A Stained Glass Whodunnit

Anthony B Boylan
 JOURNAL 
 2016 
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

The Catholic church in Settle, St Mary and St Michael’s, is fortunate to house three outstandingly fine stained glass windows. They depict three Yorkshire saints. The central one is of St Wilfrid, bishop of York in the 7th century (see Cover). St Robert of Gargrave is the second one; he was born and brought up there and, after his ordination to the priesthood, served there for a few years before joining the monastic community in Whitby. He is also known as St Robert of Newminster in Northumbria, where he was sent about the year 1138 to found a monastery. The third one depicts St Alkelda of Middleham, about whom little certain is known. (See NCHT Journal 2008, p.6 and Journal 2015 p.3). Members of the North Craven Heritage Trust may remember that a fine photograph of the third window appeared on the front cover of the Trust’s Journal in 2007.

When I arrived in Settle in 2006 as parish priest I was impressed by the quality of these windows and I decided that my first duty towards them was to provide them with adequate protection from the weather. With the help of a kind grant from the Trust, they now have that: perspex panels mounted in wooden frames set an inch or so away from the windows so that air can circulate around them, making them less likely to suffer any damage from condensation. Sadly, they are installed on the garden side of the church and are not visible from Tillman Close. They can be viewed only from the inside of the church.

Intrigued by these windows, I gave myself the task of discovering where they were manufactured and the identity of the artist who painted them. It took me, on and off, the whole period of my ministry as parish priest in Settle (2006-2014). Very quickly I learned that they were originally installed in the first Catholic church in Settle since the Reformation, which was built on the very edge of Upper Settle in 1864. That site proved to be very inconvenient, as the considerable uphill climb to it was too demanding for less agile members of the congregation. When the present church was built in 1974, the three windows were transferred to the new building.

As a former chairman of our diocesan Art, Architecture and Heritage committee, I had learned something about the art of stained glass. I knew that sometimes such windows incorporate the signature of the artist or (to give them their correct designation) the glass painter. These windows carry no such signature. If ever they did, the signatures may have been lost when the windows were transferred. It is quite clear that they were slightly cropped to accommodate them in the new church; the signatures may have been lost in the cropping.

The style of the glass painting is recognisable as belonging to the Arts and Crafts period, and from enquries I made among parishioners, I discovered that they were not installed in the old church when it was first built, but considerably later, probably during the 1920s. It turned out that they were the gift of a local Catholic family that had resided in the parish for many decades, but no-one could give me any information about the manufacturer or the identity of the glass painter. That prompted me to begin a hunt in the district for windows of a similar style with which I could compare ours.

The challenge was where to begin the search. I made visits to several antiquarian bookshops, finding some quite specialist books that I thought would help me in the search. The first was a most useful handbook: The Arts and Crafts Movement in the North West of England, by Barrie and Wendy Armstrong (2005). It is an illustrated catalogue of works of art of the period, arranged in chapters for different counties from Cumbria to North Staffordshire. The handbook included an entry for the church of St Bartholomew in Barbon, near Kirkby Lonsdale. Included in the entry is a photograph of a light depicting Peace, one of two lights in the same window, the other being Fortitude. The style resembled that of our windows, so I made a visit to that church and came away with the impression that the glass painter was the same as the one who had painted ours. The handbook also gave the detail that almost all the stained glass in that church had been supplied by Shrigley and Hunt, glaziers of Lancaster, and the very specific information that the two lights mentioned above used designs purchased from Henry Wilson. The handbook also contains a final chapter, Who’s Who, in which all the people and places mentioned in the book are listed alphabetically, including detailed information about both Shrigley and Hunt and Henry Wilson. I thought that I was well on the way to solving all my questions, but I needed to know more about the work of Henry Wilson and of the glaziers, Shrigley and Hunt.

Quite by chance I found in a second-hand bookshop in Carnforth a copy of a monograph by William Waters (2003), Stained Glass from Shrigley and Hunt of Lancaster and London. It contains details of many of their known works, but by no means all of them, arranged by the county where the works are to be found. Although many of the photographs of their windows are clearly in the Arts and Crafts style similar to the style of our windows, I could find no reference in the monograph to ours.

The next line of enquiry was about Henry Wilson, the artist. An internet search gave me information of a recent book about him: Henry Wilson - Practical Idealist by Cyndy Manton (2009). It is a very thorough biographical study recording details of his many artistic works in many different mediums, not only stained glass. Born in 1864 and living until 1934, he could be the glass painter of our windows. But more disappointment; again, I could find no reference in the book to our windows.

Probably in frustration, not to say desperation, I wrote to Cyndy Manton and sent photographs of our windows, seeking her opinion about them with the question about whether they could be designs by Henry Wilson. She replied saying that they were almost certainly not his work and suggested that they could have been made in the Hardman studios in Birmingham. Once again my research had stalled. Hardmans is a well-respected company of glaziers with a prolific repertoire of stained glass commissions for churches and civil buildings all over the world. I knew it to belong to a Catholic family who had worked for many years along with the Pugin family, the celebrated Victorian neo-gothic architects.

My next task was then to find examples of their stained glass in our part of the North West and make comparisons. I consulted Barrie and Wendy Armstrong’s handbook again, but found no entry in the Who’s Who section for any stained glass from the Hardman firm. I had drawn another blank.

Another very recent source book I discovered was Hardman of Birmingham - Goldsmith and Glasspainter, by Michael Fisher (2008). This would surely help. Indeed it did, but not in the way I had hoped. I wrote to the firm, sending photographs of our windows and making the same enquiry that I had made with Cyndy Manton. A month later the whole package was returned by the Post Office. It was only much later that I discovered that the firm had very recently moved to new premises and had even changed the name of the firm! The new name of the company is Pugin, Hardman and Powell. No wonder the Post Office had returned it. But I would not be defeated.

I then consulted the very useful Appendix A entitled The Hardman Archives in Michael Fisher’s book. It details the present locations (four of them) of the Hardman archives, most of them accessible to the public. Two large collections are held. The first is in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the second in Birmingham City Archives, which are stored at Birmingham Central Library. The library has a most informative website which confirmed that the Hardman archives are kept there.

On 21 March, 2010, I contacted Birmingham City Archives. I gave all the details of the windows that I had, including my guess at the period in which they were manufactured (1920s). I explained that, as I was a considerable distance from Birmingham, I would be grateful for an assurance that I would be able to search the Hardman archives if I made the journey to Birmingham. Three weeks later I had a reply from the searchroom supervisor of Birmingham Archives and Heritage Service. She confirmed that John Hardman and Company were responsible for manufacturing our stained glass windows. They are listed in a Day Sales Book in an entry for May 1922; the subject of each window, although very briefly described, clearly identifies them and even states that the cost for each one was 80. My first question had been answered. I now knew where and by whom they had been manufactured. But who was the artist?

But there was more disappointment. There were no details in their archives about the designer of the windows. That information, the supervisor told me, might be amongst the Hardman archives held at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Access to those, I learned, is much more strictly controlled, and the supervisor gave me the impression that the details held there are far from complete. I could be making a fruitless journey to Birmingham. Where to go next?

Returning to Michael Fisher’s book, knowing now the certain date for the manufacture of the windows, I worked out that Hardman’s chief glass painter in that period was a certain Dunstan Powell, a member of another family closely associated with the Pugin and Hardman families. So he then became my prime suspect. But, as I had no particular opportunity to make the journey to Birmingham Museum, which could have been a fruitless one anyway, I left the enquiry lying for a while.

The research was resurrected by a quite extraordinary coincidence in June 2014. I had been invited to an annual gathering of some distinguished Catholic laypeople in York, and the principal convenor of the gathering was a well-known person in the Leeds diocese, Mr John Hardman. Our paths had crossed many times before, but I had never connected him with the Hardman firm of glaziers. John had invited a religious sister, Sr Barbara Jeffrey, who is presently based at a convent in Yeadon, near Leeds, to give a lecture about the Hardman family. I was hooked on the research again. Previously, Sister Barbara had been at a convent in Birmingham, which over the years had received many benefactions from the Hardman family. Out of her own personal interest, Sister had researched the history of the family, with a particular interest in the large number of female members of the family who had become religious sisters. After her lecture I approached her to request her help in finding the name of the artist who had painted our windows. She agreed whole-heartedly. I purchased a copy of her modest book about the family.

A few days later I once again gathered together my photographs of the windows and posted them to her along with all the information I had received from Birmingham Central Library. My hope was that Sister Barbara would be able to recognise the work of the artist by comparison with other examples that she knew to be of his work. In her reply a few weeks later she expressed her conviction that they were indeed the work of Dunstan Powell (my principal suspect) and forwarded a photograph of one window, certainly his, in a church in Boston USA. The painting of the face on that window was strikingly similar in style to the faces of the saints in our windows. I was now 95% certain that he was our glass painter. Such evidence in a court of law would probably be sufficient to find him guilty.

Sister Barbara was also able to give me Dunstan’s dates (1861-1932) and his very distinguished pedigree. He was the principal designer at Hardmans at the time, the son of John Hardman Powell, a partner in the firm, whom Dunstan succeeded in the partnership on the death of his father. John Hardman Powell’s wife was Ann Pugin, the eldest daughter of Augustus Welby Pugin, the great Victorian neo-gothic architect. Dunstan Powell was, therefore, the grandson of A. W. Pugin. It was a very pleasing outcome to my research that, on and off, took almost eight years.

Bibliography

  • Armstrong, Barrie and Wendy, 2005. The Arts and Crafts Movement in the North West of England. Wetherby, Oblong press
  • Fisher, Michael, 2008. Hardman of Birmingham - Goldsmith and Glasspainter, by Landmark of Ashbourne
  • Manton, Cyndy, 2009. Henry Wilson - Practical Idealist. Cambridge, Lutterworth Press
  • Waters, William, 2003. Stained Glass from Shrigley and Hunt of Lancaster and London. Centre for North West Regional Studies, Lancaster University

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