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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.
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.
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, processed using early camera raw conversion software, are no longer very satisfactory – although they might have looked pretty good back in 2007!
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 Nonconformist 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.
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.
The Stained Glass in Wales catalogue will always be work in progress. There will always be more windows to find, and records of windows already lost that need to be added. I continue to be surprised by things that I come across for the first time when visiting churches, such as windows by firms that were previously unknown to me, or subjects that I have not come across before in stained glass. 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!
About two and half years ago I revisited the Church of St Gwenllwyfo, Llanwenllwyfo, in northern Anglesey, and began a conversation that has resulted in a new book on the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Continental stained glass at the church.
When I first attempted to write about the stained glass on the online ‘Stained Glass in Wales’ catalogue, I turned to the notes written by J.O. Hughes that were produced as a small unillustrated booklet in 1995. The booklet left a lot of unanswered questions as it did not list any sources, but, when writing Stained Glass from Welsh Churches in 2013–14, I was able to find further writing about the stained glass of the period in scholarly articles and catalogues which alluded to the dating, provenance and attribution of the panels at Llanwenllwyfo.
Some of this writing confirmed what J.O. Hughes had written about much of the earlier sixteenth-century glass, which was thought to have originated at the Leuven Charterhouse, and the important article by Yvette Vanden Bemden and Jill Kerr identified a number of them among the ‘Anglesea Group’, which also encompassed similar panels elsewhere. Some writers went further, and Hilary Wayment attributed couple of the panels to the Master of the Mass of St Gregory, the painter of a roundel of that name now at the V&A, or to his workshop. Although I admit that I found some of the arguments confusing, in the absence of any writing that I could find at the time to contradict this attribution, I broadly adopted Wayment’s attributions in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches. I also used his attributions in an article on the stained glass for Vidimus, published early in 2014, hoping that I might receive some feedback from scholars more versed in the stained glass of the Low Countries on the validity of these attributions.
Around the time that I visited Llanwenllwyfo again in 2014, a small bequest from the family had been set aside to publish the research of J.O. and Catherine Hughes as a small book, and I was very pleased to be asked to design and produce the book. This consisted of an introduction about the gentry families involved in the building of the church and the acquisition of the stained glass, and then descriptions of each of the main panels.
I also took the opportunity to look more closely at each of the panels and collate the writing on them in other sources. It was during this process that the attribution to the St Gregory Master appeared to me to be increasingly doubtful, mainly because the similarities between a group of the panels, here and elsewhere, seemed to be greater with each other than to those attributed to the St Gregory Master. I was also struck by their similarity to panels that had recently been associated with Jan Rombouts by Yvette Bruijnen. These panels were also from the collection of Sir Thomas Neave, but now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and at Prittlewell, Essex. Some of these conclusions will be published shortly in a feature for the online journal Vidimus, and are alluded to in a short contribution that I have written for the new book.
That it has been such a long time since Avril Lloyd at the church first discussed the draft of the text that she had prepared from the notes of J.O. and Catherine Hughes about two years ago is down to a variety of reasons. These included other commitments on my part, the time taken for the texts to be translated and checked and finally securing the funding to print the book as intended. The book is now available this autumn on my Sulien Books website for £10 + postage, and from the church.
I mentioned the comments facility on the online Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue in my last post, but didn’t expand very much about the resource. The site was launched in June 2011 and the development of the site is outlined on a page on the website. At the time of the launch it contained a large proportion, but not all, of the photography that I had done of stained glass in Wales, and this was made possible by a few small grants that paid for the cataloguing of the windows on the database (on top of what was already prepared as part of the Imaging the Bible in Wales Project.
Since then I continued to research stained glass for the book, Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, and my archive has grown significantly, but without the funding to continue cataloguing the work. In some cases I have added some of this research, but it has not been possible to keep pace with the fieldwork. Similarly, I have done much archival work, that has brought dates, makers and other details of windows to my attention, both for windows already on the site, and for many others not yet listed.
In the future I am hoping to seek further funding to add many more attributions, dates, archival information and bibliographic references to the material currently online, in addition to adding many hundreds of new windows to the resource. This cannot be undertaken in any quantity without further funding. In the short term, I will at least attend to any corrections to information that I become aware of, and will hope to add further records as time permits (but with my current commitments, not much!).
After the launch of the catalogue I wanted to make it possible for others to enlarge the resource if they wished. This is possible in two ways. Firstly, comments – new information, corrections and so on – can be submitted by clicking on the links found beneath records for windows, sites and artists/makers. Furthermore, it is possible to add records of other works in glass, with or without images. Some have kindly submitted records for all of windows from their churches, which have been added with images. Please contact me if you would like to do this. The records for windows can be very brief or very detailed, and information is particularly welcomed from sites other than churches. None of these submissions are published without checking and I edit them if necessary for consistency, and add subject references and links to artists/makers, with any other information that I have to hand.
I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank the staff of the National Library of Wales, on whose servers the Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue runs, and Nigel Callaghan, of Technology Taliesin, who ensures that the site continues to work properly. Recently he fixed a bug that we weren’t aware of that seems to have blocked some user comments. This only came to our attention because I was told about the problem by a user, so please contact me if something doesn’t seem to work properly.