Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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Taking Stock: Ten years of Stained Glass in Wales 2011–2021

At the turn of the year and the dawn of 2021, it will soon be ten years since the launch of the online Stained Glass in Wales catalogue. The funding received in 2009–10 and 2011 for the Stained Glass in Wales project at the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies built on the work of the Imaging the Bible in Wales database (launched 2008), creating a new website that shared material with the previous project, and used the same database infrastructure. Further cataloging work almost enabled me to catch up with the number of windows that I had recorded up to that point, and focussed on material not part of the Imaging the Bible in Wales remit (principally adding more contemporary and medieval stained glass, and filling in non-biblical subjects). However, with the end of that funding in November 2011, and the ongoing fieldwork that I have continued to do since then, there has been an ever growing backlog of material to catalogue on the site. I took stock of this last summer and estimated that there were around 400 buildings in Wales, mainly places of worship, that I had visited and recorded windows at, but whose windows had not been added to the catalogue.

Stained glass window with depictions of the Acts of Mercy.
Good windows by John Hardman & Co, and Charles Powell can be found at Holy Trinity, Llandudno, but who is this south transept window by? It is similar to windows by Charles Clutterbuck in the area, but other makers of the 1850s, such as William Holland. Pilkington’s and Forrest & Bromley, have had little work done of them, and can be difficult recognising work by these firms

This amounts to thousands of windows – some of which are the sole east window of a church while others are one of many at big churches, from Holy Trinity in Llandudno to St Joseph’s Cathedral in Swansea – that await cataloguing and inclusion on the Stained Glass in Wales site. I estimated that it would take about nine-ten months full-time to complete this work, which could get close to doubling the number of windows on the site. I also have much more good information on stained glass in Wales from buildings that I have not visited, gleaned from years of research and from images provided by others, and the addition of this material to the site would begin to make it a fairly comprehensive, if far from complete, listing of stained glass in ecclesiastical contexts in Wales.

Stained Glass window showing the Ascension of Christ.
Windows by Hardman’s and Mayer of Munich can be found at the cathedral, makers whose work is often found in Catholic churches, but the east window of what is now St Joseph’s Cathedral in Swansea appears to be by Lavers, Barraud and Westlake, judging by the painterly style

People periodically get in touch wondering why certain churches aren’t included in the catalogue, and sometimes offer to send me images, probably assuming that the addition of windows to the catalogue is a quick and easy process, and that the catalogue is an ongoing funded resource. Sadly neither are true. It is true that to add a very basic record for a window and upload an image or two for it on the database is usually quite a quick process, but in order for windows to be searched and found they need to be embedded in the database with various links enabled. Descriptive and interpretative notes, alongside transcriptions or summaries of inscriptions and texts, make the catalogue more useful for a range of researchers. Subjects and biblical references are indexed and often a degree of research is necessary to ascertain the evidence for the dating and attribution of each window.

There are instances where some very scant listings exist on the catalogue, many of which date back to an initial trawl for artworks from a collection of church guide books and leaflets at the outset of the Imaging the Bible in Wales project in 2005–6, and while they are useful in marking the presence of windows, they aren’t particularly helpful to the researcher.

In a few cases correspondents have made use of my offer to add windows to the database themselves, which is possible using an online form. The form is entered into the database and is checked over and edited as necessary before it appears on the website. It therefore requires administrative time and sometimes the number of emails involved end up using more of my time than if I had added the windows from scratch myself, but it is a good way for others to get involved in the work and have windows added. It has also been a good way for me to learn about the windows at churches that I have not yet visited.

Although I have been developing proposals for expanding and co-ordinating the recording and cataloguing of stained glass into England over the last couple of years, partly by improving and further streamlining the system for user contributions, I remain keen to make many more of the windows that I have recorded in Wales available on the site. The unpublished archive includes work by many artists and makers not yet represented on the site, and more windows by those only represented by one or two windows. In some cases I have revisited churches and now have additional details of windows only illustrated on the site with a single image, and some of the older images on the catalogue were processed using early camera raw conversion software, and are not all that readable by today’s standards – although they might have looked pretty good back in 2007!

Stained glass window of Christ with children.Stained glass window of Christ with children.
Window at St Woolos Cathedral by John Hardman & Co., originally photographed and added to the Imaging the Bible in Wales database in 2006; (right) rephotographed in 2013 and uploaded to the database August 2020
Stained glass window of the Magi.
Detail of a window by A.J. Davies just across the Welsh border in Herefordshire, at Kentchurch

Numerous attempts to fund additions to the Stained Glass in Wales catalogue during 2020 met with little success, hardly surprising in a year of unusual challenges. Funders often seem to prefer funding new initiatives rather than providing for additional work on existing resources, but I have been grateful to the Glaziers Trust and the Gibbs Trust for providing some additional funding this year. Time funded by the Gibbs Trust will focus on the addition of windows from Non-conformist places of worship, while funding from the Glaziers Trust enabled the improvement of information concerning windows already listed on the site, as well as additional details concerning artists and makers listed on the site, with improved bibliographic referencing.

Funding from the Glaziers Trust since 2016 has provided for the addition of stained glass from churches that have closed, enabled the functionality to add CVMA numbering of windows, and, in 2020, provided the opportunity to update many hundreds of records on the database. Adding in material gleaned from archival work done over the years, particularly in 2012–13 when seeking out the identity of makers of windows that I considered including in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, was a large part of this work, as well as incorporating new information from relevant publications. I also found that during the process of reviewing many hundreds of records, I was also able to attribute more windows on stylistic grounds, particularly in the case of windows added to the catalogue over ten years ago, when I was less adept at recognising the styles of particular firms. Dozens of old and new articles and books were added to the bibliography, with hundreds of links provided to individual windows on the database.

The next post on this blog will outline some examples of how this archival evidence helps with dating and attributing windows, and the care that needs to be taken with sources.

In addition it is now possible for me to tentatively attribute windows to particular makers or artist, where evidence is not conclusive. This makes it possible for windows to be listed as ‘perhaps’ or ‘probably’ by a studio, giving users of the catalogue the option of including them in lists of windows, and encourages caution in using any particular window for the attribution of another. In time I would like to extend this so that the catalogue provides the basis for the attribution of each window, although this would require further time going though the catalogue and checking exactly how the attributions of over 2500 windows have been arrived at. There have also been a number of other minor improvements to the site and I am grateful to Nigel Callaghan of Technoleg Taliesin for his ongoing support of the technical aspects of the database.

Stained glass window with figures.
East window at Llanwrthwl, 1874. The style looked vaguely familiar to me when I first saw this window in 2011, but after looking carefully at the early windows by Daniel Bell at Lampeter, when writing a book on the windows there in 2016–17, I recently realised that the style of this window matches those quite closely, and it is of the same date. No other work by Daniel Bell, who was working with Richard Almond at the time, has yet been identified in Wales, and I found it very difficult to find more than a couple of windows attributed to him anywhere else. Does that make it rare? Or will better recording prove that it is one of many more?

The Stained Glass in Wales catalogue will always be work in progress. There will always be more windows to find, just as I continue to be surprised by things that I come across for the first time when visiting churches. Windows already on the catalogue could often benefit from fuller descriptions, more detailed subject indexing and additional illustrative details. Furthermore it longs to extend across the border, and link up with the work of other researchers.

What then would this achieve? Many more local communities would find good information online about the stained glass in their places of worship, which could be shared to encourage visitors and enhance the understanding of the artistic significance of these buildings. We would be in a better position to write histories of stained glass artists and studios, being able to see the work of the more prolific in their variety over a period of time and in contrast with other makers. Windows made by little known studios and artists could be found by other researchers across Britain and overseas and used to help stylistic attribution and dating. Charitable bodies allocating funds towards the preservation and conservation of stained glass would be better equipped to make decisions regarding the relative rarity and quality of particular stained glass windows that have been damaged or are at risk.

There is much to do in the next ten years and I hope to find the necessary funding to carry on the work. Donations welcome!

New book on Wilhelmina Geddes

Back in 2006 I first met Nicola Gordon Bowe at the first conference of the ‘Imaging the Bible in Wales’ project in Lampeter, when she gave a distinguished lecture on the Irish artist Wilhelmina Geddes. This was at a time when I had only recently begun to look seriously at stained glass, as part of my work on the project recording biblical art in Wales. Apart from the window that Geddes made for the Church of St Peter, Lampeter, I knew nothing of her work. Nicola’s lecture left none of us in any doubt that Geddes was a consummate artist, who, like many others who have worked in glass, had been neglected in the prevailing fashion for painters and sculptors and the usual canon of movements in western art.

Cover of Wilhelmina Geddes: Life and Work by Nicola Gordon BoweThis is underlined in Nicola’s masterly new book on the artist. Rightly known as the expert on that other Irish luminary of stained glass, Harry Clarke, her book presents a detailed survey of Geddes’ career with many illustrations of her work and archival photographs. While her windows and preparatory drawings are most prominent, work in other media demonstrate the extraordinary ability of the artist.

Wilhelmina Geddes is presented as an artist whose medievalism is not outweighed by her modernism, and who found modernism in the stained glass figures at Chartres of the eleventh and twelfth century. Her windows are often monumental, while attentive to detail, and unusual in their composition, as the detail on the cover demonstrates.

Detail of stained glass by Wilhelmina Geddes

Wilhelmina Geddes, Christ Calling Fishermen, 1946, detail from the west window, Church of St Peter, Lampeter

The importance of her window at Lampeter was recognised by my colleague on the ‘Imaging the Bible in Wales’ project, John Morgan-Guy, whose suggestion to invite Nicola Gordon Bowe to our conference was inspired. The window was the most significant of her late works, and the commission is given plenty of attention in chapters ten and eleven, with numerous illustrations.

Wilhelmina Geddes: Life and Work, by Nicola Gordon Bowe, is published by Four Courts Press.

New Reviews

Reviews of Stained Glass in Welsh Churches have recently appeared in two Welsh journals, the county journal Ceredigion and Archaeologia Cambrensis, the journal of the Cambrian Archaeological Association that was first published in the 1840s.

Writing in Ceredigion (vol. 18, no. 2, 2014), Elizabeth New also reviews my little book on the stained glass at Llanfihangel Genau’r Glyn, published in 2013, since the church is in the county, located a few miles north of Aberystwyth. Her review appropriately notes examples from Ceredigion throughout her summary of the chapters and her ‘minor quibbles’ perhaps suggest some of the things that others might have hoped to find in the book, For example, she notes that I did not write much about the ‘extent of the loss of medieval glass, particularly through deliberate destruction’. In fact I think that I noted every reference to destruction of medieval glass in Wales that I came across, all of which were at the time of the Civil War, and none of which were in the sixteenth century. This surprised me and I would be very interested to learn of examples of the destruction of stained glass in Wales by Protestant reformers in the sixteenth century. To write about the extent of the loss of medieval stained glass in a county such as Ceredigion would rely on pure speculation. Elsewhere she notes that I do not comment on the use of the Welsh language in inscriptions, a subject on which I could write an interesting chapter but for which I simply did not have the space in the book or the leisure to research in more detail. It’s not unimportant, but this is a book about visual art. Along with the theme of the memorial window, which she notes recurring throughout the book, such things would be fruitful areas of new research.

I found it curious that she commends the layout as ‘user-friendly’: a term that we used to use in multimedia design in the 1990s, and therefore seems odd to me as a description of the printed page. But I hope that the book is indeed user-friendly.

Julian Orbach captures the essence of what the book tries to do in his review published in Archaeologia Cambrensis (vol 163, 2014). Noting my involvement in the ‘Visual Culture of Wales’ and ‘Imaging the Bible in Wales’ projects, both of which ‘stepped outside art-historical judgement’ and took an inclusive approach, he notes that this ‘even-handedness gives place for glass that has fallen thoroughly from fashion’, both in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At the same time, some of the less inspired windows that I have illustrated contrast well with the best, and his list of windows by Leonard Walker, Richard Stubington, Karl Parsons, Harry Clarke Studios, Martin Travers and Wilhelmina Geddes more or less sums up the best of the best in my view. Julian Orbach’s own contribution to the study is not inconsiderable, having contributed to volumes of the ‘Buildings of Wales’ series, and those of the series that are most informative on stained glass are those on which he worked. He was also very generous in sharing his notes on stained glass in Wales with me some years ago. He concludes the review by describing the book as ‘the best survey of stained glass published anywhere in Britain’. On all counts, my thanks to him.

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).