Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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St Nons windows, Pembrokeshire

StNons_DSC1225_52AFor some years I have been pondering on the attribution of four windows at the Chapel of St Non, which stands on the cliffs above St Nons Bay, near St Davids. The chapel was built in 1934 adjacent to St Non’s Well and the ruined medieval chapel, and was intended to provide a focus for Catholic devotion to St David and his mother, St Non.

The east window is signed and dated, both of which are something of a surprise. The window is dated 1920, before the chapel was built, as it was originally made for St Non’s House, while the name of the maker, ‘William Morris Westminster’, is not the William Morris known to most as the celebrated Victorian poet, artist and socialist, but an entirely unconnected designer of stained glass, whose work was popular in the 1920s and 30s.

The reason for my interest in other windows in the chapel is that they also depict Welsh saints and for some time I have been working on a book on the imagery of Welsh saints. One of the windows is a particularly fine one of St Brychan, who stands with the Nevern cross behind him. There is also a window depicting St David, and while I prepare the book, I have been working on a smaller study in the interim, on the imagery of St David, which is far more plentiful than the imagery of any other Welsh saint. So I wanted to include this window of David at St Non’s in this smaller book, which will be published shortly under the title Depicting St David.

There is a rather simple charm to the execution of the windows, and the figures have largely plain quarries around them and quite distinctive borders. I wondered whether they could be the work of John Hardman & Co., makers of many windows for Catholic patrons, but could not find any direct correlations. Another maker that I considered was Frederick Charles Eden, although none of the windows by him that I had come across appeared to be quite the same. I found that some had quite similar border patterns, but a similar kind of edging around the frame of a window was also used for windows by other studios, such as Burlison & Grylls and C.E. Kempe & Co. I even found a window that was almost certainly by the same maker, also in south-west Wales at Marros, although I could find no attribution for this window either, or any trace of any records that might help.

Not far away from Marros in Carmarthenshire is a complete set of windows at Eglwys Cymun that are thought to be the work of Frederick Eden, and span a period from 1906 to 1915. There are various differences in execution: some have none of the coloured bands and silver stained patterns around the edge of the windows, the style of text is different, and some have more decorative painted detail. This can be accounted for by the fact that during this period, in about 1909–10, Eden established his own studio to make the windows that he designed. As the last are nearly twenty years earlier than the windows at St Non’s, direct correlations need not be expected, even if the same designer or maker was responsible. Nonetheless I kept returning to what little I could find by Eden online and in my archive, because I sensed similarities in the painterly style and in the borders and lettering found at St Non’s, and at Marros.

As a result of this search, in which I also sought to find out about the studios that Eden worked with prior to the establishment of his own (I’m sure that I have come across or been told about a reference to a firm that he worked with somewhere before!), I discovered that a summary catalogue of Eden’s drawings from c. 1909–44 in the V&A Art and Design Archive was available online. I was delighted, and lucky, to find an entry for ‘Four grouped lancets’ for ‘St. Non’s Chapel, Pembrokeshire’. Nothing is included in the list for Marros, or Eglwys Cymun, so the list is far from a complete list of his windows. I did however note a design for St Deiniol and St Christopher, which I surmised would probably be in Wales somewhere, and concluded that it was one of the porch windows at the Church of St Deiniol, Hawarden. This window had been attributed to Haswall or (possibly Frank) Haswell in Malcolm Seaborne’s list of stained glass in Flintshire Churches, even though its companion window of the same date was attributed to Eden by Seaborne.

Another researcher who has used the V&A Art and Design Archive for researching windows in Wales is Peter Jones, who had kindly provided confirmation of my tentative attribution of Eden’s work at Llanfairfechan, and submitted another window by Eden at Llanbedr-y-cennin to the Stained Glass in Wales catalogue some years ago.

StNons_DSC1245_52A

Frederick Eden, St David, c. 1934, Chapel of St Non, south wall of the nave.

While continuing to search for more windows by Eden online, I did discover a very good match for the figure of David at St Nons, in the guise of Nicholas at the Church of St Peter, Henfield, and dated 1935, which has been added to Wikipedia. It also shares the same kind of lettering, painterly style and borders as the St Non’s windows. But as Peter Jones noted in his comment on the Llanfairfechan window, Eden had a severe stroke in 1934, around the time that the St Non’s windows were made. That a window so similar was made by Eden’s studio in 1935 suggests that by this stage the studio was able to continue to produce windows in his idiom without his direct involvement, and that a house-style was in full swing and could be replicated as required.

Plenty of questions remain, such as the name(s) of the studio that made Eden’s windows prior to the establishment of his own stained glass studio, and also the identities of the painters and glaziers who worked for him into the 1930s. But at least I am convinced that the four windows in the north and south walls of the chapel at St Nons are his designs and almost certainly the product of his studio, and I can attribute them as such in the book.

Stained Glass and Modernism in the Diocese of Llandaff

During the course of browsing through diocesan archives at the National Library of Wales some years ago, I noticed an abrupt change of policy in the commissioning of stained glass in the Diocese of Llandaff in the late 1950s. The change was from the endorsement of quite conservative design, and the avoidance of additional background detail and ornament, to a much more colourful and modern approach to stained glass design. There was also a concerted encouragement to commission stained glass by Welsh artists, which chiefly benefited the firm of Celtic Studios, in Swansea, and John Petts.

stained glass depicting the Crucifixion.
Celtic Studios, The Crucifixion, 1960, detail from a window designed by John Edwards, Church of St Mary and Holy Innocents, Merthyr Vale

I noted this in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches (p. 268–9), and expanded upon it in a lecture given in Cambridge in 2016. This has now been published in my first article for the Journal of Stained Glass (vol. 42, 2018), and illustrates windows that I would have liked to have included in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches but didn’t have the space for.

One of the striking things about the distribution of stained glass by Celtic Studios is that, although their windows are found widely across the whole of south Wales, few were commissioned for churches in Cardiff. I pointed this out in a footnote to Stained Glass from Welsh Churches on p. 248, noting that windows by the firm in Cardiff were limited to two Anglican churches, a Presbyterian church and a synagogue. As a result of some recent fieldwork, one of these Anglican churches can be crossed off the list. A ‘major early window’ of theirs is mentioned by John Newman in the Pevsner (The Buildings of Wales: Glamorgan, 1995, p. 313) at St Mary’s, Whitchurch, and although it is not listed in the appendix of Maurice Broady’s study of the firm (A Vision Fulfilled, 2010), I did not question Newman’s reference as the window was described as ‘signed and dated 1948’.

I recently arranged to visit St Mary’s, which is usually locked, and discovered that this impressive window is in fact signed and dated, but by Powell’s of Whitefriars, and not by Celtic Studios at all.

Large stained glass window.
Powell & Sons. Resurrection and Ascension, 1948, Church of St Mary, Whitchurch

Reflecting on this, and looking again at post-war commissions for stained glass in and around Cardiff, I feel that perhaps I should have given a little more weight to the number of these commissions that went to Powell’s in the 1940s and 50s, which included the replacement east window for St Margaret’s, Roath (Cardiff), a major work alongside that at Whitchurch and others. These are enumerated in Dennis Hadley’s list of works by Powell’s, compiled from their archives at the V&A in London. But, strangely, the west window at Whitchurch is not among them, although two earlier windows by them at the church are listed.

Hidden Gems: stained glass at Llanwenllwyfo

Cover of 'Trysorau Cudd/Hidden Gems'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.

stained glass panel at Llanwenllwyfo

Detail of Christ from the Raising of Lazarus, c.1520s, Church of St Gwenllwyfo, 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.

Spread from 'Trysorau Cudd/Hidden Gems'

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.