William Morris window at Stratton, Cornwall

Michael G. Swift

Based on a presentation at the Patronal Festival at St Andrew’s Parish Church, Stratton on Sunday 30th November 2008.

Today, William Morris is remembered chiefly as a designer of spectacular wallpapers. From the 1860s up to his death in 1894, he was renowned as a poet (shortlisted for the Poet Laureateship), an expert on tapestries and medieval illuminated manuscripts, a pioneer conservationist and environmentalist, and the founder of one of England’s first socialist parties. He also founded his stained glass firm in 1862, using the combined talents of artists such as Rossetti, Madox Brown and Burne-Jones, which revolutionised stained glass making in the mid-Victorian period.

Compared with many other counties in England, Cornwall is somewhat disappointing territory for admirers of the stained glass of William Morris. Ladock parish church has two early Morris windows and one from the Firm’s late period. St Germans has two late period windows. Single examples were inserted at St Michael Penkevil (early), Flushing (a First World War insertion), and Stratton. The early windows are very pre-Raphaelite in style, reflecting in their settings, costumes and artistic poses Morris’ absorption with medieval influences. By the mid 1870s the Firm’s designs progressively showed Aesthetic artistic tendencies. For many, they represent the pinnacle of Victorian stained glass design and manufacture.

Stratton

The Chancel East window at Stratton was inserted in 1874, which was the last year of the old firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. In the following year the firm was dissolved and became Morris & Co., with Edward Burne-Jones as the sole designer. The Stratton window is the only example in the county of the decades of the 1870s and 80s when the firm produced much of their most important work. These immensely productive years, full of experiment and rich in creative enterprise, may thus be regarded in some sense as the firm’s best period: Morris’s own participation in the work of the studio, especially as colourist and designer of backgrounds, was still active and intimate; Burne-Jones’s powers as designer had reached maturity.

Figure 1. e1. The east window in the chancel at St Andrew’s, Stratton.

The window is of four lights with tracery (Figure 1). The overall design layout echoes those of Philip Webb with richly coloured panels and inserts set in patterned plain quarries. This ensured that sufficient direct light is supplied to the choir and sanctuary whilst the coloured panels are displayed to contrasted effect. All of the panels (tracery, main lights and evangelist emblems) are of very high quality in terms of artistic design and colour.

It was the custom of all the main mid-Victorian glass studios to reuse existing cartoons in designs for new windows, and all of the elements in the Stratton design had been used in earlier windows. William Morris was a pioneer in using photographic enlargement/reduction of cartoon designs to fit the dimensions of new windows.

Three designers were involved in this window. Edward Burne-Jones designed the tracery above Christ in Majesty and the four main figures of the evangelists. William Morris designed the two censing angels in the tracery, and Philip Webb designed the four quatrefoils of the evangelistic symbols.

Edward Burne-Jones

Figure 2. e1 2a. sanctus matthæus

St Matthew.

Figure 3. e1 2b. sanctus marcus

St Mark.

Figure 4. e1 2c. sanctus lucas

St Luke.

Figure 5. e1 2d. sanctus iohannes

St John.

The tracery Christ in Majesty was first used in 1865 at Guernsey, and was a popular design that was repeated nine times before the Stratton window. The main evangelist lights were first used in 1873/4 for the prestigious commission for the chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge—certainly among the best products of the period (Figures 2–5). Each evangelist is portrayed in a quite revolutionary way when compared with the usual staid aged figures in Victorian windows. Here Burne-Jones envisages them as wild, poetic, aesthetic figures penning the greatest story ever told. Each has their own colour scheme which is reflected in their symbols below. Stratton was the first time that these immensely impressive designs for Jesus College were re-used in a parish church.

William Morris

Figure 6a. e1 tracery left. An angel swinging a censer.

Figure 6b. e1 tracery centre. Christ in Majesty.

Figure 6c. e1 tracery right. An angel swinging a censer.

The designs for the tracery censing angels were taken from a composition of three angels of 1868, and selections from this group were used in six other churches besides Stratton (Figures 6a–c).

Philip Webb

Figure 7. e1 1a. S: Matthaevs.

The emblem of St Matthew: an angel.

Figure 8. e1 1b. S: Marcvs.

The emblem of St Mark: a winged lion.

Figure 9. e1 1c. Sanctvs Lvcas.

The emblem of St Luke: a winged ox.

Figure 10. e1 1d. S: Joannes.

The emblem of St John: an eagle.

The quatrefoil emblems of the evangelists were designed by Webb for the firm’s first full church commission at All Saints, Selsley, Gloucestershire. in 1862, and this was the first time they were reused (Figures 7–10). The St Matthew emblem was not part of the Selsley designs, and is elsewhere attributed to Morris himself. All four are very striking designs.

The Stratton window—a summary

Impressive as Ladock’s early Morris Chancel East window and St Germans’ late Morris Chancel East window are (and they are two of the best in the county), Stratton’s window is hard to beat. With its marriage of theological content, artistic design, and the effect of sunlight through coloured glass flooding into the Chancel, it is not only a wonderful creation, but, positioned above the main altar, it remains a source of spiritual inspiration as relevant to the twenty-first century as it was in the nineteenth.

Reference

Quotations are from A Charles Sewter: The stained glass of William Morris and his circle—a catalogue.Yale, 1975.