William Price, the glass at Mereworth and the Pigott panel at the V&A
Geoffrey Lane considers a mysterious heraldic panel held by the V&A, its relationship to glass at Mereworth, Kent and the role of talented glass-painter William Price
Mereworth Castle and Church
In the 1720s, the Scottish architect Colen Campbell (d 1729) completely rebuilt Mereworth Castle in Kent as a Palladian villa for John Fane, the 7th Earl of Westmoreland. Some twenty years later, Westmoreland decided that Mereworth’s medieval church upset the symmetry of his new house, and obtained permission in 1744 to demolish it. A new church was erected half a mile away and consecrated on 26 August 1746. It was built in a severely classical style – a rectangular building with a semi-circular portico and a soaring steeple, but no chancel. The architect is not recorded, but is believed to have been Roger Morris, Campbell’s assistant, although some authorities attribute the work to Henry Flitcroft.
Roman Doric pillars inside, painted to resemble marble, support a barrel-vaulted ceiling with trompe-l’oeil coffering. At the east end a large “Diocletian” window, copied from the Diocletian Baths in Rome, stretches the full width of the vault, and is filled with four tiers of heraldic glass in elaborate settings. (An arched window below was added in 1875).
Another highly decorative armorial window [Fig. 2.] lights the small Despencer chapel in the south-west corner of the church, which is dominated by the massive tomb of ancestor Sir Thomas Fane and his wife Mary Nevill, Lady le Despencer, whose marriage in 1574 had brought Mereworth into Westmoreland’s family. Nearby are other memorials to her Nevill forbears (Lords Bergavenny), all brought from the old church.
The History of the Glass
There is no record of the glazing, but it was probably carried out in 1746 or soon after – it was certainly finished by 1752, when Horace Walpole saw it in situ: “There is an entire window of painted-glass arms, chiefly modern, in the chapel, and another over the high altar” – the glass must have looked very new at the time and Walpole does not seem over-enthusiastic. However the notion soon took hold that the heraldic glass came from earlier centuries, and had only been reset at this time. The Kent county historian Edward Hasted, writing in the 1790s, and echoing John Thorpe in the 1760s, recorded that “the east window is handsomely glazed, with painted glass, collected by him [i.e. Westmoreland] for the purpose”.
It was only in 1985 that the stained glass historian, Michael Archer, identified the glass-painter on stylistic grounds as William Price the Younger (1703 or 1707-1765) – in a wide-ranging article which swelled the number of commissions attributable to Price from six to twenty-one, “showing that he was by far the most important glass-painter in England in the mid-eighteenth century”. Mr Archer touched only briefly on the Mereworth glass, however, focussing mainly on the Despencer chapel window:
This remarkable classical church was built by John Fane, Earl of Westmorland, between about 1744 and 1746. The window with his arms betrays a host of the stylistic characteristics we can associate with Price. The wide ribbands establishing the framework of the design; the heavy picture-frame mouldings containing diapers; the prominent medallions and the double-leaves with curling ends; the similarity in the painting of the griffin’s head to the crest of the West family at Preston-on-Stour, even the incorporation of earlier glass (eight heraldic panels); all these show that Price was the artist responsible. Similar characteristics show that he also painted the semicircular window at the east end which also contains older glass as well as the oval heraldic panels in the third window from the east on both the north and south sides.
Previous writers had described the glass as “armorial, of the 16th-18th centuries” including the Kent glass historian, C.R.Councer, who wrote a detailed account of its heraldry for Archaeologia Cantiana in 1962. But some aspects of it clearly puzzled him.
The Diocletian Window Glazing and the Pigott Panel at the V&A
Nine of the panels in the Diocletian window appeared to have come from the same workshop as the celebrated Arms of Pigott quartering Castelline & Walcott in the Victoria and Albert Museum (cat. C. 126-1929) – and just like it, they were all dated 1562 [Figs 3 & 4]. But Councer could not reconcile the dates on the panels with their genealogical and heraldic content. For instance, a panel on the extreme left showed the marriage of the poet Sir Philip Sidney to Frances Walsingham, which took place in 1583 – in 1562 Philip had been only eight years old, and Frances not yet born. Councer explained this anomaly, rather lamely, as “probably the date of the manufacture of the frames for stock”.
However on closer examination the high east window at Mereworth does not appear to contain any glass older than the church itself. The heraldry may be sixteenth- or seventeenth-century, but the workmanship is eighteenth- – as far as can be seen with binoculars or from photographs. Not only the settings, but also the arms they contain, appear a little too good to be true – too uniform in both materials and technique to be composed of random survivals from earlier times. Rather, they appear to be the work of a single craftsman, but one highly adept at imitating older styles in order to create an illusion of antiquity. This would be the same glass-painter who had reconstructed the Henry VIII window at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, in May 1743, and – as Michael Archer showed – not only supplied new faces for most of the figures, but placed cosmetic strap leads across some of them to make it appear they had already been damaged and repaired.
If all the panels in the Diocletian window were indeed made by Price in the 1740s, this would necessarily include the nine intricate Renaissance settings ostensibly dating from 1562; this in turn has implications for the V&A Pigott panel to which they are clearly related. The setting for the Pigott panel is not in doubt – it has long been recognised as a superb piece of sixteenth-century glass-painting. But Price could only have copied it if it had been on his bench at the time – either for repair or, perhaps, to have it fitted with the English shield of arms we see today. Further investigation shows the provenance of the Pigott panel to be surprisingly shaky. Councer’s inquiries (in 1947) revealed that it had been donated to the museum in 1929 by William Coker Iliffe, and that he had “acquired [it] from a dealer who is said to have picked it up somewhere in Buckinghamshire”. This, the museum confirms, was Wilfred Drake, who also seems to have supplied the description “Pigott quartering Castelline and Walcott”. Only a cursory attempt was made by the Museum at the time to check the authenticity of the coats, and their identification was apparently never challenged.
Proving a negative is always difficult, but my own inquiries indicate the following:
1) The identification of the arms was probably based on Burke’s General Armory and /or Papworth’s Ordinary of British Armorials. The coat in the 1st and 4th quarters was evidently considered to be Burke: “Pigot (of Dodington, co Yorks (sic)): Azure two bars or, in chief three bezants” (Burke GA page 802b). This is also found in the more recent Dictionary of British Arms, Medieval Ordinary (Vol I p 43). But the coat in the V&A panel has these tinctures in reverse and a chief in sable. In any case, the Pigot family in question sold the manor of Doddington (which is actually in Lincolnshire) in 1450, and seem to have vanished from history. They are not found in the Lincolnshire Visitations of 1562 and 1592.
2) The second and third quarters also seem to have been sourced from Burke: Castelline (of Dorset) – Sable three castles argent (p. 176a), and Walcot (of Salop) – Argent a chevron between three chessrooks erm. (for ermines) (p. 1063a). But no evidence has been found so far that any English family bore these arms as quarterings, in 1562 or at any other date.
3) By the 1560s the better-known Pigotts of Doddershall, Bucks., bore Sable, three pickaxes argent. These arms in glass (for Thomas and Mary Pigott) can be seen in the windows of Montacute House, Somerset, along with those of their daughter Elizabeth, who married the builder of that house, Sir Edward Phelips as his second wife (impaled arms dated 1599).
My provisional conclusion is that a perfectly genuine sixteenth-century arms panel was imported from the Lowlands, probably no earlier than the 1740s, and that it was taken to William Price’s workshop in Kirby Street, Holborn, to be fitted with a new, probably fictitious, coat of arms, at the behest of some as yet unidentified person of antiquarian tastes. The V&A would doubtless be interested to hear from anyone who can throw any further light on this intriguing puzzle.
In one important respect this is a reassuring finding, because the Pigott panel is quite unlike any other glass-painting of the Elizabethan period, and always seemed more likely to be the work of a continental artist, probably based on an architectural design print. Price superimposed an oval framework on the design and added extra figures at the sides, possibly to make it look more English. In making his nine copies, he also slightly varied the pattern, sometimes putting standing instead of recumbent figures by the lower corners of the shield, as sharp-eyed readers may already have noticed. (It is even possible there was a second panel, now lost, with standing figures).
Although none of the other panels in the Diocletian window are dated, they contain anachronisms of a similar kind. In the bottom tier is an impressive row of tall rectangular panels of a type popular in the reign of James I, possibly adapted from a lost original, and containing coats of arms from that period. These include the King himself, his favourite, Buckingham, and a Prince of Wales who could be either Henry (d 1611) or the future Charles I – nothing later than 1626. But identical panels flanking them show arms of a later era – two Restoration Archbishops, William Sancroft (at Canterbury 1677-1690 – Fig. 5) and Richard Sterne (at York 1664-1683). These are again almost certainly by Price: the flowers in the top corners of the panels are versions of the “double leaf with curling ends” so often found in his mature work, while the heavy bracketed design of the cartouche is reminiscent of the arms of Sancroft’s predecessor, Archbishop Juxon (Canterbury 1660-1663), which sit alongside more obviously Price panels commissioned by Martin Benson, Bishop of Gloucester, for his palace in 1735 [Figs 5 and 6].
Councer, who knew nothing of William Price’s involvement at Mereworth, was also puzzled by what he failed to find in this window. The armorials were supposed to have been brought from elsewhere, including the old church. But glass apparently recorded by John Thorpe in the old church, and later included in his Registrum Roffense (1769), was nowhere be seen:
As it [the Mereworth glass] is all, or nearly all, older than the present building, the question arises as to where it came from. That in the east window is said by Thorpe to have been collected by the Earl of Westmorland, but his further notes, which clearly refer to the old church and not to the present building, leave one in considerable confusion: indeed, the glass described by him in detail no longer exists. That the Earl was responsible for the present arrangement of the glass his arms and insignia in window E [the Despencer chapel] attest; while the setting of some of the other shields appears to be of his time. A plausible conjecture seems to be that the demolished Castle and Yotes Court [former home of the Walsinghams], and perhaps the old church, have all contributed to the existing collection.
Given the number of minor errors which Councer also noted in the heraldry, the most plausible explanation is that Westmoreland had failed to preserve or acquire the glass he needed for what would after all be a very extensive display, and instead had both the shields and their surrounds made to order by Price.
Other heraldic glass at Mereworth
We should perhaps now take a closer look at some of the other armorials at Mereworth, in particular the superb pair at the bottom of the large Westmoreland panel in the Despencer chapel. Both are dated 1567 – one displays the arms of the Fane family, quarterly of ten, impaling Hendley, with the crests of both families, for a marriage which did indeed take place sometime in the 1560s. Its companion shows the Fane arms alone, leaving room for a still more sumptuous display of Elizabethan flowers, foliage and scrollwork [Figs 7 and 8]. These panels are oval medallions of the kind we might expect at the date shown, or a few years later, very ornate, and again almost too good to be true. They are also smaller than most of their kind. Could these also be copies by Price of earlier work – English this time rather than Continental? It is hard to be certain, without identifying the originals on which they might be based. But it is worth noting that they have the same café-au-lait matt (background colour) as the rest of the Fane panel – a shade which does not generally occur in Elizabethan work, but of which Price seems to have been particularly fond (cf. Sancroft, Fig 5, above). Also, the scrollwork to the right of the shield in Fig 8 is filled with a blurred mixture of purple and pink paint; the same combination reappears, at a larger scale, in Westmoreland’s own arms, which are clearly the work of Price.
Two more oval medallions at the top of the Fane panel,dated 1562, are slightly smaller and less ornate; despite their ostensible dates they seem much more obviously the work of Price, with their bold, chunky scrollwork and bright blue enamels [Figs 9 & 10]. Another hint of their authorship is the way the date panels are shaded to resemble bulbous silver plaques – a trick performed by Price on a larger scale both at Wimpole (Cambs.) and Preston on Stour (Warks.):
At this point it might begin to seem as if all thearmorial glass at Mereworth is by Price, but this is not quite the case. In this same window are four diamond-shaped panels (quarries) which do seem to be genuinely old. The painting of the heraldic coats is more naive, the scrollwork (barring the odd replacement piece), much less three-dimensional than anything we have seen so far (Figs 11 – 14). Here at least we can see arms panels proper to the Earl of Westmoreland’s ancestry, and made a good deal closer to the events they appear to commemorate
Michael Archer: “Stained Glass at Erddig and the Work of William Price”, Apollo 122 (Oct 1985), 252-263.
C R Councer: “Heraldic Painted Glass in the Church of St. Lawrence, Mereworth”, Archaeologia Cantiana 77 (1962), 48-62.
Andrew Wells: The Parish Church of St Lawrence, Mereworth (church guide), first 1983, last revised 2011)