Theodora Salusbury (): Arts & Crafts stained glass artist of St Agnes

Michael G Swift

This is a version of an article for the Journal of St Agnes Museum, to be published in .

Biographical background

Theodora Salusbury was born in of a Leicester family of professional people; there is still a Salusbury Harding & Barlow firm of solicitors in Leicester to this day. She possibly received her earliest art training in Leicester where there was an excellent art school around the 1900s.


She came to London between the years of and . Her work shows the influence of Christopher Whall (), under whom she served an apprenticeship, 1 and his pupil Karl Parsons (): both taught at the Royal College of Art and the London County Council’s Central School of Arts & Crafts. She may also have studied under Parsons at the Central School, perhaps around the time of the Great War.

Career in London

Her independent career began around , and her London studio was at 28 Bina Gardens, South Kensington. She worked in close collaboration with the firm of Lowndes & Drury (of Lettice Street, Fulham), who did the firing and leading-up of her painted glass. She executed all the painting, from her full-sized cartoons, in her studio and then the glass was transported to Lowndes & Drury’s ‘Glass House’ premises to be fired and assembled ready for installation.

In true Arts & Crafts tradition she was actively involved in the making of her windows as well as their design—choosing the coloured glass and either cutting it herself or supervising the cutting by craftsmen, and then painting all the glass—consequently her output was relatively limited. She is known to have produced more than thirty-five stained glass windows between and , most of them in the east Midlands. Examples of her work are at Ault Hucknall, Derbyshire; Scraptoft, Queniborough and Narborough, Leicestershire; Hannington, Wiltshire; Knowle Packwood, Warwickshire; and St Andrew’s United Reformed Church, West Ealing.

Career in Cornwall

Theodora Salusbury moved from London to St Agnes in the early 1920s. She lived at Castle House in Trevaunance Road, and she worked from Wheal Roger Studio, ‘Back Lanes’. This was in fact only the second professional stained glass studio to be established in Cornwall: the first was that of Leonard Pownall in Falmouth in 1910. For St Agnes parish church, she also designed the statue (Figure 6) of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the entrance to the Lady Chapel—this was dedicated in .

Stained glass work

Many of her windows are signed by her artist’s mark—a peacock in its pride.

Her work is very strongly influenced by the Arts & Crafts idiom pioneered by Christopher Whall. Her windows combine fine drawing skills with the use of richly coloured ‘slab’ glasses and bold leading. Her work has similarities to that of Christopher Whall’s daughter Veronica—a good example of whose work can be seen in a window at Bude parish church and especially in the full sequence of windows at King Arthur’s Court, Tintagel.

Her last recorded work was in for a cartoon for a window at Kimcote, Leicestershire, the painting of which was done by Miss Margaret Thompson.

Her death and the disposal of her effects

Theodora Salusbury died in at the age of 81. In accordance with the instructions in her will, all her records and her studio were destroyed, but three full sized cartoons have survived.

North aisle 3, St Agnes

Saint Agnes

Figure 1. North aisle 3, St Agnes parish church.

The central light of the three-light westernmost window (Figure 1) on the north wall of St Agnes parish church is a portrayal of the Saint Agnes. It is a striking design in the Arts & Crafts tradition made in by the local stained glass artist Theodora Salusbury (). At the base of the window is her usual maker’s mark (Figure 2), that of a purple peacock in its pride with wings outstretched. This is a north-facing window, and the muted colour palette is entirely appropriate for the absence of direct sunlight.

Figure 2. Theodora Salusbury’s maker’s mark: a purple peacock in its pride with wings outstretched.

Figure 3. The scroll at the bottom of the central light, with a lamb at the left-hand end and a book, probably a bible, at the right-hand end.

Above the maker’s mark is a small panel (Figure 3) with the saint’s name in a scroll, which also includes the usual attribute of St Agnes, a lamb, and a book, probably a bible. The background diamond quarries are comprised of superbly subtle textured slab glass with inscribed rose motifs.

Figure 4. Upper part of the main panel, showing St Agnes holding a bible.

Figure 5. Middle of the main panel, showing the lamb.

The main panel shows a full-length figure of the saint with a lamb on her left side. She is portrayed as a young girl with an affectingly innocent expression, and holding a bible (Figure 4). The lamb (Figure 5) is beautifully portrayed nuzzling up to the saint’s side. The background is a simple stylised vegetation very much in the artistic style of the studio of Christopher Whall. The background diamond quarries are the same as the inscription panel below, and there is an occasional minimal amount of colouring in the border. The leading of the main figure is bold and effective, giving vertical strength to the subject of this vulnerable figure. In sum, this window is simple in its overall effect, yet contains a wealth of subtle detail that repays the closest attention, and is obviously the work of a highly talented stained glass artist.

Figure 6. Statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the entrance to the Lady Chapel in St Agnes Church.

Lady Chapel east, St Thomas of Canterbury, Camelford

Figure 7. The Nativity.

Figure 8. Upper part of the window, showing the Blessed Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus.

The only other example of Theodora Salusbury’s stained-glass work to have been identified in Cornwall is in the church of St Thomas of Canterbury at Camelford. This is a tiny Nativity window in Lady Chapel east (Figure 7), inserted in . The colouring is intense, with a vivid night sky pierced by the Star of Bethlehem. A dove hovers over the Blessed Virgin as she bends over the infant Jesus (Figure 8). As in the St Agnes window, the background is stylised, hinting at a cave with flowers and a straw-filled manger. There is an impressive amount of detail in this small window, yet the overall impression is one of simplicity, calm and security.

Acknowledgements and sources

I am greatly indebted in being allowed to share in the recent research by Andrew Loutit and Georgina Maltby, whose book on Theodora Salusbury is to be published shortly. Some background information was kindly provided by Peter Cormack, the leading authority on Arts & Crafts stained glass artists in Britain. In his own words there are no published sources about Theodora Salusbury, and she seems to have done a rather good job of hiding her light under a bushel! Additional help has been kindly given by Liz Thompson and Angela Pakeman of St Agnes and Jeff Hopewell.

  1. Western Morning News p 3 (copy),.