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I started this blog four and a half years after publishing Stained Glass from Welsh Churches in summer 2014. The book has now won a prize! It has been awarded the Mrs Foster Watson Memorial Gift, which is awarded every five years to a member of staff of Aberystwyth University for published work that combines scholarship with general interest.
The assessors commented: ‘It is a substantial work of pioneering scholarship, spanning the centuries. At the same time it explains the development of this specialist art-form and craft in terms that the wider audience of cultured readers will understand. It thus fits perfectly the criteria set for the competition and fully deserves the award’.
The news arrived a couple of weeks ago, while I was working with the publishers, Y Lolfa, on an application to the Welsh Books Council to help with publishing a book on the imagery of Welsh saints in Welsh churches. The award was formally recognised at a drinks reception held at Old College, Aberystwyth, 17 December 2018.
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.
I have been writing a booklet about the stained glass at the Church of St Peter in Carmarthen, which is being published this month. The opportunity to write this short study raised a couple of intriguing questions regarding the attribution of two of the windows in the church.
The window on the north side of the nave, depicting the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, had been attributed to the London firm Heaton, Butler & Bayne, but this did not appear to be correct according to what I have seen of their work around this date (1870). In considering other possibile makers of the window, I thought about Joseph Bell of Bristol. This long-lived firm made two windows in the south aisle of the same church, and one at the east end of this aisle, an area formerly used as a consistory court. This big east window was signed by Bell (1864), and the ones on the south side were either attributable to Bell from newspaper reports, or by clear stylistic parallels.
Although the style of the 1870 window is quite different from these earlier works, there were nonetheless parallels with the east window of Trinity College Chapel, Carmarthen, made by Joseph Bell in 1873. In both windows there are some similarities in the poses, lettering, the red halo used for Christ, and they have a darker, richer, palette. The contrast to the brighter colours and Neo-classical style of drawing found in the windows by Bell of the 1860s is nevertheless quite marked, and shows how a window could be very different from another made only six years earlier by the same studio.
A further window at the church posed a more difficult problem. The window is situated between the Crucifixion and Resurrection window and a First World War memorial, which I had been able to attribute to Percy Bacon Brothers from the British Society of Master Glass Painters list of 1930, a detail of which was used in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches (2014). The main scene in the window, depicting Christ as the Good Shepherd with St Peter, looked markedly different from other windows that I have come across from this period, although the Gothic framing around it was very conventional. But I could not find anything else that seemed to match the style and identify the maker.
Finally, I came across a newspaper report of the unveiling service which contained the information that I had sought, which came with a surprise: ‘The design which is in beautiful stained glass represents the Good Shepherd and also St. Peter with the Keys. A suitable inscription on a brass plate at the foot, completes the memorial, which was carried out by Mr W. B. Simpson, of Martin’s Lane, London’ (The Carmarthen Weekly Reporter, 2 October 1903, 4).
At first I thought that this firm had only made the brass plate, but after reading it again it seemed likely that Simpson’s had made the plate and the window. However, I had not heard of the firm before, certainly not as makers of stained glass, so, having found a name, it was an unexpected one. Some further research revealed that they did indeed have a stained glass studio at St Martin’s Lane in London, and also that the artist Lewis Foreman Day had quite a long association with the firm, designing for their products in various media. Whether he was the designer, or how typical the window is of their output, has been impossible to easily assess, as I have yet to find any other images of their stained glass.
The firm was apparently better known as producers of ceramic tiles, making many thousands of them for public buildings such as hospitals and theatres in the late nineteenth century, as well as the London Underground. I also found that I had come across their tiles already in Wales, as Simpson’s firm was responsible for tiles at St Asaph Cathedral, and made the pictorial tiled scheme designed by Horatio Walter Lonsdale depicting scenes from the First Book of Kings for the roof garden of the Bute Tower of Cardiff Castle.
The Stained Glass of the Church of St Peter, Carmarthen, is now available from Sulien Books.
I was asked to provide a Christmas image for the Facebook and Twitter feed of the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies this week, and although I had one or two other things in mind, stumbled across a pair of panels in the Church of St Twrog, Maentwrog, in north Wales.
These attractive scenes in the north and south walls of the sanctuary are set with square silver stained quarries above and below and have a nice charm about them.
When I came across the windows, which were probably listed on the Stained Glass in Wales catalogue six or seven years ago, I was unable to precisely date or attribute them, and looking at these windows again, inevitably the questions arose of when was the window made and by whom?
None of the obvious studios came to mind as probable makers, but following comparison with the poses, painterly style and lettering of windows by Edward Frampton at Hawarden, I decided that both of the windows could fairly safely be attributed to this artist’s studio. Further evidence comes from the fact that a window of Christ the Good Shepherd in the church was signed by Edward Frampton. This window shares a very similar style of lettering, the same floreate background, and also confirms that the artist had contacts at the church.
The Good Shepherd window is dated 1896, the same year in which the architects Douglas & Fordham restored the church and added the chancel. This would therefore be the earliest and perhaps most likely date of the north and south sanctuary windows, although they could have been added later.
What is striking about this little discovery is how unlike the Good Shepherd window these panels in the sanctuary appear to be at first glance, and they are perhaps even more removed from the windows at Hawarden that I looked at first (which didn’t help my attribution). At Hawarden the five two-light windows, made between 1886 and about 1904, all have Gothic architectural tops and bottoms, which lends them a late-Victorian appearance. In contrast, the light and space afforded the scenes in the sanctuary at Maentwrog, enhances their delicacy, rendering them visually more redolent of the Arts & Crafts Movement.
Another set of windows at the Church of St Ethelwold, Shotton, make even more of a contrast, as the east and west windows all have quite dark scenes, and the large Gothic canopies in the big windows of the sanctuary apse characterise them very much as late nineteenth- or early twentieth-century Gothic Revival works.
All three of these churches (Maentwrog, Hawarden and Shotton) had work done on them (or were originally built, in the case of St Ethelwold’s) by the Chester architect John Douglas, in partnership with D.P. Fordham or C.H. Minshull, and, while thinking about some other churches by these partnerships that I have visited, I was able to attribute the big east and west windows of the Church of Bryn-y-Maen, near Colwyn Bay to Edward Frampton. None of the windows in this church are even mentioned in Edward Hubbard’s Buildings of Wales: Clwyd (1986).
A further look around the windows at Maentwrog brings us to the west window, in which three rather stiff figures stand within elaborate Gothic framing, and here again, on close inspection, the lettering, canopies and some of the faces recall Edward Frampton’s work at Hawarden. Nonetheless, they seem far removed from the panels in the sanctuary, and the comparison of these windows by Frampton is suggestive of how much the borders around windows can condition our perception of style.
The Church of St Matthew in Maindee, Newport, was a church that I knew quite well in the mid-1990s when I was living in south Wales. I remember that the sanctuary fittings were attractive although I did not pay them all that much attention.
Even in the 1990s the future of the church was somewhat precarious, and the concern over whether it could remain open was greater still when I went back to the church, in 2010, to record the artwork there. The floor of the church had dry rot, and it finally closed in 2014.
The reredos was one of two in Newport by the artist Allen Henderson, the other being at the Church of St John the Baptist, where there is also a figure of the Virgin and Child and a set of Stations of the Cross by the artist. The sanctuary windows were unattributed, but were a very fine set of four two-light windows, slightly reminiscent of contemporary work by Heaton, Butler & Bayne, commemorating members of the congregation who fought in the First World War.
One of the two windows (of 1931) on the south side of the church had been attributed to Samuel Evans’ studio in the Buildings of Wales: Gwent/Monmouthshire, and when writing my chapter on war memorials for Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, I decided to illustrate one of the sanctuary windows. However, I was not certain who they were by and tried looking in the diocesan archives in the National Library of Wales. This was unsuccessful, and so I visited Gwent Archives in Ebbw Vale in the hope that they might have something about the windows in the parish archives. I was delighted to discover the faculty for the windows which stated that they were also by Samuel Evans & Co.
This made it easy to attribute the earlier of the windows on the south side to the same firm, and similarities could be seen in the later window that had already been attributed to Evans’ firm, although there were plenty of differences as well.
Samuel Evans, like T.W. Camm and his brothers, had worked in the stained glass studio of Chance Brothers in Smethwick, and when the studio closed in the mid-1860s, these artists set up their own stained glass firms. This week I paid a visit to the Sandwell Archives in Smethwick to see if I could learn much more about the firms, or about the stained glass studio of Chance Brothers. The archives of Chance Brothers and of T.W. Camm (and also the separate firm, Camm Brothers) are quite extensive, but all that seems to be held for Samuel Evans’ firm are a dozen cartoons.
Nine of these cartoons are of windows whose location (according to the catalogue) is unknown, but two of them had a note to say that they were in Newport (unknown county). When I ordered one up it turned out to be the cartoon for the figure of St Agnes, by chance the same figure that I had chosen to illustrate in the book. And very beautiful the cartoon is. I didn’t have time to order more up, but I expect that more of the cartoons were for that commission, possibly all of them if they included the figure of David in the south wall.
While writing this post I was curious to see what had become of the church in Maindee, Newport. The answer via the website of the South Wales Argus came easily: the church was demolished in May.
On 8–9 September I attended the Art and Christianity Enquiry (ACE) symposium in Cambridge: ‘In glass thy story‘, a two-day symposium addressing over 70 years of innovation and iconography in the glass art of British and European churches and cathedrals.
On the first day I contributed a paper on the change in direction that prompted the adoption of a more vivid and bold approach to stained glass design in the Llandaf diocese. This enlarged an observation made on pages 268–9 of Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, and presented the opportunity to show the work of Welsh artists Howard Martin, John Edwards, Tim Lewis, John Petts and others to a distinguished gathering of British and continental artists and scholars.
The symposium was held at Robinson College, Cambridge. This presented the opportunity to see works by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens in the chapel of the college, one of which is a small and intimate window, the other a large and ambitious work occupying much of the wall behind the altar. After my lecture, the proceedings continued with a short performance by the pianist Patrick Hemmerlé in the chapel, offering the opportunity to contemplate the work in conjunction with music by Debussy and Ravel.
The opportunity to engage with another recent work in Cambridge was provided by a visit to St Catherine’s College Chapel, where the artist Tom Denny spoke about his work in conversation with Sophie Hacker, and in particular about his window in the chapel.
The final talk of the conference was about the windows designed by the abstract artist John McLean for Norwich Cathedral, installed since I last visited the cathedral. As I came away I couldn’t help thinking about the striking difference between these wholly abstract windows, saturating their aisle with colour, with the window we looked at by Tom Denny. This was also a work which was rich in colour, and might, in combination with two other windows in a similar kind of location, have also created a colourful immersive environment. But the work of Denny was figurative and suggestive, an intelligent interpretation of texts from Ecclesiastes, and also brilliantly painted.
Were the windows by John McLean, with their absence of any apparent message, suggestive of a church that does not know what to say anymore, or at least a church that chooses to say little? In glass no story?
Such things cannot be argued one way or another in a few lines here. I didn’t talk about theology or narrative in my talk and lots of us were perhaps on safer ground with style and form. But the rare opportunity to think about these things at the ACE conference was a welcome one.
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.