By Megan Stacey
On the 25 June, the bustling market town of Ludlow was filled with stained-glass and heritage professionals from near and far, as well as local enthusiasts, for a one-day conference, ‘Window on a Parish: The Stained Glass of St Laurence, Ludlow’. Sometimes known as the ‘Cathedral of the Marches’, the Church of St Laurence has long been recognized for the importance of its stained glass. The windows have a long history of attracting visitors, such as Thomas Dineley, who in 1684 described the building as ‘very fair’ and ‘famous for painted ancient glass windows of curious artifice’. Despite this, as many of the conference’s speakers noted, apart from an initial overview of the windows by Ganderton and Lafond in 1961, precious little scholarship has been carried out.
Organized by the Ludlow Palmers, a charitable trust dedicated to fund-raising for the conservation of St Laurence’s, this one-off event aimed at raising awareness of the importance of preserving the church’s stained-glass windows. Held in the spacious nave of St Laurence’s, it was the perfect opportunity to showcase the latest research into these remarkable treasures, whilst helping to raise essential funds towards their planned conservation. The attendees were warmly welcomed to church by the Ludlow Palmers’ chairman, Hugh Wood (Fig. 1), before the first speaker, Bridget Cherry, set the scene by contextualizing the complex history of the building. She explained the influence of its critical location within the tumultuous borderlands of England and Wales, and demonstrated how changes in political tensions shaped the church over time. The influence of the Ludlow Palmers’ Guild on the architecture was highlighted, whetting the appetite for the following presentations, many of which discussed this theme in more depth.
A fourteenth-century Jesse Tree, one of the earliest windows in the church, was the focus of research by Tim Ayers, of the University of York. He investigated the function of the design within its architectural and liturgical context. Of great interest were the observations made regarding the use of the tree as a genealogical or literary form in relation to the monumental medium of stained glass. The extent to which original glass survives was also assessed, and the analysis of previous restorations revealed a remarkably sympathetic treatment by Hardman & Co. Emma Woolfrey, a doctoral student at the University of York, focused on the medieval catechism windows. By exploring the relationship between image and text she was able to offer insight into the relationship between the laity and the church. Particularly noteworthy were the divisions between lay factions, with the use of Latin in the windows of the Palmers’ Guild Chapel distinguishing the members of the guild from their contemporaries.
The choice of narrative glass commissioned by members of the guild was expounded by Christian Liddy of the University of Durham. By presenting a new interpretation of the Palmers’ Window, he offered fascinating insights into its possible functions, particularly in relation to the construction and enforcement of the guild’s identity through the careful selection of iconography. The more recent stained glass, dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was discussed by Dr Jasmine Allen, curator of the Stained Glass Museum, Ely. Her talk shed light on the themes, styles and makers represented, placed within the wider context of developments throughout the period. This inspired a greater appreciation of the more recent windows, which may sometimes be overshadowed by the wealth of medieval glass in the building. Finally, the theme of restoration was revisited by Sarah Brown, Director of the York Glaziers Trust, who made a broad examination of the restoration history of the windows. A useful summary of factors having an impact on the current condition of the glass was given, highlighting important considerations for future conservation work. This neatly brought us back to the key aims of the conference: a better understanding of the glass and the importance of its preservation for the future.
Anyone interested in finding out more about the conservation work, or assisting with fund-raising efforts can find out more on the Ludlow Palmers’ website.
D. Lloyd, E. Carson and D. Beatle, The Parish Church of St Laurence Ludlow, Ludlow: Ludlow Parochial Church Council, 2009
E. W. Ganderton and J. Lafond, Ludlow Stained and Painted Glass, Ludlow: Friends of the Church of St Laurence Ludlow, 1961 (p. 1 for the Dineley quotation)