Chapter 13 The west windows of the nave aisles

After the thirty-eight lancets and the multi-layered complexity of the Church History sequence, the two windows at the end of the south and north nave aisles appear at first sight to be a welcome relief. Although they are positioned in what are today two side chapels, these scenes of Cornish industry are understandably two of the most popular windows in the cathedral.382 Despite their seeming simplicity, however, the two lancets do pose a considerable challenge to the contemporary viewer, and all too often are read today as the stained glass equivalent of Victorian narrative genre paintings. If there has been one lesson that has been learnt in all the previous chapters it is that nothing in the windows of Truro Cathedral is there by chance. The guiding hand of Canon Mason was ever present as the cathedral neared completion and new windows were inserted. We have seen constantly that Truro cathedral’s windows yield complex subtexts to the informed eye and, as has been noted before, the Victorians (and Edwardians) were far more biblically and visually literate than their modern counterparts.

Evolution of the designs for the lancets, 1887–1907.

In the original 1887 Master Scheme the projected subjects of these lancets were the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The story of the evolution from this to the final version of Cornish industries is a complicated one. In October 1902, some eight months before the completion of the nave, Chapter received a letter from America from one EB Durrow offering to donate a window in the southwest nave as a memorial to the Cornish soldiers who had fallen in the South African war.383 The condition attached to the offer was that the window had to be executed in New York. The cathedral architect Frank Loughborough Pearson was consulted as he was designing the Boer War memorial. Chapter later refused the offer. There is no evidence which New York glass studio was proposed by Mr Durrow, but it is not entirely beyond the bounds of possibility that, had they accepted his offer, Truro Cathedral might have been the proud owner of a window by Louis Comfort Tiffany! Chapter decided to install the memorial war memorial tablet together with the military standards, leaving the window as plain glass.384

It might be recalled that in the discussion on the subject matter for the four lancets beneath the western rose (Chapter 5, s26/7 and n35/6) Mason also proposed in a letter that an alternative for the aisle lancets original subjects of Michael and Gabriel might be allegorical figures representing Justice and Mercy.385 A subsequent addition to that letter revealed that he had got the spatial arrangement of the west end of the nave completely wrong (not having the question definitely before my mind when I was at Truro I did not investigate it with care). Apparently, he had not taken into account that the west gallery would visually separate the rose window lancets from the lower aisle lancets: he observed that the two small west-aisle lancets which it is now proposed to fill with Michael and Gabriel, in no way group themselves with the rose and its four lancets.386 The anonymous donor of the west rose and upper lancets was insistent that the 1887 Master Scheme remained unaltered, so the two nave west lancets at floor level remained plain glass when the stained glass for the rose and upper windows was inserted in 1903.

A year later, in a letter to Worlledge, Mason was obviously still trying to clarify in his mind their size and height from the cathedral floor:

I have not thought much about the tower windows, and before I give an opinion worth having, I should have to trouble you to tell me a little more about them than my memory at present holds.387

He speculated on whether the window would be too big for a single subject, e.g. Justice trampling on Injustice.

By August 1905 two Cornish families (Ede and Tregoning) had offered to donate the stained glass for these lancets. The Dean suggested that the subjects should now be the Angel of the Temptation and the Angel of Prayer!388 In August 1906, the Chancellor was instructed to communicate with Mason as well as Clayton and Bell on this proposal,389 but at least one of the donors (Ede) objected to the suggested subject. Sadly, no archival records have survived to explain how the final designs evolved from this point. It must, however, have been a very fast process, as the finished windows were inserted six months later in 1907.390

Obviously, from the summary above, Mason and Chapter were at a loss to find suitable religious or allegorical subjects for these two windows that would satisfy both prospective donors as well as linking with either the scheme of the west windows above the gallery or that of the Church History sequence in the nave aisles.

Although there is no documentary evidence that Mason in these crucial six months was involved in formulating these final designs, there is plenty of direct evidence that he was still very active during 1907 in supervising the detailed modifications to the subject-matter in various other windows in the nave aisles and St Mary’s aisle.391 The time-scale for preparing new designs, obtaining the approval of the donors and Chapter, and the subsequent manufacture of these two windows was very tight (August 1906–February 1907) and could be achieved through the direct involvement only of someone who was accustomed to working intimately with both the Cathedral Chapter and Clayton and Bell, i.e. Canon Mason. On this circumstantial evidence, accepting that Mason was actively involved with these two lancets, it is interesting to speculate how he came to suggest these Cornish subjects, and how he might have reconciled the subject-matter to the rest of the cathedral glazing schemes.

Attractive as these two windows are, and there can be no doubt about the quality of their execution, their subjects do appear today to be somewhat anachronistic within the context of the rest of the cathedral’s windows. The accepted wisdom is that, inserted after the Church History sequence, they were therefore separate from it and the other cathedral glazing schemes. This is not convincing, for we have seen that Mason was involved in modifying the subjects of other nave windows as late as 1910.392 This apparent change from sacred to seemingly secular subject-matter has for decades obscured the full significance of these windows. Only by close analysis of their iconography, and by placing them within the socio-economic context of Cornwall’s nineteenth century industrial history, can their full religious significance be measured and Mason’s intentions understood. The windows now emerge as an integral part of the Cathedral’s glazing schemes, instead of the afterthought that accepted wisdom has confined them to for the past one hundred years.

s25. South Nave aisle west: Fishers’ guardian angel: Boats leaving Newlyn harbour

Donor, dedicatee and insertion.

The window was donated by Mr and Mrs Harry Ede of Applegarth, Maidencombe, Teignmouth in memory of his parents. The window was inserted in February 1907.

s25 main section. The guardian angel of fishermen.

The main section shows the full-length figure of the guardian angel of fishermen dressed in flowing robes and depicted with long wings, bare feet, and a nimbus with a bejewelled rim. The angel holds a net full of fish with floats. The lower panel is a scene, in the style of the Newlyn painting school, of a fishing boat leaving Newlyn harbour. In the foreground is a fishing boat, with an older sailor sorting the fishing net while his younger companion raises the sail. In the distance are a fleet of fishing boats, and to the right is the Newlyn lighthouse and jetty.

s25 lower panel. Cornish fishermen at Newlyn.

n34. North Nave aisle west: Miners’ guardian angel: Miners at Dolcoath pit

Donor, dedicatee and insertion.

The window was donated by Mr JP Tregoning of Launceston as a tribute to the miners of Cornwall.393 The window was inserted in March 1907.

n34 main section. The guardian angel of the miners.

The main section contains the full-length figure of the guardian angel of the miners dressed in flowing robes and depicted with long wings, bare feet, and a nimbus with a bejewelled rim. The angel holds a miner’s lamp in one hand with a pickaxe in the other. The lower panel is a scene illustrating mining at Dolcoath. The left and centre of the scene depicts two miners working with shovels with part of the pit wheel visible, whilst to the right an older miner and young boy wheel away the ore in a wagon. Carn Brea is placed in the background.

n34 lower panel. Cornish miners working at Dolcoath.

The iconography of the lancets and their socio-economic context.

Two-thirds of each window is occupied by an image of a guardian angel, and angels are noticeable by their absence in almost all the other aisle windows. Both angels have deep religious symbolism and artistic significance.

The fishing angel holds a net of fish, and this is exactly the same image as medieval examples of God holding a napkin of saints or souls. It features in the medieval ‘sisters’ window n6 at St Neot, Cornwall, and was a common subject for medieval alabasters.394 It is also used by Violet Pinwill in her 1930s statue of King Brychan in the quire stalls. The care of souls has a deep resonance in the context of the physical dangers that faced Cornish fishermen.

The miners’ angel holding a miner’s lamp is a direct visual quotation to Holman Hunt’s iconic painting ‘The Light of the World’. Only one year before, in 1905, this painting had been sent on an Empire tour of Canada and Australasia where it was estimated that four fifths of the population had seen it.395 As an allegory of man’s failure to heed the teachings of Jesus it had become one of the seminal paintings of Victorian England.396

The Cornish working classes had already been portrayed in the Church History sequence, in the predella of s24, the Wesley window. However, these two windows are amongst the first of what was to be a growing number of stained glass windows in Cornish churches throughout the twentieth century expressing a sense of pride in Cornish heritage. This included not only the old industries, but the Cornish Celtic saints, language, landscape and wildlife.397 It is significant that both windows emphasise the continuity of Cornish working traditions by portraying two generations of families in the fishing window and three generations in the miners’ window.398

It is essential to place the activities depicted in the predellas within their historic context. Mining and fishing were two of the three staple Cornish industries of the nineteenth century (the third being agriculture). Crucially, these representations of both Cornish mining and fishing were outdated by 1907: both scenes are rooted in the nineteenth rather than the twentieth century. The main fishing boat was already out of fashion by the 1850s, and there are no steam fishing boats shown in the predella.399 The presence of the youth in the mining predella shows a scene that would predate most Victorian mining labour legislation.400 Therefore, the convincing reading of the scenes is that they were a celebration of Cornwall’s golden industrial past, not a contemporary representation of Cornish industry in Edwardian times.

Indeed, the economic and social situation by 1907 was a long way from a golden age. The copper mining industry had long since collapsed, the tin mining was in terminal decline, and the absence of local coal was a death-knell to Cornish heavy industry.401 The whole of the previous century had experienced the Cornish diaspora, involving males, particularly working age males, leaving Cornwall to seek work in all corners of the world.402 So, whilst there can be no doubt that these scenes were to some extent intended to be a celebration of the Cornish industrial heritage, identity and traditions, the reality of the social and economic situation in 1907 was quite different.

One unusual feature of the predella scenes is that they are both site-specific; bearing in mind the number of Cornish fishing harbours and tin mines there were to chose from, the question is why were this port and this mine chosen? One clue is that a major event had occurred in the recent past at both Newlyn and Dolcoath: events that were reported nationally and had excited considerable debate. Only eleven years earlier, in 1896, the violent clashes in Newlyn between the traditional Cornish fishermen and those from the steam-powered East Anglian fishing boats showed that the local traditional fishing industry had altered irrevocably.403 A fatal disaster at Dolcoath mine had occurred in 1893, fourteen years earlier, resulting in the deaths of seven miners when a stull (system of propping) collapsed. There is therefore a considerable political and social dimension behind the choice of this harbour and this mine in 1907.

There are many artistic details within the scenes that are worthy of comment. Both scenes have a strong vertical component in their centre, namely the boat’s mast and the mine’s stull. On both structures the lives of the workers were utterly dependent, and significantly the guardian angels are positioned directly above them. The mining scene has two dimensions, in the manner of many medieval and renaissance pictures. The above-ground dimension is shown by Carn Brea, the winding gear and the wagon, whilst the mining details and labourers are below ground. Religious symbolism is present in both scenes: in the cross-like monolith on top of Carn Brea, the Trinity grouping of the fishing fleet, and the lighthouse at the mouth of the harbour (paralleling the miner’s lamp carried by the mining guardian angel). The mining angel’s pickaxe is half hidden, giving it the appearance of a scythe and suggesting the theme of inevitable mortality.

There are also three very telling artistic references within the scenes. The significance of the similarity in the mining angel to Holman Hunt’s painting ‘Light of the World’ and the fishing angel to medieval iconography has already been mentioned. Another iconic Pre-Raphaelite painting was Ford Madox Brown’s ‘Work’, one of the most intensely symbolic of all Victorian narrative pictures.404 Brown admired the British excavator (or navvy) and his toil. He echoed Thomas Carlyle’s views on the nobility and necessity of work: Work! Which beads the brow and tans the flesh of lusty manhood.405 Madox Brown had posed the navvies for his painting in deliberately heroic attitudes,406 and these are quoted in the windows. The upper one is in exactly the same pose as the fisherman raising the sail in the stained glass predella, whilst the lower one with a shovel (reversed) is similar to the miner on the left of the mining predella. These resemblances to the painting cannot be accidental, and such was the popularity of ‘Work’ and ‘Light of the World’ that Edwardian viewers could be expected to recognise these visual references. Viewed in this social and historic context, the heroic portrayal of the fishermen and miners can be seen as more than poetic licence.

The spatial context of the lancets.

A final aspect of these lancets concerns their position of the windows within the cathedral’s interior. We must remember that in 1907 there was no Jesus Chapel and no modern west-door narthex. The nearest stained glass windows were n32 and 33, the Benson and Victoria lancets at the end of the Church History sequence. Edwardian congregations and visitors alike on exiting the cathedral by the west and southwest doors would have had a clear view of the Benson and Victoria lancets and both of the Cornish industry windows. Through reordering, this perspective is now denied to the modern viewer. If we accept that there is enough circumstantial evidence that Mason was responsible for the selection of the subject matter in the Cornish lancets, it can therefore be argued that the new windows were a continuation of the Church History sequence in Cornwall and a completion of the series of windows on nineteenth century history. Just as windows n3133 were Mason’s summation of the Church in the nineteenth century, so these two lancets afforded him the opportunity to comment on wider aspects of Cornwall in the century that had just ended.

The internal evidence for Mason’s involvement in the selection of the subject-matter for the Cornish lancets is compelling. Firstly, on stylistic grounds, the presiding presence of the two guardian angels mirrors the presence of the four archangels over the narrative Garden of Eden sequence in the west rose lancets immediately above the western gallery. Mason may have got the spatial arrangements of these windows wrong whilst the nave was being built, but by 1907 he reasserted the stylistic link between the upper and lower level windows of the west end. Mason’s diaries reveal that ‘The Light of the World’ was a painting that had influenced him more than any other since he was a boy.407

Secondly, by reading the scenes in their correct historic context, the windows become a reflection of nineteenth-century Cornwall’s economy and society, its peak and decline. They therefore can be added to the final three Church History lancets as Mason’s summation of the previous century.

Thirdly, he ingeniously provided a coda to the Church History sequence. The Benson window included the allegoric figures of Faith and Hope. The figures of Faith and Hope indicate that the future for the Cathedral and the Diocese is in their company (Chapter 12). By portraying these two staple industries in an historical, not contemporary context, Mason was drawing attention to Cornwall’s economic decline by the first decade of the twentieth century. The images in these two lancets act as a transition from the theological and religious texts of the upper west rose and the lower Church History nave windows to the reality of the Edwardian world outside. As viewers left the building the final image that they took with them was a complex message of the fragility of earthly work and wealth set in a realistic Cornish context. The presence of the guardian angels in these lancets together with the allegorical figures of Hope and Charity in the Benson window had and still has a strong resonance for the future of the cathedral, the diocese and the county.

The final piece of evidence of Mason’s direct involvement in the evolution of the lancet’s subject matter is that, if the two lancets are read in this context of socio-economic history, we have yet another example of Mason using the cathedral space to articulate a complex text through the juxtaposition and spatial arrangement of adjacent windows. Such resonances have been seen many times already (in the rose windows, the quire transepts, the baptistry areas and the retro-quire). Although it was not originally planned for in the 1887 Master Scheme, the west end windows taken together proved to be Mason’s final example of his mastery of architectural space and visual imagery to articulate profound religious messages.

References

  1. The southwest aisle has been a memorial area for the fallen of the South African War since 1904, and the northwest aisle has been the Jesus Chapel since 1926.
  2. CCRO TCM/1134 Residentiary Chapter Minute Book: 17th October, 1902.
  3. CCRO TCM/1134 Residentiary Chapter Minute Book: 8th March, 1903.
  4. CCRO TCM/546/14 section 2. Letter 11th August 1903 from Canon Mason (The Precincts, Canterbury) to Clayton and Bell.
  5. CCRO TCM/546/14 section 3. Letter 11th August 1903 from Canon Mason (The Precincts, Canterbury) to Clayton & Bell.
  6. CCRO TCM/919/2 Letter from Canon Mason 1st April 1904 to Chancellor Worlledge.
  7. CCRO TCM/1134 Residentiary Chapter Minute Book: 1st August, 1905. The Dean was the recently installed Bishop Stubbs.
  8. CCRO TCM/1134 Residentiary Chapter Minute Book: 22nd August, 1906. Proof that a biblical subject was still being pursued is that Ede wished the scene to refer to John, chapter ⅸ.
  9. Truro Cathedral inventory: the Ede window was dedicated on 29th February, 1907 and the Tregonning window on 13th March 1907. TDF 1907 and TDK 1908, p162—cost of the windows was £90 and £99.
  10. See accounts of n26 (Langton lancet), n27 (Joan of Arc lancet) and n31 (Martyn Lancet) in Chapter 12.
  11. It is hard to believe, bearing in mind the close relationship between Mason and Collins since 1879 and Mason was eventually to be Collins’ biographer, that Mason was not involved in commissioning the Collins memorial lancets, s16 and s17, inserted in 1912. However, there is no documentary evidence.
  12. Brass inscription beneath the window.
  13. J Mattingly Stories in the glass—reconstructing the St Neot Pre-Reformation glazing scheme. The Royal Institution for Cornwall Journal, 2000, p.46. Francis Cheetham Alabaster images of medieval England. Woodbridge, 2003. pp. 101–106.
  14. AC Amor William Holman Hunt—the true Pre-Raphaelite. London,1989, p. 269
  15. Christopher Wood The Pre-Raphaelites. London, 1981. p. 44.
  16. Michael Swift Anglican stained glass in Cornwall and its social context. The Royal Institution of Cornwall Journal, 2009, pp 16–25
  17. A small detail in the mining window is the ‘American’ hat worn by one of the miners (information kindly provided by Alan Buckley). This showed that the miner had previously worked in the USA. Another American hat is shown rather incongruously in the tympanum of the Sermon on the Mount above the left-hand west door!
  18. Information kindly provided by Tony Pawlyn of the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth.
  19. Information kindly provided by Alan Buckley.
  20. Philip Payton Cornwall, a history. Fowey, 2004, pp 215–7. Dolcoath mine was the exception to this general decline (information kindly provided by Alan Buckley).
  21. Philip Payton The Cornish Overseas. Fowey, 2005, p 16.
  22. Payton Cornwall, pp 223–4.
  23. Christopher Wood The Pre-Raphaelites. p. 49.
  24. T Newman & R Watkinson Ford Madox Brown and the Pre-Raphaelite circle. London, 1991. p. 117, the opening line to Brown’s sonnet that introduces the subject of the painting. Besides Thomas Carlyle, the other historic figure in the painting is FD Maurice, who appears as one of the subjects in window n31.
  25. Christopher Wood The Pre-Raphaelites. p. 50.
  26. NCA DD/716/69/4 Diaries 1880–84. 12th April, 1882 Saw ‘The Light of the World’ in the library for the first time. The picture moved me more profoundly as a boy (referring to a photograph) when I was a boy at school than anything else in my life.