Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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Samuel Evans & Co windows in Maindee, Newport

The Church of St Matthew in Maindee, Newport, was a church that I knew quite well in the mid-1990s when I was living in south Wales. I remember that the sanctuary fittings were attractive although I did not pay them all that much attention.

Even in the 1990s the future of the church was somewhat precarious, and the concern over whether it could remain open was greater still when I went back to the church, in 2010, to record the artwork there. The floor of the church had dry rot, and it finally closed in 2014.

stained glass and reredos, Maindee, Newport

Sanctuary of the Church of St Matthew, Maindee, Newport

The reredos was one of two in Newport by the artist Allen Henderson, the other being at the Church of St John the Baptist, where there is also a figure of the Virgin and Child and a set of Stations of the Cross by the artist. The sanctuary windows were unattributed, but were a very fine set of four two-light windows, slightly reminiscent of contemporary work by Heaton, Butler & Bayne, commemorating members of the congregation who fought in the First World War.

One of the two windows (of 1931) on the south side of the church had been attributed to Samuel Evans’ studio in the Buildings of Wales: Gwent/Monmouthshire, and when writing my chapter on war memorials for Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, I decided to illustrate one of the sanctuary windows. However, I was not certain who they were by and tried looking in the diocesan archives in the National Library of Wales. This was unsuccessful, and so I visited Gwent Archives in Ebbw Vale in the hope that they might have something about the windows in the parish archives. I was delighted to discover the faculty for the windows which stated that they were also by Samuel Evans & Co.

St George, stained glass window, Samuel Evans, Maindee, Newport

Samuel Evans & Co., St George, 1921, Church of St Matthew, Maindee, Newport

This made it easy to attribute the earlier of the windows on the south side to the same firm, and similarities could be seen in the later window that had already been attributed to Evans’ firm, although there were plenty of differences as well.

Samuel Evans, like T.W. Camm and his brothers, had worked in the stained glass studio of Chance Brothers in Smethwick, and when the studio closed in the mid-1860s, these artists set up their own stained glass firms. This week I paid a visit to the Sandwell Archives in Smethwick to see if I could learn much more about the firms, or about the stained glass studio of Chance Brothers. The archives of Chance Brothers and of T.W. Camm (and also the separate firm, Camm Brothers) are quite extensive, but all that seems to be held for Samuel Evans’ firm are a dozen cartoons.

St Agnes, stained glass window, Samuel Evans, Maindee, Newport

Samuel Evans & Co., St Agnes, 1921, Church of St Matthew, Maindee, Newport

Nine of these cartoons are of windows whose location (according to the catalogue) is unknown, but two of them had a note to say that they were in Newport (unknown county). When I ordered one up it turned out to be the cartoon for the figure of St Agnes, by chance the same figure that I had chosen to illustrate in the book. And very beautiful the cartoon is. I didn’t have time to order more up, but I expect that more of the cartoons were for that commission, possibly all of them if they included the figure of David in the south wall.

While writing this post I was curious to see what had become of the church in Maindee, Newport. The answer via the website of the South Wales Argus came easily: the church was demolished in May.

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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?

Stained Glass at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Tenby

The First World War memorial window by Karl Parsons at the Church of St Mary, Tenby, made a memorable impression on me when I saw it in 2006, not long after I began to record biblical stained glass in Wales as part of the ‘Imaging the Bible in Wales’ research project. Its inventiveness of design, use of colour, and attention to detail in each piece of glass distinguishes it as perhaps the finest stained glass window in the county.

Image of the Virgin & Child on the book cover.

Cover of the Stained Glass of St Mary the Virgin, Tenby

The window is illustrated in a full-page illustration in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, and makes a clear contrast with another First World War memorial, dedicated not to the memory of a single soldier, but to all the men of the parish who died in the war, by the firm of C.E. Kempe.

As in the case of many windows illustrated in the book, there is no space for a more detailed analysis of the complex imagery of the Parsons window, and the illustration of any details. This has now been remedied with a booklet illustrating and describing all of the stained glass at the church, which was launched on Sunday (28 September) during the morning service. The book was funded by the Friends of St Mary’s and sales will contribute towards the upkeep of this important historic church.

As well as these war memorial windows, there are nineteenth-century windows by William Wailes and Clayton & Bell, two smaller windows by Karl Parsons and C.E. Kempe & Co. and a window of the 1950s by John Hardman Studios. While researching for the booklet I was pleased to find correspondence relating to the first window commissioned from Karl Parsons (in 1908) at Pembrokeshire Archives, which provides an insight into the appointment of the artist and his status as a pupil of Christopher Whall.

Stained glass window with three female figures.

Faith, Hope & Charity, 1927

Unfortunately I was unable to find the name of the designer or the studio responsible for the little window of Faith, Hope and Charity in the south wall, but papers in the National Library of Wales did allude to some controversy over its use of imagery.

The windows at the church can all be viewed on the online Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue, and I would be grateful for any suggestions of the maker of the Faith, Hope and Charity window. Perhaps it was made by another artist based at the Glass House, Fulham, where Karl Parsons had a studio, or perhaps by one of the students trained at the Birmingham School of Art. The website accepts comments on sites, artists/studios and individual windows. Copies of the booklet (priced £2.50) can be obtained from the church (or I can forward requests for the booklet if you contact me via my website).

Banner image

Readers may be interested in the banner image that I have chosen for this blog. It is a detail of an angel from the east window at the Church of All Saints, Porthcawl, by Karl Parsons, and this angel, and another facing the opposite direction, are used on the inside jacket flaps of the book.

After looking at the book sometimes people have asked me whether I have any favourites, and stained glass such as this from the 1920s and 30s by artists influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement is certainly among the best that I have come across. This large window by Karl Parsons was a memorial to a son lost in the First World War, made in 1927 with Leonard Potter.

These angels are quite high in the window, and hard to see easily from the body of the church. In many cases I have illustrated details of windows that are not always easy to see from below, and thereby ‘bring them back down’ into our consciousness. The extraordinary attention to detail in glass like this certainly repays the scrutiny of binoculars or a zoom lens.