17 June 2019

Three war memorial windows in
Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth

The World War I memorial window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, by Henry Holiday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Earlier this morning [17 June 2019], I was discussing the Pre-Raphaelite windows in Saint Chapel in the College Church of Saint Editha, the parish church of Tamworth.

Saint Editha’s Church also has three interesting war memorials side-by-side in the North Aisle, and the windows have interesting connection with the Pre-Raphaelite windows in Saint George’s Chapel.

The first of these windows, at the west end of the north aisle, is the World War I Memorial Window, dating from 1920, and by Henry George Alexander Holiday (1839-1927).

The dedication reads: ‘To the Glory of God and in reverent memory of the men of this Parish who nobly gave their lives for freedom and humanity in the Great War 1914-1918.’

The artist Henry Holiday entered the Royal Academy Schools at the age of 15 and was soon drawn to the ideas and the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

He succeeded Sir Edward Burne-Jones as the chief designer for the stained glass firm James Powell & Sons in 1863 and his style had a long-lasting effect on their production into the 1920s. Some of his windows were made by Lavers & Barraud and by Heaton, Butler & Bayne.

After Holiday ended his association with Powells, he established his own workshop in 1890, and from about 1900 he made his own glass at the workshop. His later work was made at the Glass House, Fulham.

Holiday also worked as a painter, illustrator and sculptor, and his broad range of interests led to involvement in the campaign for Irish Home Rule, women’s suffrage and dress reform.

In the centre of this window, the crowned Christ is enthroned and holds a cross in his left hand, his right hand raised in blessing. Above him are the words: ‘Come unto me & ye shall find rest to your souls.’ On either side are the words ‘Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.’

The rainbow above the throne not only helps to define the composition but is also a sign of the Covenant of God and of hope. Above Christ the King and the rainbow, two cherubs are symbols of Divine Love.

The four angels in two pairs on each side of him bear a scroll with the words: ‘Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.’

The words at the bottom read: ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord hath anointed me to bind up the broken hearted, to comfort all that mourn, to give unto them the garment of praise for the spirit of the spirit of heaviness.’

Below the figure of Christ, groups of bereaved people are bringing their sorrows to him.

In the first group, the man on the left, wearing a helmet with his sword at his side, represents one of the many cases where a soldier had returned from the war unhurt but mourning a brother who had lost his life. Next to him is seated an elderly working man, with a leather apron, whose son, we may suppose, has fallen in battle. Above them is a young girl, perhaps a sister of one of the victims.

In the second group in the centre light beneath Christ, a young mother is with her two children, having lost her husband and their father.

In the third group, is a seated young woman, her hand on her heart, having lost her fiancé who has been slain. She holds her wedding wreath in her hand and is going to lay it on his grave. Above her, an elderly couple mourning a lost son. Above these three, a crying and desolate orphan has lost his only parent.

In the tracery lights, King, Country and Church are represented in the tracery lights with the crowned initials GR and the date 1921, the royal monogram of King George V (centre); a fleur-de-lys from the former coat-of-arms of Tamworth (left); and the coat-of-arms of the Diocese of Lichfield (right).

The memorial window commemorating the Revd Maurice Peel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, by Henry Holiday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The second war memorial window in Saint Editha’s Church is dedicated ‘To the Glory of God and in affectionate memory of the Hon Maurice Berkeley Peel, BA, MC, vicar of this parish 1915-1917, who when Chaplain to the Forces in France, was killed whilst tending the wounded, May 1917. This window is placed by his family and the parishioners of Tamworth.’

The Revd Maurice Peel (1873-1917) was the son of Viscount Peel, Speaker of the House of Commons. He was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford, and was ordained in 1899.

At the outbreak of World War I, he became a chaplain in France with the 7th Division, and was awarded the Military Cross (MC) in 1915. He was wounded in action but refused medical attention until all the other men had been looked after. He was sent home to England and took a year to recover, and in the course of that year was appointed Vicar of Tamworth.

He volunteered again in 1917, and was sent to his old battalion. He was killed by a sniper shortly on 14 May 1917 at Bullecourt, while going to rescue a wounded man. The senior chaplain, the Revd Eric Milner-White, later Dean of York, set out to discover how he had died and where he was buried.

Again, this window is the work of Henry Holiday.

The three principle human figures in the three lights are caught up in the wind and represent Life (left), Death (right) and Resurrection (centre), with angelic figures above them who represent Faith (left), Hope (right) and Love (centre). Each panel has further meanings too.

The figure in the first panel represents ‘Man toiling up the stony road and overcoming obstacles on the way.’ The face of this figure is the face of the Revd Maurice Peel. Here man is toiling up the stony road, overcoming the obstacles in his way. Pleasure on one side and cares and riches on the other side are pulling him by the skirts of his garment.

But above him are the words ‘We walk by Faith not by Sight,’ and Faith guides him with one hand, while the other hand is removing the obstacles. Below him are the words ‘Thou wilt show me the path of life.’

In the third panel, ‘Death,’ Man is going through the deep waters. The words below tell us, ‘Out of the depths have I cried unto thee.’ But through the depths, Hope is guiding him, with a reminder in the words above, ‘The righteous hath Hope in his Death.’

In the centre panel, Man is rising above the clouds that have obscured his vision in the material world, fulfilling the words below him, ‘This mortal must put on immortality.’ Above him, the words promise, ‘Make perfect in Love.’

In the tracery lights are the bade of the regiment to which Peel was attached, his family coat of arms, and the coat of arms of New College, Oxford.

The World War II memorial window by Gerald Smith in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The third window, at the east end of the north aisle of Saint Editha’s, is a World War II Memorial Window from 1949. The inscription reads: ‘In honoured memory of the men of Tamworth and District who made the supreme sacrifice in the World War 1939-1945.’

This window is by Gerald Edward Roberts Smith (1883-1959), and cost £1,200. Smith was first an apprentice to Edward Frampton (senior) and joined AK Nicholson in 1916. After Nicholson’s death, Smith took over and replaced much glass in bombed city churches after World War ll.

The focal point of this window is the figure of the Risen Christ in Glory in the centre light, symbolising the Victory over Evil. Christ is shown in the Tree of Life, with its branches spreading into the outer lights, for its leaves are for the healing of the nations. He is encircled with the words, ‘Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through Our Lord Jesus Christ.’

This window is inspired by the themes in the canticle Te Deum.The figures represented in the window, from the top, are:

1, The Prophets, represented by Isaiah (left) and Saint John the Baptist (right), holding a book with a lamb and a banner proclaiming ‘Ecce Agnus Dei’ (‘Behold the Lamb of God).

2, The Glorious Company of the Apostles, represented by Saint Peter holding the keys, Saint John the Evangelist holding his Gospel and the ‘poisoned chalice’ that is associated with his story, and Saint Paul holding a book of his epistles and his symbol of a down-turned sword; the Virgin Mary is next to Saint Peter.

3, The Noble Army of Martyrs, represented by Saint Stephen (left), the first Christian martyr, in the robes of a deacon, and Saint Alban (right), the first English martyr. With these are Saint Editha (left), the saint to whom the church is dedicated, and Saint Chad (right), the founding bishop and patron saint of the Diocese of Lichfield.

4,‘The Holy Church throughout the World doth acknowledge thee,’ and is represented in the base of the window. In the outer lights, it is depicted by representative types of all those who ultimately overcame the evil against which they were fighting.

From left to right we see a miner, a fireman, a Wren, a sailor holding the naval flag, a member of the ATS, and a solider with the Union Jack. In the foreground are an aged woman and child, and immediately above is Saint Nicholas, the patron of sailors and of children. In the right-hand light are policemen, a munition worker, a member of the WRAF, an RAF pilot, a nurse, an army chaplain, and in the foreground a land girl.

Above them is Saint Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of airmen. At the base, in the centre light, is the figure of Saint George holding a scales balancing the souls of the dead with the Crucified Christ and Satan. Below Saint George is the figure of the defeated dragon.

Behind these groups is a symbol of the gateway to the Heavenly City, and beyond this is the Rising Sun of Hope.

In the centre light are the coats of arms of the Province of Canterbury in the Church of England and the Diocese of Lichfield.

The Lamb of God stands on the gateway between two angels. Hanging on a tree above the figure of Christ is Crusaders’ sword, and on the hilt of this hangs the Crown of Thorns, while the Pelican at the extreme top of the Tree of Life is the symbol of sacrifice and redemption.

The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove surmounts the whole scene in the top tracery.

This window was unveiled and dedicated by the Bishop of Lichfield on Sunday 31 July 1949, when 1,000 people were in the church for the service, and 5,000 more people followed the dedication in the churchyard.

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