The Twentieth Century Society

Review: Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

Martin Crampin (Y Lolfa (www.ylolfa.com), 352pp, £29.95)

Reviewed by Robert Drake

This is a comprehensive survey of stained glass in Welsh churches not only in Church in Wales (Anglican Communion) churches but also in Roman Catholic churches and non-conformist chapels. It charts the story from the few medieval fragments that survive, to the Arts & Crafts glass when the story really begins to take off, to the mid-20th century when Swansea became a centre of stained glass teaching and production, largely through the firm of Celtic Studios.

Like so much research that has been useful for the Society’s casework, this book was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and there is an accompanying website (www.stainedglass.llgc.org.uk) which illustrates many more windows than are in the book. This documentation really is valuable, for – as Crampin points out in his introduction – there are few sources, especially about post-1900 glass, and it is hard to find information on designers and makers beyond the most renowned. Most (though not all) English designers also worked in Wales, and it contains much useful information on them.

The book highlights the importance of the Swansea School of Art as a place nurturing stained glass design through the establishment of a course there in the 1930s, and the development of Celtic Studios under the cousins Howard Martin and Hubert Thomas who taught at the School. It documents their many Welsh glass commissions, not only in Church in Wales churches to replace glass in war-damaged churches, but also in the many non-conformist chapels in South Wales. Their taste for stained glass developed after WWI when there was a need for memorial windows, although the stricter non-conformists still eschewed stained glass.

There were far fewer Roman Catholic churches in Wales, but in the 1960s as people came from other parts of Britain and from Ireland to work in the steel industry, new Catholic churches were built, especially on the North Wales coast and in the South Wales industrial belt. Glass for these was often supplied by Jonah Jones in North Wales who taught himself dalle de verre techniques.

The most interesting section is perhaps in Chapter 10, on the gradual creep of modernism into glass design in the 1950s and 1960s. The Llandaff Diocese had a very conservative policy on church architecture, but a change in DAC Chair to Rollo Charles, Keeper of Art at the National Gallery of Wales, brought a sudden change and the encouragement of modern stained glass artists such as John Petts, who clearly became a rival to Celtic Studios.

This beautifully illustrated book comprehensively documents the modern stained glass heritage of Wales, typified by its intensity of colour and subject, its depictions of Welsh saints and themes of the early introduction of Christianity to Wales, and the inclusion of texts in both English and Welsh. It makes a strong case that this is something culturally valuable which should be protected. My only criticism is that a map for locating churches (particularly the rural ones) would have been useful, or possibly gazetteer-type listings which also included the architects of modern churches (where known) and their listing status.