Stained Glass in Wales

Martin Crampin

Martin is an artist and designer who since 1999 has worked at the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies on various research projects, including the Visual Culture of Wales, Imaging the Bible in Wales, and most recently Stained Glass in Wales. He is currently a doctoral student at the university, researching medievalism in Welsh visual culture. All images here are © Martin Crampin.

‘It is strange that the wealth of ancient stained glass in North Wales has been comparatively neglected by art historians. The area is especially rich, both in quantity and in quality, in work of the second half of the fifteenth and the first half of the sixteenth centuries. This is the more remarkable in that there is very little medieval glass surviving in Cheshire and almost none in South Wales.’

So begins Mostyn Lewis’s ‘Historical Survey’, published in his Stained Glass in North Wales up to 1850, in 1970. Forty years after Mostyn Lewis’s important work, it might be argued that the medieval glass of Wales remains neglected, and that neglect of glass from the period not covered by his book, that of 1850 onwards, is ubiquitous and even more acute. The late nineteenth century, he remarked darkly elsewhere, was ‘a bad period for glass painting’.

Penny Hebgin-Barnes’ excellent survey of the early glass in the recent Cheshire CVMA (GB) volume offers some useful points of comparison that cast light on our understanding of medieval glass in north Wales. For the south, recent work by Andrew Renton has completed the picture in Wales by providing a gazetteer of pre-1700 glass in the area, where the survival of native medieval glass is rare.

Fig. 1. Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nghinmeirch, Church of St Dyfnog: Solomon, detail from the Tree of Jesse, 1533.

Fig. 1. Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nghinmeirch, Church of St Dyfnog: Solomon, detail from the Tree of Jesse, 1533.

The work undertaken by Peter Lord and John Morgan-Guy for the Visual Culture of Wales project (1996–2003) resulted in the publication of some of the medieval glass in north Wales in colour for the first time, in the book The Visual Culture of Wales: Medieval Vision (Cardiff, 2003). Full-screen images and further discussion of windows included in the book and of additional examples were also published in the accompanying CD-ROM of the same name (2004). There have also been some studies of individual windows, such as the Llanrhaeadr Jesse (Denbighshire) and the east windows at Llangadwaladr (Anglesey) and Llanllugan (Powys). [Fig. 1]

The three Visual Culture of Wales printed volumes are silent on the glass in Wales after the Reformation, and only a single screen on the CD-ROM Visual Culture of Wales: Imaging the Nation (2002) mentions any modern glass: the Piper/Reyntiens window in Llandaff. It was therefore a subsequent research project, Imaging the Bible in Wales (2005–8), that laid the foundations for the new on-line catalogue of stained glass in Wales. Based in the theology department of the University of Wales, Lampeter (now Trinity St David), the Imaging the Bible in Wales project set out to record and interpret biblical art in Wales from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. From the inception of the project, we realized that there was a wealth of biblical art to be found in places of worship that was hitherto unpublished, largely unknown, and poorly understood. During the project, significant examples of stained glass were recorded, such as the Morris & Co. glass at Llandaff Cathedral, Forden and Hawarden; Theodora Salusbury’s window at Newchurch (Monmouthshire); and Wilhemina Geddes’ last major commission at Lampeter.

Visits to record these windows and works in other media tended to yield additional stained glass that we had not set out to record. For example, when photographing Martin Travers’ reredos at Carreg-wen (Pembrokeshire), windows by A. L. Moore & Son, and a west window, probably by Burlison & Grylls, were also photographed. At the Church of St John the Baptist, Newport, visited because of its stations of the cross and other painted work by A. R. Henderson, windows by Ninian Comper and the firm of C. E. Kempe were recorded. As photographer to the project, I therefore began to accumulate a significant archive of images of stained glass, as well as slowly developing a growing appreciation of what I was looking at.

Fig. 2. Church of St Peter, Lampeter: Christ Calling Peter and Andrew, Wilhemina Geddes, 1946.

Fig. 2. Church of St Peter, Lampeter: Christ Calling Peter and Andrew, Wilhemina Geddes, 1946.

Some of this material was selected for publication in the book Biblical Art from Wales, which included essays on the glass of Wilhemina Geddes and John Petts. [Fig. 2] The book, edited by my colleagues Martin O’Kane and John Morgan-Guy, was published in 2010, together with the DVD-ROM Imaging the Bible in Wales. The DVD-ROM contained many more illustrations of stained glass in Wales in eight audio-visual themes covering subjects such as war memorial windows and local themes in biblical windows, and contained commentary by artists and experts such as Amber Hiscott, Alun Adams and Peter Cormack. Many more windows were published as part of the online Imaging the Bible in Wales database, and it was the technical framework of the database, together with the archive of biblical windows, that made possible the project on stained glass in Wales that I initiated in 2009. This project was funded until October 2011, based at the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, and during this time the on-line Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue was established, incorporating material from Imaging the Bible in Wales, as well as hundreds of additional windows that I have been recording.

Alongside the surveys found in The Buildings of Wales series, completed in 2009, and Painton Cowen’s A Guide to Stained Glass in Britain, two other scholars deserve particular mention. Malcolm Seaborne produced a detailed survey of Victorian Glass in Flintshire, and some of his photography from sites in north Wales may be found in the CVMA (GB) Picture Archive. In south Wales, Maurice Broady wrote several articles on the Swansea firm Celtic Studios and Swansea’s architectural glass tradition. Sadly his book on the firm, brought to completion in 2010 by his daughter Elspeth Broady and Alun Adams, appeared shortly after his death.

Medieval Glass in Wales

Fig. 3. Gresford, Church of All Saints: the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple, 1498.

Fig. 3. Gresford, Church of All Saints: the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple, 1498.

North Wales is justly famous for the late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century glass in north-east Wales. The best collection is at Gresford, where the three large east windows all contain medieval glass and demonstrate the changing attitudes towards its restoration, in work done by the Victorian firm Clayton & Bell between 1867 and 1916. [Fig. 3] Further medieval glass may be found in the north wall of the Lady Chapel, the north porch, and the tracery lights of other windows of the church. The east window of the Lady Chapel is dated 1498, and the east window is recorded as being given by Thomas Stanley, step-father to Henry VII, in 1500. Further glass is recorded as being given by other patrons in 1500, 1506 and 1510, although the movement of the glass within the church over the centuries has made it difficult to be certain of which scenes and fragments belong to which commission.

The windows at Gresford were executed in several hands, and glass by the same workshops can be identified at churches elsewhere in the region, including those at Llandyrnog, Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nghinmeirch, Hope, and (further south) at Llanllugan. The celebrated Jesse window at Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nghinmeirch is a later work, dated 1533, and is remarkably well preserved. Another medieval window depicting the Tree of Jesse at Diserth was also made at about that date, although the figure of Jesse himself has been lost.

Fig. 4. Llanwrin, Church of St Ust and St Dyfrig: Virgin and Child, 1461–1483

Fig. 4. Llanwrin, Church of St Ust and St Dyfrig: Virgin and Child, 1461–1483

Fragments of medieval stained glass have been preserved at about fifty sites in the northern half of Wales. These churches and a few private houses are concentrated in Flintshire and eastern Denbighshire, but extend as far west as Anglesey, with sites such as Llanfechell and Beaumaris; at Llangadwaladr and Penmon fragments have been restored as complete scenes with new glass. In mid-Wales, several figures survive at Llanwrin near Machynlleth, as does work at Llanllugan and Buttington to the east. Further south, there is a figure of St Catherine at Old Radnor, but otherwise only a handful of fragmentary survivals in the southern half of Wales. [Fig. 4]

It is not clear where this fifteenth- and sixteenth-century stained glass in Wales might have been made. Similarities have been noted between some of the earliest surviving stained glass in Wales, at Treuddyn, and the early fourteenth-century work at Grappenhall, Cheshire, with Chester being suggested as a likely place of production. No sites in north Wales for studios producing medieval figurative stained glass have been put forward, although peculiarities of certain quarries found at sites such as Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd, Llanasa, Nerquis and Llanelidan could point to their local production.

Other figures in Wales suggest comparisons with others elsewhere. The mid-fifteenth century figure of St Anne at Tremeirchion has been suggested as an example of locally produced York-type glass, sharing similarities with the figure of St Anne at All Saints, York. Of similar execution are fragments at Caerwys (also in Flintshire) and Over Peover (Cheshire). At Disley, on the eastern edge of Cheshire, a figure of the Virgin is very similar to the Virgin in tears at Cilcain (Flintshire), although the execution of the latter is less assured.

Fig. 5. Llanwenllwyfo, Church of St Gwenllwyfo: Moses with Aaron and Miriam, 1522

Fig. 5. Llanwenllwyfo, Church of St Gwenllwyfo: Moses with Aaron and Miriam, 1522

If the collection of glass at Gresford and the Llanrhaeadr Jesse are regarded as the great examples of stained glass in Wales, the collection of Flemish glass at Llanwenllwyfo on Anglesey must rank alongside them. [Fig. 5] The collection of Sir Thomas Neave here was given to the church by his grandson Sir Arundell Neave in 1877. A date of 1522 is given in one of the panels, which may help date further glass in the church, although other panels are from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. The tracery lights of the east window contain glass brought from the memorial chapel of Pope Adrian VI (d.1523) in the Carthusian monastery at Louvain. This glass was probably commissioned by Charles V, who is depicted in the upper cinquefoil with Pope Adrian VI. Neither is the glass at Llanwenllwyfo the only important imported collection in Wales. In this journal Andrew Renton, Roger Rosewell and David King have recently identified sixteenth-century glass at Aberpergwm in south Wales as having been dispersed from Steinfeld Abbey. Many further Steinfeld panels are to be found elsewhere in England, but another panel is also found in Wales, among the collection of Continental glass at the Roman Catholic Church of St Mary and St Michael, Llanarth (Monmouthshire), where further imported early sixteenth-century glass may be found.

Fig. 6. Hafod, Church of St Michael: The Beheading of John the Baptist, probably sixteenth century.

Fig. 6. Hafod, Church of St Michael: The Beheading of John the Baptist, probably sixteenth century.

Just as there have been losses of medieval glass, there have also be losses of imported Continental glass in Wales. What must have been a dazzling collection of Flemish glass assembled by Thomas Johnes, at his house in Hafod, Ceredigion, was lost in a fire of 1807. [Fig. 6] As well as imported glass, Johnes is also reported to have taken out the medieval glass from the east window at Cardigan Priory Church in 1806, only for it to be burnt at Hafod the following year. Fortunately a few fragments were left in the church, now rearranged in the upper tracery lights of the present window by Horace Wilkinson. Johnes had sufficient Flemish glass in his collection also to glaze the east window of his church at Eglwys Newydd, which escaped the Hafod fire of 1807, but not the fire in the church of 1932. The surviving remains of this glass were later inserted into two windows on either side of the sanctuary.

Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century Glass in Wales

The online Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue presents the early glass in Wales together with the stained glass in Wales dating from the nineteenth century onwards. In common with most other regions of Britain, the modern material, though voluminous and ubiquitous, has received scant attention. Armed only with the listings given in The Buildings of Wales volumes (which are rather subjective, for the most part on account of lack of space), and with Painton Cowen’s A Guide to Stained Glass in Britain, there is usually little to guide the researcher in stained glass, with the exception of the minority of church guides and leaflets that mention glass.

Fig. 7. Berriew, Church of St Beuno: the Transfiguration, John Hardman & Co., c.1859.

Fig. 7. Berriew, Church of St Beuno: the Transfiguration, John Hardman & Co., c.1859.

There are nevertheless plenty of works of quality amongst the quantity of nineteenth- and twentieth-century glass. Large and small works by all of the large Victorian firms may be found in town and country, and there are examples of work by many of the principal artists of the Arts and Crafts movement. [Fig. 7] None of these firms or artists were based in Wales.

In 1815, the Welsh-born David Evans entered into partnership with John Betton of Shrewsbury, and Evans remained in the town after the retirement of his partner in 1825. In 1823, they installed the east window at Worthenbury, a collage of old and new glass including fragments removed from Winchester College Chapel, and numerous examples of work by Evans can be found across the northern half of Wales, with outliers in the south.

A few artists did make stained glass in Wales before the Second World War. The Revd John Ellis Troughton made the nave windows for his church at Pentrobin, near Hawarden, in about 1850, as well as providing murals and painted woodcarving for this remarkable interior. Later in the century Col. Herbert Davies-Evans of Highmead provided stained glass as well as the carved screen for the church at Llanwenog. In the 1920s Theodore Baily, a Benedictine monk on Caldey Island, established a stained glass studio on the island. He made windows for two of the island’s churches as well as the monastic buildings, and another window by the artist may be found at Fishguard.

The beginnings of Swansea’s architectural glass tradition may be traced back to William Grant Murray, who had been taught stained glass by Christopher Whall. His encouragement of Howard Martin, a former student of Swansea School of Arts and Crafts, to set up a part-time course teaching stained glass in 1935, laid the foundation of the successful stained glass department that flourished after the Second World War. Martin also made stained glass in partnership with his cousin Hubert Thomas, and by 1948 their firm Celtic Studios was established in Prospect Place, Swansea. Naturally enough, work by the firm executed over the next forty years is fairly ubiquitous across south Wales. Their windows are also found in the north of the country, as well as in England and overseas, with about a third of their work being exported to Canada.

Fig. 8. Llanfihangel Rhydithon, Church of St Michael: St Cecilia and St Francis, Howard Martin and Hubert Thomas, 1939.

Fig. 8. Llanfihangel Rhydithon, Church of St Michael: St Cecilia and St Francis, Howard Martin and Hubert Thomas, 1939.

Howard Martin later became vice-principal of the college, while continuing to provide designs for Celtic Studios. After his death in 1972, Tim Lewis took over the architectural stained glass course, and was instrumental in introducing the work of German artists such as Johannes Schreiter, Ludwig Schraffrath, Jochem Poensgen and Joachim Klos to the students. Windows by each of them were commissioned for the cloister of Coychurch Crematorium, and their influence can be seen in the work of artists who trained at the college in the 1970s and 80s. Some of these former students are now internationally recognized, and early works by artists such as Amber Hiscott, Alexander Beleschenko, Graham Jones and Kuni Kajiwara may be found in south Wales.

Artists trained in Swansea were not the only artists working in the medium based in Wales. From the 1960s, John Petts, Frank Roper and Jonah Jones, all artists working in a variety of media, made modern figurative windows for churches in Wales and England, but have substantial bodies of work in Wales. John Petts and Frank Roper were based in south Wales, while Jonah Jones was based in north-west Wales producing windows in dalles de verre. In north-east Wales Linden Studios (subsequently Linley Studios and now Recclesia Stained Glass) produced more traditional work, and staff and students from the stained glass course at Wrexham College of Art have work in the area.

Alongside these more local producers, English makers continued to be called upon for commissions. There are Piper/Reyntiens windows in Newport, Llandaff and Swansea, and works by Lawrence Lee at Betws (near Ammanford) and Aberystwyth. Artists ‘local’ to Wales, such as Trena Cox in Chester, and Geoffrey Robinson in Bristol, are well represented in north and south Wales respectively.

The On-line Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue

The vast majority of work represented in the catalogue is from ecclesiastical contexts, and while new work continues to be commissioned for places of worship of all faiths and denominations, many of the artists working in the field today have work in other contexts, such as hospitals, libraries and offices, as well as domestic settings. This kind of work is not well represented in the catalogue, and there are other areas that could usefully be strengthened, such as stained glass from domestic settings, and work in non-conformist chapels, where the glass is more commonly decorative rather than figurative.

With this in mind, and the funding for the project now at an end, a facility has been established for users to submit new window records of work from all periods and settings. It is also possible for users to add comments, corrections and further information, in the recognition that our knowledge of much of Wales’ stained glass is often partial. It is planned that these submissions will be attributed and monitored.

It should be noted that the catalogue is primarily the result of fieldwork rather than the study of archival sources and relevant literature. Much further study is needed to attribute and date more windows using faculties and other archives, and the existing corpus will hopefully facilitate this work in the future by providing the visual evidence recorded in many places of worship, with which to match (or occasionally challenge) archival evidence. With such knowledge coming to light, with established attributions, dating or subject matter being corrected or even debated, and with new windows being added, the on-line catalogue is very much work in progress. This is the case not only for the modern period, where sources are more abundant, but also for early glass, as has been shown by the recent work mentioned above establishing the provenance of the Steinfeld panels at Aberpergwm.

As the catalogue has grown, it has been increasingly possible to attribute unsigned windows to firms through making style comparisons, and by finding instances where designs have been repeated and cartoons re-used. As the only extensive on-line database of nineteenth- and twentieth-century stained glass that I have come across, Buckinghamshire Stained Glass has been a particularly useful site for making comparisons. This website, together with the new discoveries that I have been making, has increased our body of knowledge, helping me, and hopefully others in future, identify or suggest makers and offer approximate datings.

You can visit the on-line catalogue of Stained Glass in Wales here.

Further Reading

M. Lewis, Stained Glass in North Wales up to 1850, Altricham: Sherratt, 1970 (opening quotation is on p. 3)

M. Lewis, A Guide Book to The Parish Church of All Saints Gresford, no date or place of publication (for comment on nineteenth-century stained glass)

P. Hebgin-Barnes, The Medieval Stained Glass of Cheshire, CVMA (GB), Summary Catalogue 9, Oxford, 2010

M. Broady (ed. E. Broady and A. Adams), A Vision Fulfilled: The Story of Celtic Studios and Swansea’s Architectural Glass Tradition, Swansea: West Glamorgan Archive Service, 2010

A. Renton, ‘Discovering Pre-1700 Stained Glass in South Wales’, Vidimus, 34 (November 2009), feature page

D. King and R. Rosewell, ‘New Steinfeld Discoveries: Special Supplement’, Vidimus, 35 (December 2009), feature page






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