Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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New book of work by Margaret Rope

In an addition to a post about five months ago I mentioned an upcoming exhibition and book about the work of Margaret Rope.

Margaret Agnes Rope (1882–1953) was born in Shrewsbury and was trained in stained glass at Birmingham School of Art under Henry Payne. Her first major work was for Shrewsbury Cathedral and in September an exhibition about her work opens at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

stained glass window of St Francis

Margaret Rope, St Francis, about 1934, Church of St Mary and St Michael, Llanarth, sanctuary apse

The exhibition ‘Heavenly Lights: The Untold Story of Stained Glass Artist Margaret Agnes Rope’ runs from 12 September 2016 to 15 January 2017.

As part of this initiative, Arthur Rope has produced a large-format book of her work with colour illustrations of full windows and details, and a list of her works. It is a considerable achievement, and a reminder of how little has been published on artists of this quality working in stained glass. Faced with a vast gap in developed academic study of the field of stained glass, and art in churches in general, books like this, as well as those by Roy Albutt and Alan Brooks’ study of Francis Spear, have mostly been privately published and rely on the strength of conviction (and financial commitment) of their authors.

These books, from the bottom up, if you like, easily outnumber those from the top down, such as Peter Cormack’s recent Arts and Crafts Stained Glass (2015). This is a book about which I have intended to write on these pages for some time, and may do yet. With such a huge range of material at his disposal, Peter Cormack’s book only illustrates couple of panels and one full window by Margaret Rope and does not have the space to discuss her work in any detail, which ably demonstrates the huge amount of work still to be published on the artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement. There are also those artists and studios earlier in the nineteenth century and later in the twentieth century about whom so little has been written, as well as the contemporaries of Henry Payne and Margaret Rope that have not been connected with the Arts & Crafts ethos, and remain (even) less fashionable.

Margaret Rope of Shrewsbury is announced on its title page as ‘an exhibition of her works in a book’, and since the book lacks a narrative, this is very much the case. Here, the contrast with Nicola Gordon Bowe’s recent book on Wilhelmina Geddes is stark, as her years of research and study have yielded a fascinatingly insightful portrait of the artist offering an absorbing narrative that sheds so much light on the windows.

In the case of Margaret Rope, she left few records, and there is an appeal for more information about her, as well as a team of volunteer archivists gathered by Shrewsbury Museum with the task of researching her life and work. In the meantime, we have a new book of her work, which will be available at the exhibition in September and beforehand via mail order, for details see Arthur Rope’s website.

Stained glass and religious identities: two conferences

Two conferences this month gave me opportunities to talk about saints in stained glass windows that tell us something about the conflicting national and religious identities.

For ‘The MIddle Ages in the Modern World‘, a multidisciplinary conference on medievalism in the post-Middle Ages at the University of Lincoln, I contrasted competing claims on Welsh saints by the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. I also talked about the inherent medievalism in most stained glass since the nineteenth century, which eschewed the use of coloured enamels in the seventeenth and eighteenth century in favour of the medieval mosaic method of making stained glass.

The International Congress of Celtic Studies, held every four years, came to Glasgow this year, and my paper, ‘Kings, Saints and Popes: Ancient Britain in Stained Glass During the Welsh Revival’ followed a similar theme but focussed on the legend in which the British king, Lucius, sought the help of the pope for the evangelisation of Britain in the second century. This was a subject occasionally chosen by Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic patrons, and implicated the dependence of the early Welsh church on Rome, in contrast to the Protestant projection of an early Welsh church independent of papal authority.

Detail of a stained glass window with a group of figures.

Mayer & Co., Pope Eleutherius Sending Missionaries to Britain, 1882, Church of St Peter, Roath, Cardiff

Both visits were also opportunities to see the stained glass in two cathedrals that I had not visited before. At Lincoln I was surprised how much medieval glass still survived, and, at the other end of the scale, Glasgow was interesting for the amount of post-war glass commissioned the replace the Victorian glass (by Mayer of Munich, controversial in its time and notable in the involvement of the historian Charles Winston). Both cathedrals, commendably, had books available detailing their windows.

stained glass window.

Douglas Strachan, Detail of a window in Bute Hall, University of Glasgow

I was particularly struck by the quality of the mid-twentieth century glass in Glasgow Cathedral, featuring Scottish artists whose work I have not come across in Wales, such as Herbert Hendrie, William Wilson and Douglas Strachan, as well as English makers such as Francis Spear and Marion Grant. Excellent work by Douglas Strachan was also on hand where the conference was held at the University of Glasgow, in both the Bute Hall and the University Chapel. The Chapel east window is by Lawrence Lee, a work of 1962 and roughly contemporary with two of his three Welsh commissions.

Penarth Book Festival

Today marks the beginning of the Penarth Book Festival, and I will be speaking about the book, and about other stained glass in Penarth, on Sunday 19 October at Trinity Methodist Church.

The church has one of the best collections of stained glass at a Methodist Church in Wales, and the Anglican churches of St Augustine and All Saints also have notable collections of glass. At the Church of St Augustine there is glass by Alexander Gibbs made for William Butterfield’s church, and also windows by W.G. Taylor, Robert Newbery and Clayton & Bell. The Church of All Saints has the distinction of being the only church in Wales where stained glass was provided by Harry Clarke, but unfortunately this was lost in 1941. When the church was rebuilt after the war in the 1950s Arthur Walker designed windows for the church, but a change of heart by the Diocesan Advisory Committee in the late 1950s brought the commissioning of more Modernist works by Francis Spear, John Petts and Powell & Sons.

Stained glass window with the Good Samaritan tending to the wounded man.

Probably H.J. Salisbury, The Good Samaritan, 1920s or 30s, Trinity Methodist Church, Penarth

Both of these Anglican churches are among the more serious omissions that I am aware of on the Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue, although the stained glass at Trinity Methodist Church is included. When I was there in 2008 one of the windows was damaged, so I will be interested to see if it has been restored so that I can see the whole scene. The earlier stained glass at the church, and possibly all of it, was made by the studio of H.J. Salisbury, and they also provided the painted reredos of the Last Supper.