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.

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.

National Library cartoons and images of saints in Wales

Exhibits at the `National Library of Wales.As part of my work on ‘The Cult of Saints in Wales‘ project, I have been co-curating an exhibition of medieval and early modern manuscripts of saints’ Lives, poetry addressed to saints and saintly genealogies at the National Library of Wales.

It has also been an opportunity to display a couple of the hundreds of cartoons acquired by the National Library from Celtic Studios in the late 1990s. The figure of Illtud from Mountain Ash, and the scene showing David, Padarn and Teilo leaving for Jerusalem from Ebbw Vale are displayed with illustrations of the windows on the interpretation panel.

In addition, John Petts’ design for his first window at All Saints, Penarth is included in the show, as well as the scale drawing by A.L. Wilkinson of his saints window at Peterston-super-Ely. The latter comes from the diocesan archives at the Library, which include many such drawings submitted as part of the process of obtaining a faculty.

Wall display at the Stories of the Saints exhibition, National Library of Wales.I designed the exhibition displays which include my photographs of modern and medieval images of saints, and some of these are displayed as framed prints. To coincide with the exhibition, I will be speaking at the National Library about images of saints from churches in Wales on 17 May, as well as doing a gallery talk on 29 March.

The exhibition opens to the public on 18 February and runs until 10 June 2017.

Church of St Jude, Swansea

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.

stained glass window depicting a firefighter and another helping an injured man.

Celtic Studios, The Fire Service, 1949, Church of St Jude, Swansea

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?

Twentieth Century Society Review

I am grateful to Robert Drake at the Twentieth Century Society for his review of Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, published in the last number of their magazine (October 2015, 3).

stained glass window depicting three knights with Thomas Becket kneeling at the altar.

Celtic Studios, The Martyrdom of St Thomas Becket, 1957, Church of St Thomas, Overmonnow

The review naturally pays attention to the twenteth century material, which actually occupies almost half of the book, and is illustrated with a panel by John Petts from Briton Ferry. The mid-twentieth century material proved quite difficult to write about, as there have been hardly any overviews of stained glass of the period, except in those books that attempt a history of all stained glass in Europe and North America, in which the British material leaps nervously from Henry Holiday or Christopher Whall to John Piper, maybe via Evie Hone or Veronica Whall.

It is suggested that the most interesting section of the book is perhaps in chapter ten, and the eventual emergence of modernism in stained glass in Wales in the later 1950s and 60s. This is something that I am going to talk about in a lecture in Swansea next Friday (27th) in the Glass Department. To my mind the chapter does emerge from the very long preceding chapter with a bit of colour and vigour.

The review is available online on the Twentieth Century Society website. To the readers of the review I might add that there is a misunderstanding about the funding for the book, which was (unfortunately!) not at all funded by the AHRC.

Windows with Welsh Saints

For well over ten years I have been collecting images of Welsh saints from churches on my travels, mainly around Wales. The majority of these images are in stained glass and there is more variety in the windows than there is in sculpture and occasional murals, as windows sometimes feature scenes from the saints’ Lives, as well as standing figures. I have given a couple of lectures about images of saints in Welsh churches and been writing about them for a while, with the intention of publishing a book on Welsh saints from Welsh churches in the future, although it will not be finished before next year.

In November I joined the ‘The Cult of Saints in Wales‘ project as a part-time Research Fellow at the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, where I am working on the beginnings of an online dictionary of Welsh saints, and setting up four dayschools around Wales with a small touring exhibition. The principal aim of the project is the publication online of editions of all of the medieval Welsh-language poetry related to saints in medieval Wales, and of the Welsh-language lives. This includes material relating not just to Welsh saints, but also to saints with more widespread cults such as the evangelists Mark and Luke; Mary Magdalene; and Margaret of Antioch.

A few posts back I wrote about the Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue, which was launched in 2011, and as part of the project I hope to find some time to add some further examples of images of saints to the resource. Recently I have added the windows at the Church of St Elvan, Aberdare, which includes a large window with scenes from the story of the patron saint of the church. The window is one of many in south Wales by the studio of Robert Newbery, and his association with the patron Lord Merthyr is underlined by the number of other windows by the firm at the church.

Three standing and kneeling saints depicted in stained glass.

Celtic Studios, Saints Cyfelach, Rhidian and Gwladys, probably 1959, Church of St Gabriel, Swansea

I have also added the windows at the Church of St Gabriel, Swansea, a church that I visited some years ago when photographing windows for the book by the late Maurice Broady on the Swansea firm Celtic Studios. The church boasts a west window that may contain more Welsh saints than any other (about 27, depending on whether you count Brychan and all of his family), and is a significant work by Celtic Studios. Two large details from the window occupy the centre spread of the colour section in A Vision Fulfilled, and partly for this reason it did not get included in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches. I included the east window at the church and a detail from one of the Lady Chapel windows by A.K. Nicholson’s studio. The church is perhaps unusual in having two good sets of windows by just two firms: six by A.K. Nicholson from 1925–6, and four by Celtic Studios 1949–71.

You often see new things when cataloguing windows, and unfortunately I realised that the caption of the east window in the book is incorrect. The window is in fact a representation of the ‘Te Deum’ and the standing figures in the outer lights are Peter and Paul, Isaiah and Stephen. The detail of Mary reading the Bible from the Lady Chapel windows, open at the same verse of Isaiah that Isaiah holds on a scroll in the east window, is one of many that deserved reproduction at a much larger size in the book.