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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!
I am grateful to the Glaziers Trust for a small grant to enable the addition of the stained glass from more churches in Wales to the Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue.
I have continued to add and correct information occasionally since the funding for the Stained Glass in Wales Project ran out in 2011, so this represents the first significant batch of new windows on the site for some time, despite the fact that I have continued to visit dozens of churches in the intervening period. Occasionally, users of the site have also submitted new windows for inclusion using the special online form provided since 2012.
After considering my proposals, the trustees asked for the prioritisation of stained glass from churches that have now closed, and also for windows by artists that are not already represented on the resource. Each collection of stained glass at individual churches have their own stories, and sometimes form an interesting narrative in terms of the patterns of patronage, the choice of subject matter, and the changes in style. For an example of this, here are a few observations on the windows from the Church of St Jude, Mount Pleasant, Swansea.
The Church of St Jude closed in 2015. Its final service was held on the 8th of February, just a few months short of its centenary, and I visited in the few weeks before this service. The pictorial glass is all of the work of two studios: two east windows and three south windows that are all from around 1920, and windows of 1949 and 1965 by the local firm Celtic Studios. Three of the five Charles Powell windows are war memorials, and to date this doubles the amount of glass by the artist on the catalogue. In the past I have had some difficulty untangling his work from that of his son, Christopher Charles Powell, as his work demonstrates a clear continuity of style, further underlined by these windows.
The west window is a really impressive early work by Celtic Studios, so much so that I was a little surprised that Maurice Broady didn’t make more of it in his book on the studio (published in 2010 after he died, but based on his unfinished writing). I did much additional photography for this volume, but it wasn’t included on the shortlist drawn up for additional illustrations – but we were not short of choice. If I had seen it prior to completing my Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, I would probably have tried to work it in. With a big Christ figure at the centre, there are four ‘virtues’ at either side, and a set of scenes not only depicting the armed forces, but also a set of scenes depicting the home front: the Women’s Land Army, the fire service, shipping and mining.
In combination with the First World War memorial windows, the amount of war memorial stained glass in the church is greater than of other memorial glass, at least per square foot.
But what will become of this glass now the church has closed?
I will be involved in a conference being held in Swansea on 11 March at Alex Design Exchange, Swansea College of Art. There will be several speakers in the morning, and after that there will be an official opening of the ‘Glass Beacon’: a new work for the refurbished building.
In the afternoon we will be welcoming Nicola Gordon Bowe, who will talk about the artist Wilhelmina Geddes, the subject of her excellent new book.
For more information and to book please visit:
I’ll be speaking at Swansea College of Art on Friday 27th November on ‘Modern and Medieval: tradition and change in 20th Century Stained Glass’. There is also an exhibition of my work on display and I will be giving a short gallery talk after the lecture.
Please visit this event page for more information.
With the closure of churches and chapels a little bit of stained glass history can also slip away. Sometimes the buildings retain their windows after changes of use, and in other cases windows are moved to other places of worship. But windows from closed churches have also been sold or destroyed.
When trying to untangle some of the references to the work of the Cardiff firm Bristow, Wadley & Co., in an attempt to trace a history of stained glass firms based in Wales, I came across references to a window designed by Ivor Davies and supplied by Bristow, Wadley & Co. for the Church of St Catwg, Bedlinog. According to the Diocesan Faculty this was designed by Ivor Davies and made at Bristow Wadley’s Swansea studio. However, Maurice Broady lists the windows as by Celtic Studios (who were based in Swansea), and all of the references to a stained glass studio owned by Bristow Wadley’s that I have seen elsewhere locate it in Mill Lane, Cardiff. The firm sold all kinds of decorative supplies, not just glass, but paints, wallpaper etc, and had a number of outlets in the south Wales area.
When I tried to go and have a look at the window I was told that the church had long closed and the windows had been removed. Remarkably, I have now seen these windows, now in frames and for sale at an antiques showroom. This amazing coincidence was brought about by someone who encouraged me to come and see them, not knowing who they were by or where they had come from. The subjects rang a bell with my memory of the foregoing, and when I checked I was amazed to find that the subjects fitted the description of the Bedlinog window. But the solution of the designer/maker is not one that I would have expected. The central figure of Christ is indeed by Celtic Studios with their mark on, but the figures of Brychan and Cadog (or Catwg, Cadoc) are, I am fairly sure, the work of Ivor Davies.
I would welcome any further information on the extent of the stained glass studio at Bristow Wadley’s Cardiff base, or indeed elsewhere.
Over the last couple of years while researching for the final two chapters of the book, a few artists have kindly asked if I would like to make a piece of stained glass with them. In these cases time has been a limiting factor, but the subject came up again earlier in the year in conversation with Alun Adams of the Architectural Glass Centre, Swansea, and last week I made my first work in glass with the help of Owen Luetchford at their studio.
The piece will be part of my new exhibition, ‘Patterns, Monsters and Mysteries’ at Oriel Q, Queen’s Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire, which opens on Saturday 2 August. For more about the exhibition please visit my website. In addition to the piece, which is based on the pattern of a fourteenth-century tile at the former Cistercian abbey of Strata Florida, a second piece is composed of samples made in June with both Owen and his colleague Stacey Poultney. I will post some images next week after the opening.
As well as the main exhibition, which is primarily digital prints based on various suspects of medieval ecclesiastical visual culture, an exhibition of my photographs of stained glass can be found on the stairs.
My thanks are due to Owen and Stacey for their expertise and craftsmanship, and to Alun for facilitating the collaboration. The experience considerably enriched my understanding of the possible relationships between craftspeople, designers, artists and assistants that underlie the creation of most works in stained glass. Hopefully I will have opportunities to make more work in glass in the future.