27 May 2016
Four treasures of Victorian art in
Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth
I visited Tamworth recently to see the sorry state of the former Comberford family home at the Moat House on Lichfield Street and to update my collection of photographs of the Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church.
But during that visit I also found time to admire some of the interesting connections between this church, the Gothic revival in church architecture in the 19th century and the Pre-Raphaelite Movement.
In the 1850s, the Gothic revival architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) was involved in a major restoration project at Saint Editha’s. At the same time as he was working on the restoration of Lichfield Cathedral, including the West Front.
Scott was one of the most prolific British architects and was involved in the design, building and renovation of churches and cathedrals. His many landmark buildings include the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station, the Albert Memorial, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, Saint Deiniol’s Cathedral, Bangor, and the Chapel of King’s College, London.
Scott’s first work in 1833 was a new vicarage for his father in Wappenham, Northamptonshire. Two years later, Scott took on William Bonython Moffatt as his partner, and one of their first churches is Saint John’s Church in Wall, outside Lichfield, built in 1837.
At this early stage in his career, Scott was inspired by Augustus Pugin and he soon became a key figure in the Gothic revival. Scott and Moffat firmly established their reputation in the Gothic revival with their designs of the Martyrs’ Memorial in Oxford (1841) and Saint Giles’s Church, Camberwell (1844).
The Gothic revival in the mid-19th century was closely identified with High Church Anglicanism and Scott and Moffat were closely associated with the architectural principles promoted by the Ecclesiological Society.
In 1852, during his restoration work at Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, Scott and the sculptor John Birnie Philip (1824-1875) designed the beautiful reredos, with its cusped arcading with marble shafts flanking five cusped gabled arches.
John Birnie Philip carried out most of his work with Scott. His works in English churches and cathedrals include the statues for Scott’s reredos in Lichfield Cathedral, and the reredos in both Ely Cathedral and Saint George’s Chapel, Windsor.
The inscription on the centre panel reads: Pax Vobis. These later mosaics in the reredos in Tamworth are the work of the Italian glass manufacturer Antonio Salviati (1816-1890), who also adorned the high altar in Westminster Abbey.
Salviati was from Vicenza, and began in life as a lawyer. But at an early age he became interested in glasswork after taking part in restoration work on the mosaics in Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice. He opened his first glass business in 1859 with Lorenzo Radi, and they produced the mosaic glass for the altar screen for the high altar in Westminster Abbey.
In 1876, he left this business to establish a new firm that executed the mosaic decoration of the dome of Aachen Cathedral after the designs of the Belgian architect Jean-Baptiste de Béthune.
Salviati also founded Compagnia Venezia Murano which has continued as an important producer of Venetian art glass. Murano had been a centre of fine glasswork since the Middle Ages, but Salviati changed the face of the business with the first glass factory to employ a large number of skilled workers to mass-produce Murano glass for export.
Salviati’s iridescent mosaic glass panels in the reredos form a striking backdrop to the High Altar in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth. He completed his reredos in 1887, and died three years later in Vicenza in 1890.
Above this beautiful reredos, the chancel east window dates from 1870, and was designed by William Wailes (1808-1881), who was the proprietor of one of the largest and most prolific stained glass workshops in England.
Wailes began in business as a grocer and tea merchant. However, his artistic talent and practical skills led him to set up a small kiln in the backyard of his premises in Newcastle, where he made and fired small decorative enamels that were sold in his shop.
In 1830, Wailes went to Germany to study stained glass design and production under Mayer of Munich. In 1838, he set up his own stained glass studio to design and manufacture windows and in 1841 the business began producing its own glass.
In 1842, Pugin approached Wailes about producing windows for him. Working with Pugin was a thankless task, as Pugin went from one workshop to another in an attempt to get his designs realised at the lowest possible cost, and the working relationship lasted for only three years.
But Wailes was already making a name for himself by providing windows for local churches. As his enterprise prospered, he employed more workers, until the workforce grew in numbers to 76, who including several designers who went on to establish their own factories.
Wailes was seen as a Gothic Revival artist. The products of his workshop are often identifiable by the type of glass he used and his particular colour combinations that occur repeatedly in the clothing of figures, such as mauve lined with bright red, yellow lined with bright blue, and red lined with acid green. Many of his windows also contain a great deal of pink glass.
His most significant window glazing is the glazing of the west window of Gloucester Cathedral, an enormous window dating from ca 1430 in the Perpendicular Gothic style, of nine lights and four tiers, complementing, at the other end of the building, the largest ancient window in the world.
His colourful East Window in Tamworth shows the Apostles, with 12 smaller angels, an inscription that reads: “Ye glorious company of Apostles praise thee.”
This East Window is a tribute to the Revd James Ogilvy Millar (1828-1890), who was instrumental in the restoration of the church while he was the Vicar of Saint Editha’s (1865-1869).
The East Window in Saint George’s Chapel dates from 1874 and was designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) for William Morris. In his early work, Burne-Jones was heavily inspired by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He became involved in the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement and worked closely with William Morris.
Burne-Jones was closely involved in the rejuvenation of the tradition of stained glass art in Britain. His works include windows in Saint Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham, Saint Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham, and All Saints’ Church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge. A stained glass window by Burne-Jones in Saint Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore, is the only one of its kind in Ireland, and depicts two virtues Justice (a man with sword and scales) and Humility (a woman holding a lamb).
The window is a memorial to John Peel (1804-1872), twice MP for Tamworth (1863-1868 and 1871-1872). The design of the window connects the story of the creation of humanity with redemption. In the tracery are six panels by Burne-Jones known as the “Angels of Creation.” The main window panels depict major Biblical characters, while the centre panel shows Saint Christopher carrying the Christ Child across a stream.
The Burne-Jones window in Tamworth is one of the artistic treasures of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, and with the East Window and the Reredos they place Saint Editha’s Church in an important place in the story that links Pugin, the Gothic Revival and the Pre-Raphaelite Movement.
A memorial window in the North Aisle, beside the Comberford Chapel, was designed by Henry Holiday of the Arts and Crafts Movement and made by James Powell and Son at their Whitefriars Studio.
The window commemorates the Revd Maurice Berkeley Peel (1873-1917), a grandson of Sir Robert Peel and for a brief period Vicar of Tamworth (1915-1917). He was twice decorated with the Military Cross (MC) during World War I only to be killed by a sniper’s bullet in 1917.
Henry Holiday (1839-1927) was a landscape painter, stained glass designer, illustrator and sculptor, and a member of the Pre-Raphaelite school of art, and a close colleague of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. The firm of James Powell and Sons, also known as Whitefriars Glass, were glassmakers, leadlighters and makers of stained glass window manufacturers. The company became well known as part of the 19th century Gothic Revival and the demand for stained glass windows, and had a close association with leading architects and designers such as TG Jackson, Edward Burne-Jones, William De Morgan and James Doyle.
On this latest visit I missed photographing the three windows in the chancel clerestory by Ford Madox Ford and William Morris telling the story of Saint Editha, and another window by William Morris and Burne-Jones in Saint George’s Chapel in memory of the Revd Brooke Lambert (1834–1901), a slum priest in the Anglo-Catholic tradition who had worked in Whitechapel and Greenwich.
As a student, Lambert was strongly influenced by the theological outlook of FD Maurice. He was the Vicar of Tamworth from 1872 to 1878 and he and his curate, the Revd William MacGregor, who later became Vicar of Tamworth, were enthusiastic campaigners for social reform. Lambert also became the proprietor of the Tamworth Herald, and Lambert and MacGregor were responsible for many of the 19th century restorations of Saint Editha’s.
Last month, Saint Editha’s launched an appeal, asking the community to sponsor the priceless windows in the church. The parish hopes to raise up to £15,000 to protect them for future generations. The church needs to raise the money for special guards to stop vandals causing damage to the windows and to protect this part of Tamworth’s heritage for for future generations.
More than £15,000 has already been promised to the church by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, if the church can raise the same amount. Dawn Perry, a churchwarden at Saint Editha’s, told the Tamworth Herald: “The windows in this church are unique and once they are gone or broken, they can never be replaced.”