The Medieval Stained Glass of Herefordshire and Shropshire. By Robert Walker. Soft back, 287pp, over 200 colour illustrations. Eardisley, Logaston Press, 2023, £25, ISBN 9781910839546.

Reviewed by Sarah Brown, University of York

Fig.1. Cover, The Medieval Stained Glass of Herefordshire and Shropshire by Robert Walker.

This beautifully produced and modestly priced gazetteer and guide, by retired buildings conservation officer and stained-glass enthusiast Robert Walker will be a welcome addition to any library (Fig. 1). The scope of the survey is the diocese of Hereford, an area encompassing the historic counties of Herefordshire and Shropshire, with the Herefordshire glass probably slightly better known. Stained glass in the churches of that small sliver of northern Shropshire that sits outside the diocesan boundary is also included in a short appendix. The diocese is rich in stained glass of exceptional quality and interest, preserved in over 100 locations, and Walker does this material full justice. The book is generously illustrated throughout, most of the images having been taken by Walker himself, although he has also included a small number of informative older images for comparison and elucidation. I also found his numerous ‘insets’, in which small details from a variety of windows are juxtaposed for comparison, both interesting and stimulating.

Part one of the book offers a helpful overview of the chronology, iconography and post-medieval history of the glass of the diocese, in which iconoclasm has inevitably played its part, especially in the vicinity of Leominster, once known as ‘little Geneva’. Part two provides an alphabetically arranged gazetteer by location, with windows identified using the Corpus Vitrearum numbering system. A map is also supplied, and appendices provide additional information on other important glass in the Welsh marches, and notes on conservators and restorers. While the main focus of the study is the stained glass of the medieval period, briefer mention is made of post-medieval glass up to 1700 (notably at Abbey Dore, Foy and Sellack), with selected highlights of even later date.

 

Every medieval period is well represented in this county collection. The Cistercian grisaille of c. 1180-1250 at Abbey Dore, disastrously restored in the 20th century, is among the earliest glass in the country. Significant parish church glazing of the 13th century, the period in which stained glass first begins to become prominent in a parish context, can be found at Astley Abbots and at Madley. Thanks to the research of the late Richard Morris, and the more recent publication on the decorated style in Herefordshire by Nigel Saul,((Nigel Saul, Decorated in Glory: Church Building in Herefordshire in the Fourteenth Century, Eardisley 2020.)) it is recognised that the 14th century was a period of exceptional building activity in this part of England. The ingenuity and richness of the mason’s craft is matched by the lush and earthy colours of the stained glass that illuminated their interiors. The windows of Brinsop, Eaton Bishop, Madley and Moccas (Fig. 2) are justly celebrated. From the fifteenth century, the remarkable parish church glazing of St Laurence, Ludlow stands out for its scale, ambition and quality, notwithstanding heavy restoration in the early Victorian period. The superb glass from the Chapel of Hampton Court chapel, published many years ago by Madeline Caviness, is also justifiably renowned, but Walker brings to our notice some remarkable but less familiar 15th-century glass at Battlefield, Donnington (Fig. 3), Prees and Tong, to name but four locations. Only the work attributed by Walker to the early 16th-century begins to disappoint in terms of quality and originality.

Fig. 2. Moccas, St Michael, canopy work with the arms of the de Frenes. Photo: Robert Walker.

Fig. 3. Donington, St Cuthbert, figures from a Doom. Photo: Robert Walker.

The diocese also has much to offer the keen iconographer. The 13th-century narrative roundels at Madley are of exceptional interest (Fig. 4), with scenes from at least two cycles, while in St Laurence, Ludlow the huge St Laurence window, a project on an almost cathedral scale, underlines the vigour of the resurgence in hagiographical narrative in the late medieval period. The catechistical use of stained glass seems to be the inescapable conclusion to be taken from the Ludlow glazing, with the Ten Commandments and the Creed among the subjects of universal interest to medieval Christendom. There are also, however, examples of very local devotional preoccupations, including the image of St Thomas Cantilupe of Hereford (with St Thomas Becket) at Credenhill (Fig. 5) and the Legend of the Palmers of Ludlow in the glass in St Laurence. It is also a county rich in Jesse trees, to which Christopher Woodforde long ago drew attention (at Madley, Ludlow and Shrewsbury, St Mary, for example). An iconography of a very personal nature is found in the 15th-century glass now at Ross on Wye but probably made for the chapel at Sugwas Palace. Here Thomas Spofford, bishop of Hereford 1421-48, kneels before St Anne and the Virgin Mary, a not unusual posture for a donor figure, but made particular and quite literally heart-felt by the offering of his heart to the Mother of God (Fig. 6). What also emerges from this survey is the interesting late medieval iconographic lacunae in the diocese of Herford’s windows – apparently no Name of Jesus or Holy Kindred (although the Virgin appears with her mother and father at Ross). The diocese seems to have eschewed some of the more grisly late medieval images of Christ’s suffering, although St Weonards’ preserves a Man of Sorrows. Not a very gory one, but with an interesting golden face that perhaps hints at the description of the Son of Man in the Book of Revelation. The wounds of Christ and the instruments of his Passion, a subject of increasing devotional fascination in the late Middle Ages, do pop up, at Michaelchurch Escley and Wroxeter, for example.

Fig. 4. Madley, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, 13th-century narrative roundels. Photo: Robert Walker.

Fig. 5. Credenhill, St Mary, St Thomas Becket and St Thomas Cantilupe. Photo: Robert Walker.

Fig. 6. Ross on Wye, St Mary. Bishop Spofford kneeling before the Virgin and St Anne, who teaches her daughter how to read. Photo: Robert Walker.

The diocese also boast its fair share of imported glass, with two wonderful Netherlandish ‘Sorghelosse’ roundels at Llanwarne, and the extraordinary collection of European glass at St Mary’s Shrewsbury, now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

Walker is an excellent guide to the secondary literature of his topic, and while his bibliography is relatively short, his footnotes are rich in references. He is not afraid to engage with past and current debates as to origin, style and workshop identities, and two of his most valuable contributions are his knowledge of the antiquarian sources, notably Richard Symondes (d. 1660), Silas Taylor (d. 1678), Thomas Dingley (d.1695) and William Mytton (d. 1746), and his interest in the restoration histories of the windows. He has identified the work of numerous plumber-glaziers and restorers, some of them well established names, but many of them far less familiar outside the diocese.

This is a book to be enjoyed at home and to be well-used while on the road. It is a refreshing and well-written account of two counties that deserve to be celebrated and visited by everyone with a love of stained glass, and Logaston Press, a small publisher dedicated to the history of its own locale, is to be congratulated for ensuring that it is affordably within the reach of so many grateful readers.

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