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 The window is dated 1920, before the chapel was built, as it was originally made for St Non’s House, while the name of the maker, ‘William Morris Westminster’, is not the William Morris known to most as the celebrated Victorian poet, artist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.

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.

Artists and Designers

How do we define the artists responsible for stained glass windows? Very often windows were the product of the collaboration between a number of individuals, often working in large or small studios. This is still the same today, but, just as in the past, some artists are responsible for the design and complete manufacture of a window.

The relationships between those responsible for the design and making of a window are often poorly understood, and frequently the designer of a window has been celebrated in preference to the people who have interpreted their designs in glass, paint and lead. I was therefore interested to read the comments by Neil Moat in his recent review of the book for Vidimus: ‘in a welcome move, the names of executant studios take precedence over designers, except for those windows clearly the handiwork of a single artist.’

This is to say that in their captions, I have described windows as, for example:

Morris & Co., The Adoration of the Shepherds and the Magi, 1898, designed by Edward Burne-Jones

rather than:

Edward Burne-Jones, The Adoration of the Shepherds and the Magi, 1898, Morris & Co.

To choose another famous example, from the last century, windows designed by John Piper are commonly attributed to him, rather than Patrick Reyntiens, a significant artist in his own right, who painted and made them. This all seemed a little suspect to me, when so little credit has been given to cartoonists, glass painters and glaziers (often subsumed under the name of a studio or firm, such as Morris & Co., C.E. Kempe & Co., or more recently in Wales, Celtic Studios). The precedence of the designer as the principal artist is sometimes well-justified, particularly when they actively supervised the making of the windows that they designed, but often we simply do not know the extent to which this was the case. For example, Burne-Jones designed figures and scenes as well as drawing cartoons for windows, but left their production in glass to the studio.

I did give this a lot of thought while writing the book, balancing what is known about larger stained glass studios of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with contemporary practice and my own interviews with artists who had collaborated with others. Other scholars, such as Martin Harrison in his seminal Victorian Stained Glass, also put the name of the studio before that of the designer. In the captions I gave precedence to the maker except in those cases where I judged that the maker was working under the close supervision of the designer as a controlling artist. In some cases I expect that this judgement will be proved wrong as the work of other scholars becomes available or other archives come to light. In some cases I simply failed to find sufficient information, for example I did not find the name of the maker used by Gerald Moira for his windows. Ideally the names of studios/makers and designers should be noted, but in the case of many windows neither are known.

All of this goes to the heart of what the Arts and Crafts Movement was all about, as a response to John Ruskin and to the interpretation of Ruskin’s work by William Morris, which afforded better acknowledgement and appreciation of the role of the craftsman or craftswoman. Even here there are inconsistencies; on p. 167, footnote 5, I quote Paul Thompson, who judged the stained glass production at Morris & Co. as ‘an extreme example of the division of labour’. At the very least attention should be drawn to the skill and ingenuity of the glass painters, studio managers and technicians who turned the vision of designers like Edward Burne-Jones into works of art in glass. In the case of Morris & Co. recent work on the employees of the firm has been published by Tony Benyon in vol. xxxv (2011) of The Journal of Stained Glass.

My thanks to Neil Moat for his observations on the book in Vidimus.