Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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St Nons windows, Pembrokeshire

StNons_DSC1225_52AFor some years I have been pondering on the attribution of four windows at the Chapel of St Non, which stands on the cliffs above St Nons Bay, near St Davids. The chapel was built in 1934 adjacent to St Non’s Well and the ruined medieval chapel, and was intended to provide a focus for Catholic devotion to St David and his mother, St Non.

The east window is signed and dated, both of which are something of a surprise. The window is dated 1920, before the chapel was built, as it was originally made for St Non’s House, while the name of the maker, ‘William Morris Westminster’, is not the William Morris known to most as the celebrated Victorian poet, artist and socialist, but an entirely unconnected designer of stained glass, whose work was popular in the 1920s and 30s.

The reason for my interest in other windows in the chapel is that they also depict Welsh saints and for some time I have been working on a book on the imagery of Welsh saints. One of the windows is a particularly fine one of St Brychan, who stands with the Nevern cross behind him. There is also a window depicting St David, and while I prepare the book, I have been working on a smaller study in the interim, on the imagery of St David, which is far more plentiful than the imagery of any other Welsh saint. So I wanted to include this window of David at St Non’s in this smaller book, which will be published shortly under the title Depicting St David.

There is a rather simple charm to the execution of the windows, and the figures have largely plain quarries around them and quite distinctive borders. I wondered whether they could be the work of John Hardman & Co., makers of many windows for Catholic patrons, but could not find any direct correlations. Another maker that I considered was Frederick Charles Eden, although none of the windows by him that I had come across appeared to be quite the same. I found that some had quite similar border patterns, but a similar kind of edging around the frame of a window was also used for windows by other studios, such as Burlison & Grylls and C.E. Kempe & Co. I even found a window that was almost certainly by the same maker, also in south-west Wales at Marros, although I could find no attribution for this window either, or any trace of any records that might help.

Not far away from Marros in Carmarthenshire is a complete set of windows at Eglwys Cymun that are thought to be the work of Frederick Eden, and span a period from 1906 to 1915. There are various differences in execution: some have none of the coloured bands and silver stained patterns around the edge of the windows, the style of text is different, and some have more decorative painted detail. This can be accounted for by the fact that during this period, in about 1909–10, Eden established his own studio to make the windows that he designed. As the last are nearly twenty years earlier than the windows at St Non’s, direct correlations need not be expected, even if the same designer or maker was responsible. Nonetheless I kept returning to what little I could find by Eden online and in my archive, because I sensed similarities in the painterly style and in the borders and lettering found at St Non’s, and at Marros.

As a result of this search, in which I also sought to find out about the studios that Eden worked with prior to the establishment of his own (I’m sure that I have come across or been told about a reference to a firm that he worked with somewhere before!), I discovered that a summary catalogue of Eden’s drawings from c. 1909–44 in the V&A Art and Design Archive was available online. I was delighted, and lucky, to find an entry for ‘Four grouped lancets’ for ‘St. Non’s Chapel, Pembrokeshire’. Nothing is included in the list for Marros, or Eglwys Cymun, so the list is far from a complete list of his windows. I did however note a design for St Deiniol and St Christopher, which I surmised would probably be in Wales somewhere, and concluded that it was one of the porch windows at the Church of St Deiniol, Hawarden. This window had been attributed to Haswall or (possibly Frank) Haswell in Malcolm Seaborne’s list of stained glass in Flintshire Churches, even though its companion window of the same date was attributed to Eden by Seaborne.

Another researcher who has used the V&A Art and Design Archive for researching windows in Wales is Peter Jones, who had kindly provided confirmation of my tentative attribution of Eden’s work at Llanfairfechan, and submitted another window by Eden at Llanbedr-y-cennin to the Stained Glass in Wales catalogue some years ago.

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Frederick Eden, St David, c. 1934, Chapel of St Non, south wall of the nave.

While continuing to search for more windows by Eden online, I did discover a very good match for the figure of David at St Nons, in the guise of Nicholas at the Church of St Peter, Henfield, and dated 1935, which has been added to Wikipedia. It also shares the same kind of lettering, painterly style and borders as the St Non’s windows. But as Peter Jones noted in his comment on the Llanfairfechan window, Eden had a severe stroke in 1934, around the time that the St Non’s windows were made. That a window so similar was made by Eden’s studio in 1935 suggests that by this stage the studio was able to continue to produce windows in his idiom without his direct involvement, and that a house-style was in full swing and could be replicated as required.

Plenty of questions remain, such as the name(s) of the studio that made Eden’s windows prior to the establishment of his own stained glass studio, and also the identities of the painters and glaziers who worked for him into the 1930s. But at least I am convinced that the four windows in the north and south walls of the chapel at St Nons are his designs and almost certainly the product of his studio, and I can attribute them as such in the book.

Dire windows and provincial firms

I have stated elsewhere that Stained Glass from Welsh Churches was not intended as a book of the best stained glass in Wales (and said as much on p. 7 of the introduction). In his review of the book recently published in the Journal of Stained Glass (vol. 38), Peter Cormack goes further, noting the ‘number of feeble or positively dire examples’ that I troubled to include from the later nineteenth and twentieth century, which potentially reinforces a negative view of stained glass that persists among many people. However, negativity, or at least indifference, towards the medium seems more characteristic of art historians than of people in general in my experience. He also claims that the work illustrated reflects ‘the relative poverty of Wales’, and I wonder whether such a claim would have been made if the book had focussed more on high-class works such as big east windows during the same period by Clayton & Bell, Hardman’s, Powell’s and Burlison & Grylls.

In the previous post I quoted another reviewer who commended the ‘even-handedness’ of an inclusive approach to stained glass, and Peter Cormack also praises the inclusion of work by many provincial firms, ‘often for the first time’, in addition to those that are better known. In fact he goes as far as to say that ‘it would be difficult to think of a book that might be more useful to groups such as NADFAS Church Recorders in introducing them to the vast subject of Vicorian and later glass.’ High praise indeed.

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Seward & Co., The Good Shepherd, c.1923, Church of St Mor and St Deiniol

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Edward Woore, The Good Shepherd, 1926, Church of St Mary, Cwrt Henri

There are certainly windows in the book that are poor but which demonstrated something I wanted to convey, and there are others that I couldn’t bring myself to include. There are certainly several in the chapter on late nineteenth-century memorial windows and saddest of all is perhaps the Good Shepherd by A. Seward & Co. of Lancaster which was included to point up the originality of the work of Mary Lowndes and (particularly) Edward Woore in the following chapter on the Arts and Crafts Movement. But my choice of themes for certain chapters was deliberately chosen to include work by lesser known makers, good and bad. Somewhere there will be a window by Seward & Co. that is genuinely cherished by a congregation unaware of my opinions or those of Peter Cormack. They would be probably be interested to know more about the maker and about other windows that the studio made, and these people need books about stained glass as well as art historians primarily interested, for good reasons, in the best that our culture has produced. There is also another reason why the photograph of the Good Shepherd by Seward & Co. was chosen for the book. It is in a church that has long been closed and may never be accessible to the public again, if indeed it survives.

The review in the Journal of Stained Glass is followed by another positive review of my little book on the stained glass at the Church of St Mary, Tenby, which adds some further useful detail on the architect J.D. Coleridge, who advised the rector on the commissioning of Karl Parsons. Interestingly, Peter Cormack notes the probability that Edward Woore assisted Karl Parsons with the war memorial window at Tenby.

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).