It is with sadness that we note the passing of Alfie Alderson. Many Vidimus readers, particularly those in East Anglia, will be aware of the two volumes written by Birkin Haward on nineteenth-century Norfolk and Suffolk stained glass, and it is particularly interesting to learn of similar work carried out by Alfie in the north of England.1 We are grateful to Ruth Cooke for providing the following obituary and to Alfies’s family for allowing us to use three examples of his unpublished illustrations.
Alfie was born into a large and talented family at Girsby Grange, North Yorkshire and attended the tiny village school before gaining a scholarship to Yarm Grammar School. On his way home from school in the afternoons, he would often cycle through Middleton St George, an important RAF Bomber station, to see the planes that had returned from their night missions, noting any damage they had suffered. After leaving school, Alfie volunteered for the Royal Observer Corps, and during this time he designed and fashioned a powerful prism for his own binoculars.2 His fascination with aircraft was lifelong. He was a remarkable artist with a keen attention to detail, evident in his paintings of aeroplanes, as well as later paintings of churches.
Alfie was an active member of the Young Farmers and became well known for his knowledge of local history. He was also a keen and accomplished photographer, compiling records of local events and family occasions. In addition to working on the farm, he developed a successful business as an agricultural land drainage surveyor; the maps he produced for farmers were not only invaluable practical documents but minor works of art in their own right. Alfie established a life-long friendship with his French pen friend from his school days, and together they regularly undertook walking holidays in France and Switzerland until Alfie was in his eighties, latterly combining this activity with photographing stained glass in these two countries.
For 46 years, Alfie was the churchwarden at All Saints’ Church, Girsby. On retirement, bringing together his interests, skills and talents he turned his attention to stained glass windows. He meticulously researched, documented, photographed and catalogued stained glass, principally in North Yorkshire but also further afield, recording on film every window in 622 buildings, mainly Anglican churches in the north of England. Alfie adapted quickly to the arrival of digital equipment and imaging and loved to chat at length on this subject. At Alfie’s request, when his eyesight began to fail, we created an electronic summary list and delivered several thousand slides to ChurchCare. These include records of windows since removed or lost. Currently in the Lambeth Palace archive, it is hoped that this material will be digitised and made accessible in due course.
Alfie was instrumental in resurrecting the early Willement glass at Kiplin Hall. After he found the glass languishing in a barn, it was restored and returned to the library at the Hall. We have fond memories of a picnic lunch in the grounds after inspecting this glass with him; as so often, he had a spring in his step and a twinkle in his eye, taking great delight in sharing his discoveries. In 2006 Alfie published Stained Glass in Hambleton District, a useful guide for stained glass restorers and church crawlers alike.3 Dr Michael Kerney referred to this guide as “…an admirable piece of research, well indexed and attractively presented, and a valuable record of a legacy all too often facing an uncertain future”.4 As always, Alfie gave the matter of presentation much thought and had a unique way of identifying window location within the building – he chose not to adopt the CVMA system, despite my efforts at persuasion! He followed up this volume with a DVD catalogue of stained glass in Ryedale District, including meticulous ground plans for each building.
Alfie was generous with his resources and the information he had so carefully researched, created and compiled. When a church window on his “patch” had been severely damaged, he would willingly lend his precious slides and later share electronic images for reconstruction purposes. He was often approached by Church Recorders seeking information on makers, stained glass artists, and attributions of windows, and he was an invited speaker for several of their study days.
He was a true gentleman, with a methodical passion for stained glass.
- Birkin Haward, Nineteenth Century Norfolk Stained Glass (Norwich 1984); Nineteenth Century Suffolk Stained Glass (Boydell 1989).
- The Royal Observer Corps operated in the UK from 1925 until 1995.
- Privately published by Alfred M. Alderson in 2006, ISBN 0-9552452-0-6.
- The Journal of Stained Glass vol XXX 2006 p 258-9.