Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Finding inspiration in
The Great West Window
in Saint Editha’s, Tamworth

The Great West Window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, ‘Revelation of the Holy City,’ was designed by Alan Younger (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

This is a busy week. I have spent all day [15 May 2019] in London at a meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), much of yesterday involved a meeting in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, of the chapters of Limerick and Killaloe cathedrals, and Monday was given over to workshops with clergy and laity in the diocese, discussing whether there is such a thing as an Anglican culture. Them from tomorrow until Saturday, I am in Derry at a three-day meeting of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland.

But, over the last few days, I have also been working on preaching and liturgical resources for next Sunday [19 May 2019] the Fifth Sunday of Easter, and Sunday week [26 May 2019], which is the Sixth Sunday of Easter, also known as Rogation Sunday.

Among the lectionary readings next Sunday (Revelation 21: 1-6) and the Sunday after (Revelation 21: 10, 22 to 22: 5), we are provided with an edited version of Saint John’s description of his vision of the New Jerusalem, the new heaven and the new earth.

As I think about and reflect on the images and themes in these successive readings, I am taken aback by the fortuitous coincidence that early last Friday afternoon [10 May 2019] I was given a personal guided tour of the stained-glass windows in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, where the tall Great West Window is inspired by these two chapters, Revelation 21-22.

I had been speaking in Saint Editha’s Church the evening before on the Comberford family of Comberford Hall and the Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth. But the volunteer who showed me around the windows and explained their meaning and story, was blissfully unaware of my family connections with the church, and he could never have known that I was preparing resources on two lectionary readings illustrated in that West Window.

This Great West Window, ‘Revelation of the Holy City,’ was designed by Alan Younger (1933-2004), one of the most important stained-glass artists in post-war Britain.

Alan Younger was born and educated in London. He began his career in stained glass in 1953 as an assistant to Carl Edwards, working on large-scale commissions including the House of Lords, the Temple Church in London and Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. At the time, he was also inspired by an exhibition for the stained glass in Coventry Cathedral in 1956.

Younger’s later commissions included the large Rose Window in St Albans Cathedral (1989) and the East Window in the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey (2000). His other works include the Bede Window in the Galilee Chapel at Durham Cathedral and windows in the cathedrals in Chester, Gloucester and Southwark. However, his major secular work is confined to Saudi Arabia.

Younger’s West Window in Tamworth, which was unveiled by Princess Margaret in 1975, is inspired by the account in the Book of Revelation of Saint John’s vision of ‘the new heaven and the new earth’ (see Revelation 21-22).

‘… and [he] showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal’ (21: 5).

‘And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light’ (21: 23).

At the base of the window are the 12 foundation stones.

‘The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel …’ (21: 19).

Below in the third light, a star: ‘It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you … I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star’ (22: 16).

Above the foundations are crowns: ‘The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it’ (21: 24).

In the centre, above and below the transom, is the city pierced by the 12 gates, and at the gates 12 angels (21: 12).

To the left is the angel with ‘a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls’ (21: 15).

‘Then one of the seven angels … came and said to me’ (21: 9).

‘The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls’ (21: 15).

Above, in the centre two lights, the Alpha and the Omega represent the Word of God: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end’ (21: 6).

To the right is a white dove, God the Holy Spirit, mysteriously at work in the sanctification of the Church. The concept of the city coming down ‘foursquare’ from above (21: 16) is suggested by the four white shafts at the top of the four centre lights.

Further focus is given to the angel as the golden measuring rod flashes across the city.

How little did I realise last Friday afternoon that my visit to Saint Editha’s Church in Tamworth would help me to focus my attention this week as I prepared my postings for this week and next.

The West Window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, seen from the Chancel and the East End of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

An art deco building
with an uncertain
future in Tamworth

The former electricity showrooms on Church Street were built on the site of a pub and later became a pub once again (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The greatest piece of town planning vandalism in Tamworth in the 1960s was the destruction and loss of the Tudor and timber-framed buildings that once lined much of Church Street, many dating back to the 15th century.

But, while the loss of this heritage continues to be mourned, questions must also be asked about the future facing what was once of the finest art deco-style buildings in Tamworth.

The magnificent art deco building at No 59 Church Street, facing Corporation Street was built in 1932-1936 as an electricity showroom for the Tamworth and District Electricity Supply Company. Previously, the site was occupied by the Rose and Crown, a public house that opened in 1864-1868.

Colonel D’Arcy Chaytor, a colliery owner who had restored Pooley Hall in Polesworth, was largely responsible for bringing electricity to Tamworth in 1924.

During World War II, the 45-ft high landmark tower at the centre of the building was used as an air-raid siren for Tamworth. It sounded on 138 occasions during the war, and bombs were dropped on the town on four occasions.

The building and its tower survived the war, and also survived much of the demolition of Church Street and the neighbouring streets in Tamworth. But in 1976 the electricity board was allowed to reduce the height of the tower by two-thirds, with the excuse of reducing maintenance costs.

At the same time, the clock that once stood at the top of the tower was moved, and was reinstalled lower down on the building.

The former showroom on the ground floor was converted into the Chicago Rock Café in 2002. Later it became the Silk Kite Public House, so that the site returned to its original use a century and a half earlier.

But the name of the Silk Kite was a clever devise to keep alive the memory of the former electricity showrooms, for it recalls a famous experiment conducted by Benjamin Franklin in 1752, in which he used a silk kite. The experiment became a milestone in understanding how electricity works.

Today, this impressive building is locally listed, but today it is vacant again, and is available to rent as ‘a free of tie public house.’

But even modern listed buildings of architectural interest face a difficult future in Tamworth.