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Early stained glass is quite rare in south Wales, particularly in comparison with north Wales, and many of the most notable stained glass in the region comes from overseas. It was with some surprise that, on a recent visit to a number of churches in Monmouthshire, I came across some sixteenth-century heraldic stained glass that I have not seen noted anywhere before.
I arranged to visit the church to see its late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century stained glass, but was intrigued by some coloured and painted glass that I found in the chancel windows. The two two-light windows both had roundels containing complete or partial coats of arms, with coloured and stained fragments around the borders. The window on the north side also had an inscription along the bottom, and although most of the paint has been lost, the ‘ghost’ of the letters was faintly visible.
Sometimes early and mid-nineteenth-century stained glass can appear very faded as the paint sometimes deteriorates, and at the time, since I was not expecting anything so old, I wondered whether this was badly-fired nineteenth-century work. But the more I looked, I thought that there must be a good chance that this stained glass was indeed a few hundred years old, particularly given the way in which small parts of glass were leaded together in a rather irregular way. Nonetheless, the fact that I had not seen anything published about this glass weighed against such an assumption. It was not mentioned in John Newman’s ‘Pevsner’ for Gwent/Monmouthshire, and it is not included in Andrew Renton’s survey of pre-1700 stained glass in south Wales, published in Vidimus in 2009, although there are a few other omissions from this list that I have come across. Nothing about them was included in the notes on the building available at the church.
On returning home I checked the Pevsner once again and found the CADW Full Report for Listed Buildings, neither of which mentioned any early stained glass at the church. I then had a look at Joseph Bradney’s multi-volume History of Monmouthshire, to see if it might help with the heraldry found in the windows. In the past I have found this work particularly unhelpful for researching stained glass, but in this instance he does mention some stained glass that was formerly at the church, lamenting that it had only very recently been removed from the church (the book, his first volume, was published in 1904).
He describes the windows in heraldic terms, and it took me a little while to decipher the descriptions (e.g. Argent, a chevron sable between three ravens proper and Argent, a cross moline quarter pierced sable; Sable, a fosse between three escallops or, a crescent for difference), but the four descriptions match what is currently at the church very closely, suggesting that what was taken out in around 1903 has since been carefully restored. The glass was formerly in a three-light window, with a fourth heraldic roundel in a south chancel window, and it must be that the commissioning of the present east window (by Ninian Comper) displaced this pre-Reformation stained glass, which had no doubt hitherto been in its original position. At some unknown date, and possibly quite soon after the new east window was placed there in 1903, the glass was obviously carefully restored to the church: the three roundels from the east window joined by the one Bradney recorded in the south chancel window (but now in the north) in the north and south windows of the chancel.
As well as identifying one of the arms as those of Elizabeth, wife of Sir Charles Herbert, Bradney also transcribes an inscription, which asks for prayers in favour of Sir Charles Herbert and his wife Elizabeth ‘qui hanc fenestram vitriari fecerunt’ (who caused this window to be glazed). I have not yet discovered the date of their marriage, which would give us an earliest date for the window, but Charles Herbert of Troy (1500–57) would have been unlikely to have placed the window much before 1520. The donor suffered a decline in fortunes in the later years of his life, and also remarried, so Bradney’s suggested date of about 1540 seems about right.
The displeasure of an historian such as Joseph Bradney in learning of the recent loss of the windows is not unexpected. Nonetheless, these rather dilapidated reminders of sixteenth-century gentry patronage had probably outlasted their welcome for the congregation, who probably preferred the new modern pictorial window. At least Bradney’s worst fears turned out to be unfounded, and this important historical stained glass has continued to survive more than a hundred years since he pronounced it lost.
It was good to revisit some churches in north Wales, and see some new places in Cheshire, while acting as a guide for the Stained Glass Museum Study Weekend, alongside Jasmine Allen and Penny Hebgin-Barnes.
The opportunity to see new things in familiar places, with the help of a knowledgeable and observant group of people, ensured that all of us went away with something new. In familiar churches there were some things that I had not seen before. In the case of the two churches in Buckley for instance, there were windows that were not there the last time that I visited: at St Matthew’s a new little window painted by Deborah Lowe has been added, and a window by A.L. Moore from a closed church in Manchester has found a new home in Emmanuel Church, Bistre.
As the tour included churches and private chapels that I had not visited before, there were a few things in particular that I learnt from the trip, and here are three of them.
1. The work of the big studios such as Heaton, Butler and Bayne could be tremendously diverse.
Well, that’s not a great start because I already knew that, but it was underlined by the work of this firm that kept cropping up at a number of the places that we visited. This seemed especially noticeable as we were fortunate to start at Eaton Hall Chapel, where the entire scheme of windows was made by the firm, but to the design of Frederic Shields, who evidently excercised considerable control over its production. These windows bore none of the recognisable features of stained glass by the firm, and at successive churches – Rossett, Gresford, Malpas, Llanfarchell as well as at Chester Cathedral – we found their work in a wide variety of styles from the 1870s to the 1920s.
Incidentally, on my return I found some similarities between a few of the poses found in the Eaton Hall Chapel glass and a window I know better, the east window at Llanbadarn Fawr, which Frederic Shields designed with J. P. Seddon and was made by Belham & Co in 1884.
2. There are very close parallels between some of the Flemish panels at Cholmondeley Castle and those at Llanwenllwyfo
I have written about the collection of Flemish glass from the Neave collection, now at Llanwenllwyfo, Anglesey, on these pages and elsewhere. While researching the Llanwenllwyfo glass I have come across references to, and a couple of small illustrations of, the stained glass now at the private chapel of Cholmondeley Castle, so once again, although the above statement was not really new to me, the chance to see the stained glass at Cholmondeley enabled me to see this for myself and make some further observations (too many to detail fully here).
The design of six scenes now in the east window of Cholmondeley Castle Chapel is very close to some of those at Llanwenllwyfo such as Christ with Veronica, the Raising of Lazarus, Abraham Visited by Angels and David with Abigail. These were probably made in Leuven and may have come from the Charterhouse there. As well as the overall design of the panels, some of the figures are painted in a closely related style, and probably by the same workshop, and there are two examples of lettering used on the edges of garments to state the names of certain figures, found in several panels at Llanwenllwyfo.
The detail illustrated here shows this and also the problems of identifying artists. It would seem that the head of the unfortunate prophet here does not match any of those at Llanwenllwyfo closely, but it also differs from that above it and the group to the right, raising the possibility of three hands at work in this single panel.
The heads of Samuel from Cholmondeley and of Simon the Pharisee at Llanwenllwyfo offer an example of a pair of heads that seem to match very closely, but not quite exactly. Since we really know very little about these panels, they could be by the same artist but separated by a number of years, by different painters in the same workshop, or the product of different workshops but closely following the work of the same designer. Whether they were originally made for the same location we will probably never know.
Three of the scenes at Cholmondeley retain their lower inscriptions, which may assist with further work on their origin and the workshops responsible for them, although none have any borders at their sides.
Finally, as an additional parallel to the stained glass at Llanwenllwyfo, a roundel at Cholmondeley also depicts Christ wearing a hat and holding a spade as he encounters Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection, a scene that is particularly distinctive at Llanwenllwyfo and was featured on the cover of the book about that church and its glass.
3. The firm of Ballantine of Edinburgh underwent a huge transformation in the first quarter of the twentieth century, or perhaps they didn’t
Visiting the Church of St Oswald, Malpas, brought me back to a window that had struck me on my first visit, a four-light window of the Adoration of the Magi. After I first saw the window I was surprised that the Pevsner (Clare Hartwell, Matthew Hyde and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cheshire, 2011) tentatively attributed the window to Ballantine of Edinburgh. Shortly before this discovery I had also been surprised that Peter Cormack, in his review of my little book on the stained glass at Tenby, had also suggested the firm as the maker of a window that I had been unable to attribute there.
Comparison of some of the faces in both windows suggests that they could perhaps have been by the same artist, although there was a little more painted shading in the little Tenby window. But were either of the windows products of the studio of Ballantine?
James Ballantine & Son (also Ballantine & Allen, and later Ballantine & Gardiner and then A. Ballantine & Son) was a long-lived firm that was established in Edinburgh by the 1830s and made stained glass for the House of Lords. Windows by the studio of the 1850s and 60s are found in north Wales, demonstrating a strong pictorial style with very fine painting and bright colours, but, by 1881, their window at Emmanuel, Bistre shows a duller colour palette in keeping with the times. A further window of 1890 at the Church of St Mary, Lenten Pool, Denbigh, also on our tour, demonstrates a very much more conventional Gothic Revival style typical of the period.
So after that recognisable change of approach, might they have embraced the Arts and Crafts Movement so convincingly that they were able to produce the beautiful window at Malpas? Many on the tour thought not, but no other attributions were forthcoming.
The story of why medieval stained glass survives in some places and not in others is an intriguing one and not always well understood. This is something that I have recently written about in an article for Historic Churches, to be published in June.
The Reformation of the mid-sixteenth century turned the tide on the use of imagery in the church and it is often thought that windows were smashed when the altars were stripped and statues of saints removed and destroyed. It is not clear how much this was actually the case, and, as Richard Marks points out in his Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages (1993), attacks on stained glass ‘should not be overestimated’ and stained glass windows ‘were permitted to remain intact because of the expense of replacement’ (pp. 231–2).
We do know that pictorial medieval stained glass was destroyed in Wales during the 1640s, but a great deal was probably thrown away because of its gradual decay and neglect, even as late as the mid-nineteenth century. My article then gives examples of the ways in which medieval stained glass was retained and restored in medieval churches during the nineteenth century. Sometimes fragments of medieval glass were incorporated into new compositions, and often fragments were simply leaded together as a jigsaw without any pictorial meaning. In fact, these panels strike me as essentially abstract works, made in a period before abstraction was taken up seriously in visual art.
Historic Churches is an annual magazine and has published a number of useful articles on stained glass in recent years, particularly in relation to conservation. Many of these articles are available online, including a useful article by Sarah Brown that provides useful context on the iconoclasm of the Reformation and the Civil War in England. Perusing these articles I came across an article on the nineteenth-century Welsh pioneer David Evans, something that I am sorry to have missed a coupe of years ago, as it would have deserved a reference in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches.