Medieval and Modern at Doddiscombsleigh
Few questions generate more controversy than the ‘restoration’ of medieval glass, especially when the evidence for new insertions seems unclear, if not wholly speculative.
The fifteenth-century windows at St Michael’s Church, Doddiscombsleigh (Devon, fig. 1), are a particular case in point. Admired by many including Pevsner who described them as being: ‘the only place in Devon where one can get the impression of what stained glass did to a Perp[endicular] church’, the history of their ‘restoration’ in the nineteenth century provides a valuable case study for art historians and conservators alike. The combination of a recent cleaning programme by conservators from the York Glaziers Trust, together with previously unpublished research by Dr David Evans, the co-author of an important study on the glazing of the Great East Window in Exeter Cathedral, has shed new light on the Victorian restoration of these famous images.
Made around 1480 in what Professor Richard Marks has called a ‘debased international gothic style’, the glazing scheme of five figurative windows in the north aisle of the church has been attributed to a glass-painter designated the ‘Cadbury Master’ by David Evans. A member of a workshop responsible for producing window glass in the late fifteenth century for a number of other churches in the south-west, this painter takes his name from a remarkably expressive depiction of Christ (fig. 2) at the centre of a now otherwise lost Seven Sacraments scheme at the church of St Michael, Cadbury, about 14 miles north of Exeter, near the Devonshire town of Tiverton; other good examples of his work can be seen at Winscombe in Somerset.
The Doddiscombsleigh scheme painted by this artist includes standing figures of popular saints above heraldic devices of the Dodescombe and Chudleigh families and below tracery lights with decorative glazing. Window nVI contains St Christopher, St Michael Weighing Souls in a balance, and St Peter with an outsized key (fig. 3); nV St John the Evangelist, the Virgin Mary and St Paul (fig. 4); nIV St Patrick, St George overcoming a dragon and St Andrew (fig. 5); nIII St James Major, the Trinity as three kings with the top of a crown (a fragment from The Coronation of the Virgin) and St Edward the Confessor (fig. 6).
Finally nII, the east window of the north aisle, contains the most complete in situ composition of the Seven Sacraments in any English church, with beautifully painted scenes of the Eucharist, Marriage, Confirmation, Penance, Ordination, Baptism, and Extreme Unction, depicted as flowing from lines of blood streaming from Christ’s wounds (fig. 7).
This latter scheme also includes four small figures above the main lights: St Stephen; St Laurence; St Blaise, a popular Cornish saint, and a figure holding three pots on a book described as ‘may be St Nicholas’ in successive church guides, but identified by David Evans as St Heydrop, a Bishop venerated in Ghent (figs 8 and 9).
Rachel Thomas of the York Glaziers Trust takes up the story. ‘The windows have been through at least two periods of restoration: in 1762 and again in 1877. The 1762 restoration was undertaken by Peter Coles, a glazier of possibly London origin who may have specialized in the repair of medieval glass. A blue panel to the right of a female head in the Extreme Unction/Last Rites panel in nII reads, ‘Pr Coles, Glazr Done this Window, March 1762, whom God Preserve, amen.’ (fig. 10). Other examples of Coles’s work can be seen in the south chancel of another Devon church, St Thomas-à-Becket at Bridford, where some early glass is inscribed ‘Pr Cole Glaz’, and in Exeter Cathedral, where his signature appears five times on panels in the Great East Window spanning the years 1760 to 1774. He seems to have been an employee of a local Exeter-based glazing firm owned by George Lavers.
‘The second major restoration occurred just over a hundred years later, when the church underwent substantial rebuilding and repair. This work was performed by the well-known Victorian firm Clayton & Bell. Formed in 1855 by John Richard Clayton (1827–1913) and Alfred Bell (1832–95), the company was one of the most prolific makers of stained-glass windows in the nineteenth century. Like Cole, they too left their signatures in the glass, inscribing their name and date into the unfired paint of some newly painted inserts (fig. 11).
‘According to an account of the restoration written in 1926, J. R. Clayton was introduced to the church by the Duke of Devon, whereupon he volunteered to undertake the work ‘at the expense of the firm’. Parts of what ensued were extremely sensitive. Inserts were painted with a slightly heavier trace line than the originals and with much spattering of paint on the reverse of the glass to add depth, mock corrosion and the appearance of age. Signatures and dates were also added (fig. 12).
‘Such sympathetic techniques were not new. In 1848, nearly thirty years before the Doddiscombsleigh restoration, the stained-glass artist William Warrington (1796–1869) and author of one of the earliest published studies of stained glass, the 1848 History of Stained Glass from the Earliest Period of the Art to the Present Day, described the antiquating of glass during restoration as being from the “dirty school of glass painting”.
‘Other interventions by Clayton & Bell, however, were far less restrained. Between 15 and 20% of the overall scheme consists of newly painted and inserted glass. The issue of Building News for 3 October 1879 (p. 414) summed up their efforts: the windows had, it said, been ‘restored with much new work’. Nor was this an exaggeration. New figures, new heads, and a wholesale rearranging of the north-wall panels took place. The placing of heraldic devices was also shuffled.’
Comparisons between the finished result and tracings of the glass made by a Devon antiquary before 1847 make compelling reading. Unlike the current arrangements as illustrated in figures 3–7, these showed nVI as St Michael, St Christopher, and the Trinity, possibly as God the Father with Christ on the cross; nV as the Virgin, a missing figure, and a headless saint; nIV as St Peter, St George, and St Andrew; and nIII as St James Major, the Coronation of the Virgin, and the head of an unknown saint.
Apart from adding a new head to the Christ Child in the St Christopher painting (fig. 13), the image of the devil in the lower right of the St Michael painting, and the head of ‘St Paul’ for the decapitated figure (fig. 14), Clayton & Bell also reordered the glass. Far more speculatively, they also inserted new figures of St John the Evangelist, St Patrick and Edward the Confessor. Fortunately other panels, such as that of St George (fig. 15) and most of the individual Seven Sacrament scenes, were left untouched.
Unlike modern practice (as encouraged in the international CVMA’s Guidelines for the Conservation and Restoration of Stained Glass), nothing of this reorganization was documented at the time. We do not know what evidence Clayton & Bell found to justify the new figures or what, if any, original glass they discarded. The most important insertion undertaken by Clayton & Bell was the well-drawn seated figure of Christ in the centre of nII. Apparently missing since at least the eighteenth century, one account claims that it was ‘allegedly replaced by clear glass after a local parishioner had complained that his pew seat was too dark for him to read his hymnal and Bible’ (church guide).
This image has no medieval prototype (fig. 16). Clayton & Bell appear to have been completely unaware of two similar schemes – the first at Cadbury undertaken by the Cadbury Master, and another at Crudwell, near Malmesbury in Wiltshire, executed by a different artist from the same workshop – which both showed Christ as a standing, rather than seated, figure (fig. 17).
According to Gordon McNeil Rushforth (1862–1938), a one-time Director of the British School in Rome, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and an expert on medieval Christian iconography, Seven Sacraments compositions in stained glass only appear in two formats: either with the individual sacrament panels surrounding a standing figure of Christ (five examples), or with the sacraments emanating from the body of the crucified Christ (three examples). To Rushforth, these formats appeared to be divided between the southern and northern halves of the country respectively, i.e., standing figures in the south and, scenes around the cross in the north, as at Cartmel Fell (Lancashire, fig. 18).
Had Clayton & Bell known of these images in 1877, the final appearance of the Doddiscombsleigh window might have been very different. As it is, we have no idea how the firm decided to execute the design. In 1930, Rushforth published a conjectured montage of Cadbury and Doddiscombsleigh to give readers of the Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine a sense of how the original scheme at the latter might have appeared. Using modern digital techniques, the architectural photographer C. B. Newham has recreated this process at our request (fig. 19).
David Evans, Rachel Thomas & Roger Rosewell
Thanks to: Keith Beer, Peter Cormack, Dr Michael Kearney, and Mark Withington.
Keith Beer, St Michael’s Church, Doddiscombsleigh, 2004 (official church guide)
C. Brooks and D. Evans, ‘The Figure Glass’, in The Great East Window of Exeter Cathedral, Exeter, 1988, pp. 83–147 (contains a discussion of the Exeter workshop responsible for the Doddiscombsleigh glazing)
Maurice F. Drake, ‘The Painted Glass of Exeter Cathedral and Other Devon Churches’, Archaeological Journal, 70 (new series 20), 1913, pp. 163–74
F. C. Eeles, ‘Notes on the Medieval Stained Glass at Winscombe and East Brent’, Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological Society, 75, 1929, pp. 14–22
Richard Marks, Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages, Toronto/Buffalo/London, 1993
Gordon McNeil Rushforth, ‘Seven Sacraments Compositions in English Medieval Art’, Antiquaries Journal, ix (2), 1929, pp. 83–100
Gordon McNeil Rushforth, ‘The Sacraments Window in Crudwell Church’, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 152, June 1930, pp. 68–72
The international CVMA’s Guidelines for the Conservation and Restoration of Stained Glass may be found on the CVMA website.
The CVMA Picture Archive contains a selection of images from Doddiscombsleigh. It also contains further examples of work attributed to the Exeter glazing workshop, at Bratton Clovelly, Cadbury, Exeter Cathedral and Manaton (all in Devon); Melbury Bubb (Dorset); and Langport (Somerset).
For additional Seven Sacrament scenes see Cartmel Fell (Lancashire); Great Malvern (Worcestershire); and Melbury Bubb (Dorset).