probably designed and made by Ivor Davies

When I tried to go and have a look at the window I was told that the church had long closed and the windows had been removed. Remarkably, I have now seen these windows, now in frames and for sale at an antiques showroom. This amazing coincidence was brought about by someone who encouraged me to come and see them, not knowing who they were by or where they had come from. The subjects rang a bell with my memory of the foregoing, and when I checked I was amazed to find that the subjects fitted the description of the Bedlinog window. But the solution of the designer/maker is not one that I would have expected. The central figure of Christ is indeed by Celtic Studios with their mark on, but the figures of Brychan and Cadog (or Catwg, Cadoc) are, I am fairly sure, the work of Ivor Davies.

I would welcome any further information on the extent of the stained glass studio at Bristow Wadley’s Cardiff base, or indeed elsewhere.