17 June 2019
‘So great a cloud of
witnesses’ in five
windows in Tamworth
At the weekend, I finished my monthly column for the July edition of the Church Review, the Dublin and Glendalough diocesan magazine, recalling last months visits to Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, the parish church in Tamworth.
In a column such as this it is possible to offer a general history and description of a church. But it is not possible to go into great detail about the treasures in the church, especially the Pre-Raphaelite windows in Saint George’s Chapel at the east end of the north aisle of the church.
These windows provide a unique collection of works by leading members of the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements at the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century.
The East Window in Saint George’s Chapel is an artistic treasure in memory of John Peel (1804-1872), Liberal MP for Tamworth in 1863-1868 and again in 1871-1872.
In the tracery are six panels known as the ‘Angles of Creation’ by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) of Birmingham. Burne-Jones was heavily influenced in his work by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rosetti, and worked closely with William Morris (1834-1896).
There are Burne-Jones windows in many Midlands churches, including Saint Philip’s Cathedral and Saint Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham, and there is a Burne-Jones window also in Saint Carthages’s Cathedral, Lismore, Co Waterford.
This window in Saint George’s Chapel, Tamworth, was made in the 1874 in the workshops of William Morris, textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist. He was associated with the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts Movement, and had been an architectural student of George Edmund Street.
The design of the window connects the story of the six days of Creation with the story of the redemption of humanity.
Day 1: A six-winged seraph with a flame upon his brow, signifying energy, stands upon the greenness of the void and holds the globe of the universe enclosing the spheres of light and darkness: And God separated the light from the darkness (Genesis 1: 4).
Day 2: A six-winged seraph with sad eyes: So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome (Genesis 1: 7).
Day 3: Here a seraph is standing on the dry land, studded with forlorn flowers, showing the birth of delicate foliage with her mystic globe: ‘hen God said, ‘Let the earth forth vegetation …’ (Genesis 1: 11).
Day 4: This is brighter in tone, with more gold, symbolic of the sun, the moon and the infinite glories of the heavens: And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky… to five light upon the earth’ (Genesis 1: 14-15).
Day 5: Still brighter in effect, the seraph on the wet sea margin, strewn with fragile shells. The sphere contains a swift whirl of white-winged seabirds sweeping up from the stormy sea: And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures’ (Genesis 1: 20).
Day 6: This panel shows the angel of the sixth day holding the sphere, the angels of the former days beside him, and the angel of the seventh day at his feet. This angel of the day of rest has a garland of flowers and is playing a stringed instrument among the roses.
The sphere shows the first meeting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden beside the tree of the forbidden fruit, and we can see the great coils of the serpent behind the tree. This has been described as the best of the six panels, and the figures of Adam and Eve are full of grace and simplicity.
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image … male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1: 26-27).
The smaller lights surrounding these are filled with depictions of angels who are playing musical instruments, making melody in honour of the Creation, the Incarnation and the Redemption.
The Incarnation is shown in a painting of the Annunciation at the top of the arch which, through the Creation of Humanity, links with the impressive panel in the centre of the window, depicting the story of Saint Christopher, representing the Redemption of humanity.
On either side are two rows of three images of Old Testament prophets and New Testament saints: (top left) Noah, Enoch and Saint John the Baptist; (bottom left) Abraham, Moses and Saint Peter; (top right) Saint John the Evangelist, Samuel and David; (bottom right) Saint Paul, Elijah and Saint Barnabas.
The inscription in a scroll beneath the feet of Saint Christopher reads: ‘To the glory of God and in memory of John Peel sometime representative of this borough in parliament. Born Feb 4 1804. Died April 2 1872.’
The four four-light windows on the north wall of Saint George’s Chapel are the work of Burne-Jones, Morris and the Camm family.
Thomas William Camm (1839-1912) was born West Bromwich and founded the TW Camm stained studio in Smethwick. After he died, the studio and its work were continued by his sons Walter Camm (died 1967) and Robert Camm (died 1954) and his daughter Florence.
The first four-light window at the west end of the chapel contains stained glass by Florence Camm (1874-1960). The inscription reads: ‘This window was erected to the Glory of God and in loving memory of the Revd EH Rogers, Prebendary of Lichfield Cathedral and Vicar of this Parish Church of Tamworth from 1922 to 1938.’
Florence Camm spent all her life in Smethwick, running the Camm stained glass company with her brothers at a time when women artists and designers were struggling to be taken seriously.
She was a stained glass designer, painter and decorative metalworker, and was taught stained glass design by the arts and crafts designer Henry Payne (1868-1940). She exhibited 43 times at the Royal Academy in London and also showed at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and the Royal Scottish Academy. The Camm studio in the High Street, Smethwick, was demolished in the 1980s.
This window illustrates four New Testament scenes (from left):
1, The first light illustrates Saint Peter being delivered from prison: ‘Behold the angel of the Lord came upon them, and a light shined in the prison’ (Acts 12: 7).
2, The second light depicts Saint John the Evangelist writing to the seven churches in Asia: ‘John to the seven churches, Grace be unto you, and peace, which is to come’ (Revelation 1: 4).
3, The third light tells the story of the church in Antioch sending relief to the Church in Jerusalem at a time of famine: ‘The disciples sent relief unto the brethren in Judaea, by the hands of Barnabas’ (Acts 11: 30).
4, The fourth light shows Saint Paul preaching in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, in the Province of Galatia: ‘Paul stood up and beckoning said, Men of Israel, ye that fear God, give audience’ (Acts 13: 16).
The second four-light window from the west is a well-designed, four-light window, designed long after the death of both William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, but filled with richly-coloured glass by Morris & Co.
The two central figures, Ruth (left) and Naomi (right), were designed by John Henry Dearle (1860-1932), who was trained by William Morris. The text beneath the two women reads, ‘Intreat me not to leave thee’ (Ruth 1: 16). The outer figures are Samuel (left) and David (right), probably designed from the stock of cartoons by Burne-Jones held by Morris & Co.
The inscription reads: ‘In faithful remembrance of Emma Pipe Cooke, this window was erected by Annie Cooke, her daughter, AD 1925.’
The third four-light window in this chapel also contains stained-glass by Florence Camm.
The inscription reads: ‘To the Glory of Almighty God and in loving memory of Esther Dean, who died the 11th day of October 1939, this memorial was placed here by her husband, Herbert Dean.’
The four lights depict the four key events in the life of Christ, with pithy Biblical or credal commentaries:
1, The Incarnation: ‘For unto you is born this day, a saviour which is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2: 11).
2, The Crucifixion: ‘Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by’ (Lamentations 1: 12).
3, The Resurrection ‘The third day he rose again from the dead.’ This is not a direct scriptural quotation, but a clause taken directly from the Apostles’ Creed.
4, The Ascension: ‘He blessed them. He was parted from them and carried up into heaven’ (Luke 24: 51).
The fourth, four-light window at the east end of the north wall in Saint George’s Chapel, is in memory of the Revd Brooke Lambert (1834-1901), Vicar of Tamworth (1872-1878).
Brooke Lambert was born on 17 September 1834. He spent six years in Tamworth, and was succeeded by the Revd William MacGregor as Vicar of Tamworth (1878 to 1887). MacGregor would play a leading part in the regeneration of Tamworth in the late 19th century, but was forced to resign as vicar because of his controversial support of the co-operative movement.
Meanwhile, as Vicar of Greenwich, Brooke Lambert was known for his work as an Anglo-Catholic ‘slum priest’ in the East End of London. He died on 5 January 1901.
The striking figures in this window were designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and the glazing is the work of Morris & Co. The figures represent (from left) Saint Martin, Saint Lambert, Saint Nicholas and Saint George.
Saint Martin was chosen as the champion and protector of the poor and known for his charity.
Saint Lambert was chosen because of Brooke Lambert’s family name, and because the former vicar was born on the saint’s day, 17 September. Saint Lambert was Bishop of Maastricht and was martyred for his defence of marriage.
Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children (‘Santa Claus’) and represents Brooke Lambert’s love of children and his pioneering work in education.
Saint George was chosen because of the dedication of Saint George’s Chapel, and because Brooke Lambert was involved in the restoration of Saint George’s Chapel and building Saint George’s Church in Glascote.
The words of Hebrews 12: 1-3 in the Latin Vulgate New Testament are written diagonally across the lights of this window, and behind the figures and the other lettering:
ideoque et nos tantam habentes inpositam nubem testium deponentes omne pondus et circumstans nos peccatum per patientiam curramus propositum nobis certamen aspicientes in auctorem fidei et consummatorem Iesum qui pro proposito sibi gaudio sustinuit crucem confusione contempta atque in dextera sedis Dei sedit recogitate enim eum qui talem sustinuit a peccatoribus adversum semet ipsos contradictionem ut ne fatigemini animis vestris deficientes
‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.’