Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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Depicting St David

Books on stained glass and other ecclesiastical arts from the modern period tend to focus on an artist, studio or designer, on a period or movement, or on a single church or region. This new book does something different, and approaches the field by way of subject matter and iconography, in this case the imagery of a single saint.

dewisant-clawrAbout 170 images of David are depicted in the book, from 1840 up to 2015, and most are from churches from across Wales. Some are found in churches that are now closed.

It is common for writers on stained glass to note the tendency of artists and studios to reuse designs and cartoons, and occasionally illustrate examples, as I did in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches. This book provided the opportunity to illustrate the reuse of designs by Heaton, Butler & Bayne, Morris & Co., Shrigley & Hunt, Burlison & Grylls and Robert Newbery, demonstrating that cartoons were not always copied exactly, and were sometimes subject to very different treatments. 

For example, after going through all of the images of David that I have found, none of standing figures of St David by C.E. Kempe and his studio reuse the same design, although they are more than twenty in number. By contrast, I have identified eight figures of David by Robert Newbery that all use the same cartoon, which highlights two in particular that do not, in churches at Neath and Llansamlet. Initially I thought that there was a third ‘different’ image of David by Newbery at the Church of St Catherine, Pontypridd, in the west window. Having visited the church a few years ago, where the windows all bore the hallmarks of Newbery, I had assumed that all of the windows in the church were by him (except an obviously new work by Nicola Hopwood), although I was struck by the striking colour and quality of the west window. However, in the process of bringing together all of the images that I had found of David, I discovered that the figure of David in the west window at Pontypridd exactly matched another by Percy Bacon at Monkton Priory, thereby identifying this studio as the manufacturer of the west window at Pontypridd, and not Newbery. I nearly left the Monkton window out, but found a corner for it on my further reading page.

I have just recorded a piece about the book for ‘All Things Considered’, which is broadcast on Radio Wales. Among the things that I was asked was whether I might be annoyed if others wrote to me with further images of David that I had not included (making the assumption that all of the known images of David were illustrated in the book). I have well over a hundred further images of David on my list that there was not space to include, although the inclusion of some of them might have made the book itself rather repetitive, like the cartoons of stained glass. But there are certainly more to be found – as large or incidental figures in windows, and on reredoses and pulpits in various media. Many that I have come across were found by surprise, as probably less than half are documented in any published sources. As I continue to visit churches around Wales I am still finding more, and there are also more to be found outside Wales, although I have not the opportunity to research them.

Depicting St David is now available from the publisher, Y Lolfa, for £7.99 and will shortly be in bookshops, in time for 1 March, Gŵyl Dewi Sant, St David’s Day.

Llywelyn, Siwan and the Tree of Life

Window and effigy at the Church of St Cybi, Holyhead

Morris & Co., Tree of Life, 1897, over the tomb of William Owen Stanley by Hamo Thornycroft, Church of St Cybi, Holyhead

Diolch i Rhys Mwyn am dynnu sylw at fy llyfr yn ei bost diweddar. ‘Mae’n lyfr swmpus, yn gorlifo o wybodaeth ac yn frith o lyniau lliw’.

The post on his blog reflects on two windows in north Wales that are both included in the book, that of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Siwan at Trefriw and the window at Holyhead above the effigy of William Owen Stanley by Morris & Co. Why are these windows not better known, he wonders?

What struck me about both of them is that although he is (rightly) impressed by their colour and design, as works that are of gallery quality, neither might be thought of as art historically interesting to the stained glass historian. I identified the maker of the Trefriw window after consultation with the Church in Wales records at the National Library of Wales. It was made by A.W. Mowbray of Oxford, an example of the kind of ecclesiastical furnisher that seems to have been frowned upon by the British Society of Master Glass-Painters, which was formed in the 1920s. Similarly, the window of the Tree of Life at Holyhead, although made by the firm of William Morris, was made after Morris had died and was not the work of one of the firm’s most accomplished painters. ‘Morris’ firm with Morris dead is quite hopelessly bad’, was a quote from 1908 that I found recently when researching a booklet of the stained glass at Tenby (more on this to come shortly).

So why are these windows worthy of attention?

In the case of the window at Holyhead, wallpapers made by Morris & Co. have a broad appeal today, and although foliate panels such as this would have mainly been used as padding for larger windows in the nineteenth century, we are better able to appreciate its abstract design today. The patronage of both William Owen Stanley and his nephew Henry Stanley, third Baron Stanley of Alderley, is also of interest here and elsewhere on Anglesey.

Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Siwan at Trefriw are rare depiction of Welsh national figures in ecclesiastical stained glass, commissioned as appropriate subjects for the church that they reputedly founded in the thirteenth century. As far as I can recall I have not come across images of either of them in any other churches (the medieval grave slab of Siwan rests in the church at Beaumaris of course), and neither have I seen Llywelyn ap Gruffydd or Owain Glyndŵr (but I would be pleased to hear of any). Henry VII, on the other hand, is not so rare. There are reasons for this, such as the Anglicisation of most of the gentry patrons commissioning stained glass, and the preference, naturally enough, for biblical and other religious subjects. But the quality of the glass and the significance of these figures for contemporary Wales, even in a week when a poll has suggested that support for an independent Wales has hit a new low, can be recognised even in a modest work by a little-known Oxford ecclesiastical furnisher.

Narberth talk

nave window by Joan Fulleylove.

Joan Fulleylove, St John, 1932, Church of St Andrew, Narberth

I will be presenting a number of talks in September related to my work on stained glass in Wales. The first of these will be held in Narberth Museum on 3 September at 7.00. Earlier in the afternoon I will be at Oriel Q from 4.00, where my exhibition Patterns, Monsters and Mysteries will be in its final week, to talk about the exhibition. Immediately prior to the talk, the Church of St Andrew, Narberth, will be open from 6.00, providing an opportunity to see windows by Joan Fulleylove, Morris & Co and Robert Newbery.

I will also be speaking at conferences in Aberystwyth and Carmarthen, both of which are related to broader themes. The Aberystwyth conference is a British Academy Digital Humanities Networking Event, 12-13 September, at the National Library of Wales. For the conference in Carmarthen I will be speaking about images of Welsh Saints in stained glass as well as in other media. This conference, 16-19 September, is part of The Cult of Saints in Wales Research Project at the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies.