Now that my biographical study, Kempe: the life, art and legacy of Charles Eamer Kempe, is with the publishers, Lutterworth Press, and due to appear later this year, I am returning to my Kempe blog. In a new series called ‘Writing about Kempe’, I shall discuss some of the questions I have tried to answer in my book. I shall also write about some of the discoveries I have made and the places I have visited. I begin, as Kempe himself began, at Ovingdean Church , just outside Brighton, where he was baptised and where he is buried.
When did the Kempe Studio open its doors?
Strictly speaking, it never did; there never was a formal organisation, or business, or defined group known as ‘the Kempe Studio’, though some people referred to Kempe’s ‘school’ of artists. Kempe himself never referred to his Studio;the Kempe mark, the wheatsheaf, was never formally recognized, let alone registered, as the trademark or logo of anyone other than Kempe himself. Kempe thought of himself as a professional man, and to work as a professional and as a gentleman (the two ideas went together in those days) meant working on your own account.
Margaret Stavridi believes that ‘in 1866 the Kempe Studio for Stained Glass and Church Furniture was started in two extra rooms of his lodgings at 47 Beaumont Street W1’ (Master of Glass, p.26), but I have been unable to find any evidence to confirm this, and there was never any such business. Not one advertisement for Kempe glass appeared in Kempe’s lifetime. My own suggested date is 1868, for that is the year in which Kempe invited Frederick Leach, the Cambridge-based ‘art worker’ (Leach’s own phrase), who was already working for the architect George Fredrick Bodley and Bodley’s friend William Morris, to work for him, taking charge of the production of his stained glass.
Previously, Kempe had been working primarily as an assistant to Bodley, and had had to outsource the making of his stained glass to a London firm, T. Baillie & Co. Now he wanted control of all aspects of his work. He had been a customer of Baillie; henceforward he would have Leach working with and for him. As soon as Leach had agreed, Kempe sent him and AE Tombleson to Gloucestershire to start making a detailed study of the famous late medieval glass at Cirencester, Malvern Priory and Fairford. Tombleson had only just joined Leach as an apprentice, but immediately came under Kempe’s influence and was soon working for him alone.
This is what, to my mind, justifies 1868 as the starting point for the Studio: a group of artists beginning to surround Kempe, studying under his instruction and learning the elements of 15th and 16th design that would be used to develop the ‘Kempe Style’. But I accept that one could make a case for the previous year, 1867, in which Kempe had undertaken his redecoration of St. Wulfran’s Church, Ovingdean. In a discreet corner of the chancel ceiling he placed this Latin inscription:
+ E dono familiam Kempe et Eamer. Ad Gloria[m] Dei, hoc opus Karolus Eamer Kempe cum sociis fecit i[n] festum fest[o] Corporis Xti mdccclxvii. Orate pro n[obi]s et om[nib]us benefa[c]tor[i]bus huius eccl[es]ie.
[+ Given by the family of Kempe and Eamer. To the Glory of God, Charles Eamer Kempe and his colleagues completed this work on the Feast Day of Corpus Christi 1867. Pray for us and for all benefactors of this church.]
This inscription has a number of points of interest. First, Kempe is anxious to begin by saying that the redecoration was paid for by both sides of his family, maternal and paternal. It is likely that much of the money came at this time from his mother, the daughter of the late Sir John Eamer, Lord Mayor of London, and widow of Nathaniel Kemp. St Wulfran’s had become something of a family shrine: there are memorials to both Sir John and Nathaniel in the church, and Kempe had placed his father’s hatchment prominently over the porch. It is also possible that he had prevailed upon some of his brothers to contribute to the redecoration fund, and perhaps upon his mother’s sister, Aunt Charlotte, the late Sir John’s eldest daughter: Kempe was her favourite nephew and, in due course, her executor.
Secondly, the reference to his ‘colleagues’ (sociis) is teasing. Who were they? It is unlikely to have been Frederick Leach, for Leach was working almost full-time for Bodley in 1867, and it cannot have been Alfred Tombleson, for he had not yet become apprenticed to Leach, so Kempe would not have known him. One is tempted to think that he might simply have invited some friends to help him out during the summer, but the work looks too accomplished for that. Probably the colleagues were other young members of Leach’s staff whom Kempe would have met while working first for, and then with, Bodley. ‘Colleagues’, however, implies people with whom you work on equal terms, but Kempe’s Studio, however loosely defined, was never an association of equals. So I continue to believe that the Studio (however understood) opened in 1868, and not earlier.
Finally, Kempe is keen to emphasise that the work was completed on the Feast of Corpus Christi (in 1867 this was 20th June). There were two Feast Days in the church’s year that had particular significance for him: the Feast of St Peter, (29th June) for that was his own birthday, and Corpus Christi, because the symbol of Corpus Christi was the Pelican. No other emblem had such importance for Kempe: the pelican plucking at the wheatsheaf was the one he adopted as his own. Indeed, pelicans and wheatsheaves fill the quarry glass in most of the windows of Ovingdean. At a time when his career had hardly begun, he will have thought no one would ever guess why completing the decoration on the Feast of Corpus Christi – in fest[or]um fest[o], on the feast of feasts – mattered so much. But on this occasion at least, Kempe will have thought wrong.
[Illustrations: (i) inscription written as on a parchment roll, on a beam in the NW corner of the Cancel of St. Wulfran, Ovingdean, Sussex.
(ii) detail of the diamond-shaped quarries in an 1867 window at Ovingdean depicting St John the Evangelist and St John the Baptist. Wheatsheaf and Pelican motifs surround the arms of the Kemp family.
In memoriam Peter Gibson, obit 13 November 2016
There is a watercolour sketch of A E Tombleson painted in 1924 by a young draughtsman, Rudolph Tanner, who had recently joined Kempe & Co. It was painted while they were working together on one of the most significant commissions ever awarded to Kempe & Co., the restoration of the Presbytery windows in Tewkesbury Abbey. They were fifty years apart in age, but Tanner’s respect for Tombleson is clear from the way the older man is shown, sitting comfortably, pipe in hand, gazing into the distance. His walrus moustache is impressively shaggy but his clothes – Homburg hat, neat collar and tie – suggest a man who likes things to look just the way he wants them to look. The sketch is entitled ‘The Master Glazier’.
Apprenticed originally to Frederick Leach of Cambridge, Tombleson had been with Kempe from the beginning: in 1868 he was in Gloucestershire, making careful life-size drawings of the 16th century glass at Fairford; the following year, he was decorating the walls of Staplefield Church in Sussex; ten years on, he was both Kempe’s leading glass painter and manager of his Glass Works in Camden Town while also in charge of installing windows in churches and cathedrals. Kempe took him to Germany in 1878 to insert the glass in the Royal Mausoleum in Darmstadt; a decade later he was allowing Tombleson’s monogram to be included in the design of some of his most important works.
After Kempe died in 1907, Tombleson became one of the Directors of Kempe & Co., and when the firm finally closed he was still there on the last morning, overseeing the resale of unused glass back to the suppliers and checking everything was done properly. Truly, his was a life in stained glass, and a remarkable career for someone who born in a farm labourer’s cottage. He died in 1943, aged 92.
It’s easy to underestimate Tombleson’s importance. Not only was he the single most loyal and long-serving member of the Kempe enterprise (66 years between 1868 and 1934); not only was he one of the very few members of the team who was skilled in every branch of stained glass window creation and craftsmanship – drawing, selection of glass, glass cutting and leading, painting and firing, glazing of windows in churches (installation, protection, conservation and restoration) – but he managed a large team at the Glass Works and was clearly an impressive organiser and leader of men. Without such skills, the Kempe Studio simply could not have produced so much glass of such high quality consistently on schedule.
The premises at 2 Millbrook were not purpose-built, and surviving photographs of the workrooms suggest they were dingy and cramped. Yet it was from here in 1895 that Tombleson sent out, and then installed, four of the largest and most important of all Kempe’s commissions, not to mention a large number of other windows produced during this annus mirabilis: the S transept windows at Hereford and Lichfield, together with the two large and spectacular windows in the Lichfield Lady Chapel, one of Kempe’s most cherished projects. These were windows of Flemish glass that Kempe had purchased from Christie’s, the London auctioneers, restored and reconfigured to fit into the unusually tall window openings. Recreating these windows (which had been purchased simply as fragments stored in boxes) was an extraordinary task. Kempe’s sketches for the rearrangement of the surviving, and the insertion of new, glass are in his own hand, but fittingly he included Tombleson’s monogram in both windows, for it was he who had supervised the leading-up of the glass and then the installation of the completed windows in the Cathedral.
With this work, with other mid-1890s commissions to conserve the Lady Chapel windows in Gloucester Cathedral and of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, and then with the later work at Tewkesbury, Tombleson became simply the most experienced stained glass conservator in Britain. Who has a better claim than he to be called the Master Glazier of his generation?
There can be little dispute about his successor to that title. Peter Gibson, the first Superintendent of the York Glaziers Trust, worked for the Dean and Chapter of York Minster for sixty years, beginning his apprenticeship only two years after Tombleson’s death. During this long association, Gibson restored the Minster’s great 16th century Rose window not once but twice: first in 1969-79, and then again in 1884-5 after the South Transept suffered the disastrous fire of 9 July 1984. He told the story of his own part in saving the Rose window, in a lecture given in 1988:
‘When I carried out my initial examination of the glass from a narrow internal walkway at the base of the window only an hour after the fire, the glass was still warm to touch. Strapped to a fireman’s turntable ladder I then carried out a thorough external examination of the glass from its uppermost rung more than 100 feet above the ground. Only two hours after the fire I reported the condition of the glass to Dean Ronald Jasper, saying that although the glass was as severely damaged as it could possibly be I was confident that one day it would shine once again in the South Transept.’*
Peter Gibson, like Tombleson before him, was a modest man. He was an exemplary lecturer, his illustrated talks during Kempe Society weekends eye-opening in the best sense: he loved teaching people how to read stained glass. He was the Society’s Patron, always supportive and encouraging. Long-standing Kempe Trust supporters who visited York this summer recalled the climax of a 1989 tour of the Minster glass led by Peter Gibson himself. Keeping the Zouche Chapel until last, he led us down the steps and over to the altar. Behind it, a little window of 14th century glass – easy enough to miss – showed Cardinal Kempe, and in the quarries surrounding the image were wheatsheaves. See,’ said Peter, smiling rather mischievously, ‘I put that there myself, specially for the Kempe Society.”
*Peter Gibson, ‘Our Heritage of Stained Glass and its Care in the Twentieth Century’, RSA Journal, vol. cxxxvi, no. 5379, February 1988, pp.167-8
[illustrations: (i) Portrait of A.E. Tombleson, by Rudolph Tanner, 1924 (Kempe Trust Archive; (ii) Peter Gibson, OBE, at work on the restoration of the Rose Window, York glaziers Trust c. 1986 (iii) Cardinal Kempe window, Zouche Chapel, York Minster
Alan Bennett last week recalled a conversation he had in 1995 with the then Dean of Westminster Abbey, Michael Mayne. The Dean had asked Bennett (who at the time was making a documentary about the Abbey for the BBC) whether he thought Philip Larkin and J.B. Priestley deserved to be commemorated in Poets’ Corner. Bennett admits that while he considered Larkin ‘an obvious yes on the strength of Church Going, let alone the rest’, he’d been lukewarm about Priestley. Today Priestley still isn’t there, and perhaps he has now missed his chance – about which Bennett admits he is filled ‘with regret and self-reproach’.
This informal way of deciding issues that may have long-lasting or irreversible consequences echoes a letter sent by an earlier Dean, George Granville Bradley, to Charles Eamer Kempe in March 1894:
My dear Kempe
You see I treat you as an old Rugbeian & dock you of the ‘Mr’!
I am sure that I may privately ask your opinion on a matter in which I rather distrust my own opinion judgment – & Somers Clark, whom I sometimes surreptitiously consult is away.
We are laying down a gravestone over Tennyson
It is to be very simple – black Irish marble.
I thought a plain cross
Then the name
born August &c
died October &c
& just a wreath of laurels below.
Lady T rather likes to have the laurel wreath on the +. but wd not that suggest to the ordinary mind the couronne d’epines [crown of thorns] rather than the laureate ship?
I told her that I should take some good counsellor’s opinion.
It will be of course in a much trodden part of Poets’ Corner i.e. the S transept close to Chaucer’s monument.
I should much value a hint from you & I am sure that you will forgive me.
Mr Pearson has been very ill – is better; but still poorly. I may see him on Wednesday & it wd be a comfort to have my own views strengthened by a better guide than myself.
I shall not leave here till after post comes in on Wednesday morning – unless something unforeseen happens. I’ve no vehicle or wd. drive down.
Very truly yours
G G Bradley
Dean Bradley (1821-1903) was an interesting character. Like Kempe, he had been educated at Rugby, and had returned to teach there while Kempe was a pupil. He later became Headmaster of Marlborough, then Master of University College, Oxford, and was finally appointed Dean of Westminster in 1881. Up to that point he had been best known for his revised version of a school textbook on Latin Prose Composition, always referred to as ‘Bradley’s Arnold’. Hence, when his appointment was announced in the press, Punch published a caricature, showing Bradley as a butterfly rising above what looks like a church with a mortar board atop its steeple, but actually has the name Marlborough just legible on its roof. Bradley had a reputation as a progressive and reforming Headmaster, but on the ground lies a bundle of birching twigs wrapped around with a piece of cloth on which appears the word CHRYSALIS. The caption, punning both on his notoriety among schoolboys – his name synonymous with enforced translation from English into Latin – and on his elevation to the deanery at Westminster, echoes Peter Quince’s astonishment at seeing Bottom the weaver transformed into an ass: ‘BLESS THEE! THOU ART TRANSLATED!’
Bradley and Tennyson had been a two-man mutual admiration society: when the poet sent his son Hallam to Marlborough, he declared that he had sent him ‘not to Marlborough but to Bradley’. Bradley for his part returned the compliment by naming his daughter Emily Tennyson Bradley. So it isn’t surprising that he took such a personal interest in designing an appropriate memorial to go over the resting place of Queen Victoria’s favourite poet.
His letter to Kempe is revealing. When he cheerfully admits that he sometimes consults the architect and Egyptologist Somers Clarke surreptitiously, he opens up a world of Cathedral intrigue recognizable to anyone who has read Trollope’s Barchester novels. The logical person to have advised the Dean was the Abbey’s Surveyor of the Fabric. In 1894 this was John Loughborough Pearson, but he – as the letter explains – had been seriously ill. But even with Pearson indisposed and Somers Clarke away, Bradley might have consulted his friend, the architect George Frederick Bodley. After all, it was Bradley who had brought in Bodley at University College to build a new Master’s Lodging (1879); and when Pearson died three years later, it was Bodley whom Bradley appointed to succeed him. But perhaps it was from previous dealings with Bodley and Pearson that Bradley had discovered it was useful to have a second, discreet, architectural ear to bend when occasion required – as now, in the matter of Tennyson’s tomb. Perhaps, too, he was being cautious in case Bodley suggested a wholly different (and much more elaborate) design; he had already designed a fine memorial brass tombstone in the Abbey for the architect George Edmund Street, who had died in 1881. Whatever the reason, the opening and closing sentences of his letter suggest this was the first time Bradley had consulted Kempe confidentially on a question of religious symbolism.
Attached to the letter, in the Kempe Trust archives, is a small pencil sketch on a torn-off piece of Whatman’s fine wove Original Turkey Mill paper. The sketch is in Kempe’s own hand, and shows two ideas for an appropriate Poets’ Corner gravestone. While both develop the Dean’s original idea of a cross and a laurel wreath, neither incorporates the stricken widow’s wish for a wreath to be placed over the cross. How Kempe replied and whether Kempe even sent any sketches to Westminster is not known; but in any case Tennyson’s memorial stone, as seen today, displays no cross, and no wreath, just name and dates. The final decision seems to have been a compromise of a peculiarly Anglican kind. Neither Dean nor widow got their way – and all were satisfied.
- Alan Bennett recalls his conversation with the Dean in his diary for 2015, now published in the London Review of Books, vol.38, no. 1 (7 January 2016) p.6
- Tennyson’s tombstone can be seen in an extract from Bennett’s documentary about Westminster Abbey here, on YouTube.
- Tennyson’s comment about sending his son to Bradley not to Marlborough is quoted in Niall Hamilton, A History of the Chapel of St. Michael and All Angels, Marlborough College, Wiltshire, (1986), p.17
[illustrations: (i) The Punch cartoon (Vol. 81, 1 October 1881, p.154), drawn by Linley Sambourne; (ii) inside pages of Bradley’s letter to Kempe (31.3.1894); (iii) Kempe’s pencil sketches for Tennyson’s tombstone (1894). Illustrations (ii) and (iii) © Kempe Trust.
Sir John was a remarkable and controversial man. Kempe never knew him: he had died in 1823, fourteen years before Charles was born. He remained, nevertheless, a powerful presence in the family—not least to Kempe’s mother, Augusta, and to her elder sister, Kempe’s aunt Charlotte, who were two of Sir John’s ten children. It may be only coincidence, but the Prince of Wales (the future Prince Regent and, later, George IV) called his daughter Charlotte Augusta: Sir John and the Prince were close friends. Being close to the Prince Regent was indeed a strong reason for John Eamer to buy a house in Brighton. This became the family home when Sir John retired; and it was in Brighton that Augusta Eamer became acquainted with the widowed Nathaniel Kemp, whom she married at Ovingdean church in 1823.
The origins of the future Lord Mayor are not known. No records have been traced to identify his parents or even his place or date of birth– though his probable age at death indicates that he was born c.1750. There is an early reference to a John Eamer keeping a small grocer’s shop in Leadenhall Street, but he must have been at the very least a man of promise. In 1781 he married the daughter of a Jewish sugar refiner and banker called Harman Samler; his wife, Mary, converted to Christianity before their wedding in St. Andrew’s by the Wardrobe. After their marriage, her piety would have a considerable influence on her daughters; whether it had much influence on her husband is less certain.
Sugar importing from the West Indian plantations was an important part of what rapidly became John Eamer’s lucrative career as a wholesale grocer, and his wealth was starting to underpin his wider interests in the City of London and beyond. He tried, unsuccessfully, to buy political influence in the notorious Somerset rotten borough of Ilchester; in 1794 he became Sheriff of London, and was knighted by George III. An alderman, and in due course Master of the Salters’ Company, he was elected Lord Mayor in 1801 and was granted his own arms by the College of Heralds the following year. He commissioned from the Royal Family’s favourite silversmith, Paul Storr, a magnificent sugar dish that is now preserved in the Mansion House. On completing his term of office as Lord Mayor, he remained an active magistrate in the City and became Colonel of the East London militia, with responsibility for safeguarding the London docks from possible French attack after the collapse of the short-lived Treaty of Amiens in 1802. He owned a house on Putney Heath which he rented out to the former Prime Minister William Pitt in 1804. (Two years later, Pitt died in Sir John’s house.)
If all this sounds like an effortless rise of someone who, though not born great, certainly achieved greatness, it was actually no such thing. Sir John bought influence and office; he constructed an image of himself as a man who embodied the traditions of the City and used his wealth to give substance to this image. Not everyone was fooled: 1n 1795, for instance, the year after he had become Sheriff and been knighted, he was one of two leading promoters of a scheme to create a new West India Dock in the Pool of London, which would be owned and controlled by a limited company rather than by the City of London. The Corporation of the City blocked the proposal, declaring forthrightly that it was a plan promoted by ‘opulent and respectable persons chiefly foreigners in regard to the freedom of this City’. This perfectly sums up the ambiguity of Sir John’s position: though he was ‘opulent and respectable’ (note the order of these two adjectives), he and his fellow promoters were ‘chiefly foreigners to the freedom of this city’—outsiders who clearly did not understand the ways and privileges of the City, or they would not have come up with a scheme that threatened the ancient rights of the Freemen of the City of London. And yet 1795 was the same year in which Sir John became an Alderman of the City, and only six years later he would be elected Lord Mayor. By then, it would be impossible to call the occupant of the Mansion House a foreigner.
To mark his election in 1801, Sir John commissioned a huge portrait (more than two metres high) of himself, painted by Mather Brown. In a stunning piece of myth making, he is shown not as Lord Mayor but as Colonel of a regiment of the City of London Militia (a commission he did not purchase until after his year of office as Lord Mayor was over; even by his own account, he did not assume command of the regiment until 1803). As painted, he stands, flushed and supremely confident in scarlet uniform, his right elbow resting on the muzzle of a tall canon. Immediately behind him, his massive horse is draped in a cheetah-skin saddlecloth. Above and behind the horse loom the arms of the City of London, supported as heraldry demands by a griffin. Below, in a distant view barely glimpsed between the horse’s legs, soldiers can be seen drilling on a parade ground with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background. The implicit title of this picture is all too clearly ‘Sir John Eamer, Heroic Defender of the City of London’. The portrait stayed with him until his death, and was inherited by his eldest daughter, Charlotte, who in her will at last bequeathed it to the City of London. Charlotte, by then the widow of Dr Benjamin Claxson DD, had died in 1873, and the responsibility of transferring it from her house in Gloucester to the Guildhall in London (where it remains to this day) lay with her executor, her nephew Charles Eamer Kempe.
It has to be admitted that the City Fathers gave Sir John a good send-off at the end of his term as Lord Mayor. The London Gazette recorded that on 2nd December the Court of Common Council had resolved ‘Unanimously, that the Thanks of this Court be given to the Right Honourable Sir JOHN EAMER, Knight, late Lord Mayor of this City for the faithful discharge of duties committed to his Trust in the exalted Station of Chief Magistrate’. He was praised for his ‘Humanity and unwavering Solicitude for the Poor’, and also ‘for his active and laudable Endeavours to reduce the price of bread and other Necessaries of Life’. These are interesting compliments, which might lead one to speculate that his particular concern for the poor and the provision of the necessaries of life stemmed from his own experiences as a child and young man.
The greatest praise of the Court, however, was reserved for Sir John’s munificent entertainment of his friend the Prince of Wales on Easter Monday 1802; He was thanked for ‘the accession of singular honour he obtained for this great City, by the august Presence of His Royal Highness the PRINCE OF WALES’ and for the ‘suitable Magnificence with which he entertained the Heir Apparent of these Realms, and the rest of his Royal and Illustrious Guests’.
This was perhaps Sir John Eamer’s finest hour. The esteem in which he was held was never greater than now, even though a satirical cartoon had appeared shortly after that Easter Monday extravaganza, showing the Lord Mayor forced to apologise to the Sheriffs of London, because the royal guests and their hangers-on had eaten all the food and there was not enough left for the City officers to enjoy. In 1805 he had to endure the indignity of a Court Martial: he was arraigned on several charges of ‘Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman’ following his treatment of some junior officers in the Militia who complained of his bullying and abusive behaviour. Sir John was acquitted but he felt the need to publish at once a full account of the trial and his own speech in defence of his behaviour.
He argued that at the time he assumed command of the Regiment, England ‘was menaced with an imminent invasion’ and strict military discipline was necessary; among the officers of the East London Militia, however, he found no such discipline. Some of them, he said, had turned their commissions into sinecures and stubbornly refused to turn out on parade; nevertheless, he was determined to bring the regiment up to scratch:
“The task was arduous, but the necessity was imperious. I was prepared to expect incessant labour, to make large sacrifices of my time, of my comforts, of my interests in my line of commerce, of my rest, and even of my health, to effect this change. I was prepared to expect much discontent and strong opposition; but I was not prepared to expect that the ruin of my character, the destruction of my peace, and the blasting of my fair fame were to be the price of my duty so discharged.” (Colonel Sir John Eamer’s Defence on the court martial held on charges preferred against him by Captain William Ayres, &c. &c. to which are added, the charges at length; together with the sentence, and His Majesty’s decision thereon. London, 1805)
Sir John was cleared of all charges, though on one count the Court thought it right ‘to caution Sir John Eamer to be more guarded in future in his language towards the Officers of his regiment’. The officers who had brought the charges against their Colonel were all dishonourably discharged from the regiment, and it is hard to tell, reading only Sir John’s own account of the events that led to the trial, whether the charges were justified or not. But that he could be guilty of acting high-handedly and of letting a violent temper get the better of him was proved the following year when Parnell v. Eamer, an action brought against him ‘to recover damages for assault and false imprisonment’ was heard in Maidstone, at the Kent Assizes. The Sporting Gazette (vol. 28, 1806) recounted gleefully the story of ‘Sir John Eamer and the Higgler’, an early instance of road rage when Sir John, driving his curricle too fast around a bend on the Dover Road had collided with a cart belonging to the plaintiff and driven by his servant, the higgler. In his opening speech, Counsel for the plaintiff had declared that ‘What induced this City knight to take the wrong side of the road he could not say,’ but he had driven too close to the plaintiff’s cart and their wheels had become locked. Whereupon, ‘instead of feeling as he ought to have done, that the accident was owing to his own negligence , he immediately jumped up and immediately began to exercise his horsewhip most actively upon the head and shoulders of the plaintiff’s servant.” To add insult to injury, when the plaintiff himself appeared, Sir John had attacked him too, even though he was hobbling on a crutch and had insisted on dragging the plaintiff to the Watch House to be arrested by the Constable, who had, however, refused to detain him. On this occasion, the case went against Sir John; and, though he was obliged to pay only nominal damages, his reputation had taken a bad knock.
Not so bad, however, as in 1810, when Sir John and another Alderman were accused by the Court of Common Council of misappropriating a large sum (£8000) which, it was claimed, had been voted to them for the equipping of the London Militia but for which Sir John refused to account. In the face of this refusal, the Court went so far as to petition Parliament to disband the Militia altogether, but Parliament failed to do so, and in 1813 Sir John Eamer was once again court martialled for ‘behaving in a scandalous infamous manner, such as unbecoming the character of an Officer and a Gentleman’ towards one of his subordinate officers. This trial was almost a reprise of the previous Court Martial, with Sir John being acquitted on all charges but reprimanded, again, for his use of ‘unguarded expressions’.
For the last ten years of his life, Sir John lived more and more in retirement, though he had by this time become something of a laughing stock, upon whom hoaxes and jests could be played. Finally, after one such hoax in 1819, widely reported in the press, he withdrew from the City and lived out his days in Brighton, with his wife and his unmarried daughters. He died there on 29th March 1823, aged 70. The Times printed no obituary of him; indeed, the only reference to his death appeared in a brief note in the Gentleman’s Magazine, which reported that ‘On a warm treacherous sun-shining day, he imprudently ventured to sit on the beach, which sapped the foundation of a frame already bending under the weight of age and infirmity’.
Of all his children and grandchildren, it was really only Kempe’s Aunt Charlotte who did anything to preserve his memory. She housed his enormous 1801 portrait, and twice caused his heraldic shield to appear in stained glass: once in the cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral and once in the west window of Twigworth Church, where her husband, Dr. Claxson, was the incumbent. Among his aunt’s effects at the time of her death in 1873, Kempe found little belonging to Sir John that he was minded to keep: two medals awarded at school to his eldest son, Harman Eamer, and two lorgnettes – one tortoiseshell, and bearing the name ‘Sir Iohn Eamer’, the other sprung steel. There were also two miniature portraits, one of a woman identified only as a former friend of Mrs Claxson’s, the other of a cheerful-looking, fashionable young man.
It has always been assumed that Charles Eamer Kempe was given his middle name because it had been his mother’s maiden name and because it linked him with his distinguished grandfather. This may have been true, though it seems strange that the name was only given to Mrs Kemp’s fifth and youngest son, not to any of her elder sons. It is, however, at least possible that the name was not given in memory of Sir John at all, but in memory of his young son, the boy in the miniature portrait, whom Sir John had shipped off to India when he was only sixteen. This lad had been sent to Ghazeepoore, in Uttar Pradesh, where the East India Company was busily establishing an opium factory. (Today Ghazipur still boasts this, the world’s largest legal opium processing factory in the world.) The boy died there in 1805. It is not difficult to believe that both Charlotte and Augusta missed their brother, barely seventeen when he died, and cherished his memory, Charlotte by keeping the miniature portrait of him and Augusta by naming her last son after him. For the boy’s name was Charles Eamer, and Kempe inherited both his name and his portrait.
[illustrations: (i) Portrait of Sir John Eamer (Private Collection, reproduced by permission); (ii) Arms of Sir John Eamer, in Twigworth (Glos.), the gift of Mrs. Charlotte Claxson; (iii) Portrait miniature of Charles Eamer.
In 1949 John Betjeman wrote to Rosalie Mander, widow of Sir Geoffrey Mander. Sir Geoffrey had inherited Wightwick Manor from his father Theodore, who had built the striking black and white timbered manor house between 1887 and 1893. Lady Mander, already an authoritative biographer and an enthusiastic promoter of Wightwick as a show-piece of Pre-Raphaelite art and decoration, had written to Betjeman asking for information about Kempe. Betjeman by this time was one of the best-known champions of Victorian decorative arts : his reply helps us to understand better the downward trajectory of Kempe’s reputation in the mid-twentieth century.
I would so like to see Wightwick Manor too. Old Mr Wyndham Hope Hughes, who taught Kempe how to make stained glass, died at the beginning of this year aged 100 in the Victoria Hospital, Swindon. His son, Colonel Christopher Hughes, M.C., Marlborough, Wilts., could give you information about Kempe. I have always liked the early glass of Kempe but his later glass and imitations of it, all green and grey, have ruined so many churches for me that I would like to see the good early Kempe which I have so often heard about at Wightwick. (14th May 1949)
It is a measure of the rapidity with which Kempe had fallen from public notice that barely forty years after his death, and only fifteen since the closure of C.E. Kempe and Co., information about one of the most influential figures of nineteenth century church art was hard to find. It’s interesting, too, that Betjeman makes no mention of Walter Tower, who had been Kempe’s young cousin and his heir. He was still alive and living in Salisbury, and might have been the person best placed to answer Lady Mander’s enquiries. Instead, Betjeman refers her to the son of Wyndham Hope Hughes, then an entirely unremembered figure in the Kempe story. He implies that he himself knows nothing about Kempe’s life, before offering a less than lukewarm judgment on his work and influence, especially of ‘his later glass and imitations of it’.
Most puzzling – most inaccurate – is Betjeman’s confident assertion that it was Hughes ‘who taught Kempe how to make stained glass’. Not only is this not true as a statement of fact – Kempe learned the elements of stained glass making during his time with Clayton and Bell, for whom he produced a window in Gloucester Cathedral in 1865 – but simple mathematics would have shown Betjeman that his statement was wrong. Hughes was born in 1849, and was therefore only sixteen when Kempe was already designing glass for the leading firm of the day. In the five years that followed, Kempe used the London firm of T. Baillie to make the windows he had designed, and then engaged the Cambridge ecclesiastical artist-craftsman, Frederick Leach, to establish the first glass works for the newly formed Kempe Studio. It is not until the 1870s (after Kempe had paid for him to attend art school in London) that young Wyndham Hughes started – as an artist, not as a glass maker – to contribute to the development of the Kempe style: he designed the windows for the Royal Mausoleum at Darmstadt (one of the Kempe’s most significant commissions); he painted, under Kempe’s supervision, the pulpit in All Saints, Cambridge, and was responsible for some vibrantly designed and coloured windows in churches such as Kempley (Herefordshire), St. Bridget’s, West Kirby, and the Four Rivers window (1884) at St. Mary’s Priory Church, Monmouth.
If by saying that Hughes taught Kempe ‘how to make stained glass’ Betjeman had meant Hughes helped Kempe evolve the style by which his glass would become known, this would have been a fair comment. But how did Betjeman know enough about Hughes to make such a claim? He didn’t. This claim was hearsay. Writing to Ninian Comper in 1950, Betjeman told the architect (whom he greatly admired and promoted):
The Architectural Review wrote to me to write an article about Kempe. I said they ought to get you to do it, if you had the time, as you knew and appreciated him. A man called Wyndham Hughes who died in Swindon a year ago aged 100 taught Kempe stained glass, I am told. Kempe taught you. But you are so much better than Kempe it is hard to believe he taught you. I have seen some Kempe windows I’ve liked, but many more I have regretted. That greenish tinge is so painful.
Betjeman evidently found green the defining feature of Kempe glass. In 1958, he wrote this description of a typical inner-city Anglo-Catholic church:
Through the screen we glimpse a huge reredos painted green and red and gold, with folding doors. The floor of the Sanctuary is paved with black-and-white marble. Riddel posts with gilt angels on them – the famous ‘English Altar’ introduced by Sir Ninian Comper in the ’eighties … Blue incense rises to the golden reredos and the green Kempe window. ( John Betjeman, Collins Guide to English Parish Churches, 1958)
To Betjeman’s delight, Comper did write an article on Kempe for the Architectural Review, but it was never published. Indeed, the first significant post-war article on Kempe eventually only appeared in 1973, written by Rosalie Mander. By this time Lady Mander and John Betjeman had become colleagues on a number of heritage projects: to her must go the credit for changing the by-then Poet Laureate’s view of Kempe. Perhaps, too, he had been converted by the fine glass he’d seen at Wightwick: both the relocated work of 1875 (designed, as it happens, by Wyndham Hughes) and glass commissioned by Theodore Mander in 1888 and 1893. Just how enthusiastic Betjeman had latterly become can, finally, be judged from an undated note sent to Lady Mander, probably in response to her article, ‘The Work of C.E. Kempe’ in Apollo (February 1973):
Thank you oh thank you … and God bless your work on Kempe. I think his family came from Blisland.
Blisland was a favourite village of Betjeman’s, close to his own home at Trebetherick on the north Cornish coast. It is a mark of his new-found enthusiasm that he now wants as it were to claim Kempe (inaccurately as it happens) for a near neighbour. But most telling of all is the way he signs off his note to Rosalie Mander:
Yours to the last peacock feather,
The letters between John Betjeman and Rosalie Mander from which I have quoted, are on exhibition at Wightwick Manor. Quoted correspondence between Betjeman and Comper supplied to me by the late Stephen Bucknall.
For a full account of the relationship between Kempe and Ninian Comper, see Anthony Symondson SJ, ‘ “An ass or a devil”? Sir Ninian Comper and Charles Eamer Kempe’, The Journal of Stained Glass, vol. xxxiv, 2010; also Anthony Symondson and Stephen Bucknall, Sir Ninian Comper (Reading: Spire Books in association with the Ecclesiological Society, 2006).
One of Kempe’s Sussex friends was the writer A C Benson. Some friend! In his voluminous diary Benson recorded his impressions of Kempe’s windows wherever he saw them. Perhaps more precisely, he recorded his reactions to Kempe: at Gloucester Cathedral, for example, he complained:
Mr Kempe is everywhere. I really begin to hate his glass; the same simpering faces everywhere. It seems to me that he has entirely crystallised into a tradition …. (18 April 1904)
and later in the same year he found Kempe in York Minster:
There he was in many postures, wrapped up in carpets and staggering under the weight of jewelled chalices in window after window, faint, handsome and affected. (8 September 1904)
These two extracts are enough to give a clear sense of what Benson disliked: not only were Kempe’s windows ubiquitous, they were, he thought, repetitive. And not just repetitive: he saw in every saint’s and apostle’s face the face of Kempe himself (‘There he was in many postures’). Beyond that he clearly disliked the elaborate heavy garments and props – the robes and vestments, the cloaks and copes – that seemed to him to have ‘crystallised into a tradition’: ‘crystallised’ here not in the sense of clarified and refined, but of ossified – incapable of further development.
Benson’s private outbursts (his diary was not published in his lifetime) are exaggeration, of course: there are only nine Kempe figures in York Minster; and a quick glance at the faces of St Peter and St Laurence, for instance, will show that neither face looks remotely like Kempe’s own. But for all Benson’s caricature – ‘wrapped up in carpets and staggering under the weight of jewelled chalices’ – there is just enough to make one understand how the reaction against Kempe’s glass could have set in almost before Kempe himself had died. Well before 1907, the work of Christopher Whall, James Eadie Reid and others was moving towards a radically freer style, one rooted less emphatically in the glass of the late medieval and 16th centuries. Those who cherished the Kempe style – whether for its own sake or as a mark of ecclesiastical good taste and craftsmanship – were only too pleased that the Kempe Studio, and its successor, C.E. Kempe and Co., remained faithful to the vision of its founder. Those on the other hand who sought a rejuvenation and a redefinition of stained glass looked elsewhere.
What matters now, however, is to put Benson’s criticisms to the test. In 1907, he toured the Cotswolds and one day cycled from Cirencester to Fairford. It was his first visit, and the stained glass amazed him:
The windows are marvellous – most of them familiar to me from reproductions at home: the faces of the old saints and patriarchs so ugly and full of character as well as humanity – so different from Mr Kempe. (5 April 1907)
If the windows at Fairford provide us with a touchstone of what Benson admired, then one can say that he liked naturalism in depicting individuals – both as individuals and as members of society at large. He clearly admired the depiction of individual character in the faces that he saw in Fairford, and regretted the lack of this individuality in the faces he found in Kempe’s glass.
There are no windows by Kempe in Fairford, but its glass was supremely important to him when he was researching and recording it at the start of his career. But is Benson fair, is he even accurate, to describe Fairford’s old saints and patriarchs as ‘ugly and full of character’? Ugly and expressive faces abound in these windows, but they are usually the faces of soldiers, executioners and murderers – does any stained glass anywhere have more fun than Fairford with Cain bashing the living daylights out of Abel? By contrast, faces of the great and the good are often curiously expressionless – posed in the same way that the sitters for early photographs posed. On a Kempe-spotting visit to Twineham in Sussex, Benson had noted ‘A sly, ferret-faced angel, incredibly involved in raiment, as though the celestial temperature were arctic, making his announcement to a Virgin, who looks as if she were being photographed, very demure.’ This description is arresting, but could as easily be applied to some of the figures in Fairford windows (Mary Magdalene, for instance, mistaking Jesus for the gardener; or Adam and Eve, kneeling politely before an entirely expressionless Christ during His Descent into Hell) as to one of Kempe’s Annunciation windows.
Kempe learned a great deal from Fairford – about technique, colour, design and
detail. The drawings he commissioned in 1868 from Fred Leach and Alfred Tombleson, pencilled notes added in Kempe’s own hand to record the techniques
used by the original draughtsman and painters to create their effects; these laid the foundation for what would become in time the Kempe style. It’s particularly striking to see the way small details are included to establish a narrative. In a dramatic window depicting the Descent from the Cross, the executioner carefully lowers the flopping, lifeless body to the ground, while the gruesome pincers in his belt remind us that, before the body could be lowered, the nails had had to be pulled out from hands and feet. This is what Kempe learned and this is what Benson, in his rush to belittle the work of his friend, missed entirely. Had he looked more carefully, Benson might have noticed how Kempe borrows many details – of beards, for instance, and costume (hats especially) directly from the Fairford patriarchs.
Above all, one face at Fairford compelled Kempe’s attention, influencing his own characteristic depiction of faces
throughout his career. This is St Mark, in the Evangelists’ window (NW nave aisle). Mark, as an older man, looks downwards not outwards: his hooded contemplative eyes with widened eyelids become almost a trope in Kempe’s windows. The well-defined cheeks, nose and chin; the wide, sensitive, expressive mouth – all these we recognise in Kempe’s finest faces, and Kempe himself saw them first at Fairford. It’s a shame Benson didn’t.
[photographs: (i) St. Mark (detail, c. 1500, Fairford); (ii) Cain and Abel, c.1500, Fairford, (iii) Jesus meeting Adam and Eve in Hell, c.1515, Fairford; (iv) The descent from the Cross, (c.1500) Fairford; (v) St Anne (detail, 1898, Newland, Glos.; (vi) St. Augustine (detail, 1904), Bishop Burton, Yorkshire: E. Riding.
All photographs © Adrian Barlow
The Victoria and Albert Museum houses some of the most precious of all the Kempe archives: folders of drawings and cartoons, many of which can be dated to 1868 and the creation of the Kempe Studio. In this year Kempe had established himself in permanent premises (47 Beaumont Street, W1), but was in effect still a freelance ecclesiastical decorator and designer, though beginning to gather a small team of young assistants around him. Many of these drawings are detailed coloured tracings of 15th and 16th century glass, in particular of glass at three churches in and near the Cotswolds: Cirencester and Fairford in Gloucestershire, and Malvern Abbey in Worcestershire. Often these actual-size drawings, many of them dated 1868, are signed or initialled by Kempe to show that he had approved them, but the work itself was done by two men who play a central part in the development of Kempe’s career and reputation: the Cambridge-based Frederick Leach and his apprentice Alfred Tombleson.
On 12th September 1868, The Builder magazine reported that the British Archaeological Association (BAA) had set up a Fairford Windows Committee ‘for ensuring the illustration and preservation of these windows’. This was to be a high-powered body, chaired by Earl Bathurst, President of the BAA, and numbering among its members the Queen’s Librarian at Windsor, together with ‘other persons distinguished in art … including the Presidents of the Royal Academy, Society of Antiquaries, Institute of Architects, and the Archaeological Institute’. The report concluded that ‘The first work of the committee will be to obtain careful tracings of the whole of the windows with a view to the exchange of portions wrongly placed.’
Did Kempe get the job, even though he was just 31 and still relatively unknown? Certainly, in October he was at Cirencester and had already started Leach and Tombleson on drawing the windows both there and at Fairford. Writing to Leach from the King’s Head, Cirencester, on 13th October, he announced,
I have examined the glass here & find that it has been a good deal cleaned – & coloured shading removed – but the drawing of the figures in West window is very good. I have told the masons – that you will require two ladders – if you do not find the men have brought them in you must apply to Mr Bridges’ builder.
He then draws a diagrammatic sketch to show which saints and bishops appear in this west window. He adds a further note, listing the order in which he would like these figures to be drawn, ‘working them perhaps in this order, if there is not time for all.’ An additional note, evidently added as a hurried afterthought from the way it is written, tells Leach that ‘There is a figure head in centre of window the most perfect head of all which would be worth having especially as it is said to be a portrait. It is crowned & looks northward [sic].’
It sounds from this letter as though Kempe is anxious here not to record all the glass but to get detailed drawings of the best work. He is doing this both for his own sake and to train others – that, is Tombleson and Leach – in understanding how later medieval designers and painters achieved such wonderful results. From his excitement about the crowned head, it seems that realism in drawing faces was already important to him, but what mattered most was looking and recording minutely the small details to see how the overall composition of the windows was achieved. The rest of this important letter to Fred Leach is worth quoting in full:
There are plenty of small figures and details of all sorts worth studying but I do not think the canopies need be drawn –
The figures will not take so long as any of the work at Fairford & facsimiles of the heads can be easily taken with a fine sable [i.e. an artist’s sable paintbrush]. I am not sure if the head of S Jerome is old – if on close examination it shd. prove new leave it out.
I am yours truly,
The yellow stain shd. be shown in these & in the Fairford figures yet to do – as it cannot be supplied afterwards –
It has to be said that this does not sound quite like fulfilling to terms of reference set by the Fairford Windows Committee. Nevertheless, on October 23rd Leach is able to write in his Cash Book that he has received from Kempe
By cash for own travelling and other expenses between Cambridge, Fairford, Cirencester and Malvern £4-0s-0d.
Ditto Tombleson 27/-, wages 25/-, Lodgings 2/-.
And this was not the start of their work at Fairford: as early as 16th July, Leach had received a cheque from Kempe to pay Tombleson’s train fare to Fairford (and presumably other expenses too?) of £4.
This information shows how revealing the details of a cash book may be, and it is very good news that Fred Leach’s, meticulously compiled in his own hand, is now in the possession of the Museum of Cambridge (formerly Cambridge Folk Museum; directly opposite to St. Giles’ Church, which incidentally contains fine windows by Kempe and decoration by Leach). With Tombleson thus clearly working for Kempe and Leach at Fairford as early as July, any work and drawings completed there must have pre-dated a commission from the Fairford Windows Committee. And Leach is certainly working at Fairford by October, because on the same day he claims travel expenses for himself and Tombleson, he records paying Mrs Beals, the parish clerk of Fairford, a fee of 3 shillings- and adds that the hire of ladders cost him a florin (two shillings – that is, 10p).
So is it just coincidence that Kempe happened to be recording the windows in Cirencester’s parish church when the town’s most illustrious resident, William Lennox, 5th Earl Bathurst, was seeking someone to carry out similar work at Fairford? I’m still trying to find the answer.
In two future posts I shall discuss, first, the significance of the Fairford windows for the development of Kempe’s own style and, secondly, the way in which the drawings done at Fairford and Malvern were to influence the conservation work of the Kempe Studios and CE Kempe and Co for the next fifty years and beyond.
[illustrations: (i) detail of an unfinished drawing of St Michael: West Window, Fairford, (now in the V&A; (ii) crowned head, formerly in the West Window of Cirencester Parish Church (Photo copyright Adrian Barlow.
Lindfield, in Sussex, was Kempe’s home for much of his life. In 1874 he bought Old Place, a small Elizabethan manor house in the village; this he restored, enlarged and embellished, creating a magnificent garden and a house impressive enough to be featured in Country Life. Inside, he filled the rooms with antique furnishings and artwork and decorated them with rich plasterwork, panelling and, of course, stained glass. Much of this was heraldic, a way of surrounding himself with the arms of his family and friends; in the drawing room, however, he created a series of designs incorporating lines from Walter Scott’s poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel and roundels depicting scenes of family life, friendship and affection.
One of these roundels depicts two children collecting daisies in Lindfield village churchyard; the church itself is carefully painted – these roundels are created entirely with silver stain – in the background. Kempe was a major benefactor of All Saints, and to this day it contains evidence of his close association with it. He gave no windows (the only Kempe glass in the church was inserted after his death by C.E. Kempe and Co.) but there are Kempe frontals still extant, as well as a screen designed and made for him to present to the church. Also, surprisingly, three bells.
In 1887 Kempe was People’s Warden, one of the church’s two churchwardens, elected by the congregation. As a way of marking Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, he proposed that the church’s five ancient bells (a remarkable though somewhat random collection dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and still hanging in the tower) should be supplemented to create a full peal of eight bells. He had consulted the firm of John Taylor of Loughborough – then, as now, one of the two leading bell foundries in Britain – the other being the Whitechapel foundry in London’s east end – and had established that the bell frame would need to be restored and strengthened to carry the extra weight and stress of a full peal being hung and rung. In a prospectus circulated to the village, he offered to give three bells, if the parish would meet the rest of the cost. The money was duly raised, the bells were commissioned and the framework restored:
THIS FRAME WAS FIXED AND THESE
BELLS WERE HUNG JUNE MDCCCLXXXVII
CHARLES EAMER KEMPE Ch WARDEN
The bells donated by Kempe are marked with his wheatsheaf logo and the following inscription: Felici Anno Lmo Regni Victoriae AD MDCCCLXXXVII Lavs Deo (‘In the Fiftieth Year of the Happy Reign of Victoria AD 1887 Praise be to God’).
The new ring of bells was inaugurated with a full peal of Grandsire Triples.
Bells last a long time: of the earlier Lindfield bells, three date from the reign of Elizabeth I and one each from either side of the Civil War and the Commonwealth. Kempe’s bells, unique among the great range and variety of furnishings the Studios produced or commissioned, are young by comparison. Occasionally a bell may crack or lose its tone but, if so, it can usually be re-cast; you won’t often hear of bells being scrapped unless the tower in which they hang has become structurally unsafe, and they need to be removed.
The Kempe Trust exists of course to protect Kempe’s legacy, to raise awareness of its importance and to assist, where possible, in the preservation and conservation of the glass and furnishings associated with his name and that of C.E. Kempe and Co. The Trustees were surprised, therefore, to read that the Vicar of Lindfield, the Rev. Canon Dr. James Clarke, is about to launch a £200,000 appeal – for what? for an entirely new set of bells. On Palm Sunday the congregation read the following announcement:
On 9th September 2015, HM the Queen will become the longest reigning monarch in British history, surpassing the reign of Queen Victoria’s, of 63 years, 7 months and 3 days. In honour of this unique landmark, and as part of our larger ASPIRE project, All Saints is proposing to commission an entire set of new bells, to be known as ‘The Queen Elizabeth II bells’.
Any donors willing to contribute £20,000 to the Appeal were promised that their names would be inscribed on one of the bells.
On the face of it, this is worrying, indeed astonishing. The Kempe Trustees have written to the Vicar and churchwardens asking for clarification of their intentions and of their plans (if any) for the safe-keeping of the historic bells they apparently intend to replace. Their reply is eagerly awaited.
It must be said that the story of Kempe and the Lindfield bells did not have a happy ending. His scheme for celebrating Victoria’s Golden Jubilee didn’t meet with unanimous approval in the village, even though the money was raised in good time, the bell frame was restored and the new bells were cast and hung within nine months of his original appeal. The Mid-Sussex Times gleefully covered the controversy for a year; but whatever gall Kempe must have felt at voices being raised against his scheme turned to wormwood when he discovered that the man who had now stood against him in the 1888 election for People’s Warden and had won, Mr G. Masters, had lost no time in having his name added to a memorial plaque inside the church listing those who had been responsible for seeing this Jubilee project through to a successful completion. Kempe was incandescent.
He wrote to the Mid-Sussex Times. Everyone knew, he complained, thatMr Masters had played no part in the project whatsoever: indeed, he had campaigned against it. Worse still, though he had originally promised to contribute £20 to the appeal fund, not a penny of that money had actually been paid. ‘May I therefore use your columns,’ Kempe wrote, ‘to tell my friends and neighbours that I have had no part in this somewhat vulgar and ostentatious memorial?’ It was a sad postscript to a generous and unique gesture on Kempe’s part. Within another year, he had transferred his allegiance to Cuckfield Church, and remained happily a member of that congregation for the rest of his life. But his bells still hang in the tower of Lindfield Church, and there surely they should remain.
[illustration: All Saints, Lindfield: a roundel in the Drawing Room window of Old Place. Photo copyright Adrian Barlow and the Kempe Trust.
In my previous post, I described a Kempe window in serious need of help, but I stopped short of discussing what sort of help would be best. In this follow-up post I want to tackle this question, setting out some principles – making clear, however, that my views are only my own, and acknowledging that the wishes of churchwardens, Diocesan Advisory Committees and even members of the Kempe Trust may not always coincide. As before, the focus of this discussion will be the W window in St. John’s Waterbeach.
In the report I wrote on this window for the conservators, I made the following comments on the condition of the glass:
The window as a whole appears to be in reasonable physical condition: only two quarries have been cracked and re-leaded, as have two oblong strips of glass at the very bottom of the window, and one in the extreme top right.* These repairs could well have been made at the time the window was installed. Nevertheless, the condition of the painted surface of the glass shows many signs of serious deterioration, notably in the legs and feet of Christ, and in the chequer-board flooring. The torso of Christ has lost a good deal of its definition, too, as has (though to a much lesser extent) the definition of the face. This is also true of the faces of the women and of the angel in the lower panel.
Throughout the window there is evidence that it is the silver staining that has degraded. It is also apparent that the level of deterioration has been affected by three factors:
(i) the use of quick-fluxing borax in the firing process;
(ii) the conditions (length of time etc.) under which different pieces of glass were fired; and
(iii) the skill and consistency with which the silver staining was applied in the first place. This is particularly evident from the fact that some quarries appear to be almost in mint condition, others to have faded very badly.
Besides these technical factors, however, it is also worth stressing that the window (now over 140 years old) would benefit most of all from careful professional cleaning under studio conditions and from conservation of the leadwork. Because of its west facing position, the lead appears not to have suffered unduly from exposure to direct strong sunlight.
I’m sure that the window as installed was the work of several hands. It’s even possible that the lower panel, depicting the women at the tomb, was originally intended for a different commission. The way the wings of the angel on the right and the dress of the woman on the left have been cropped to fit between the strapwork borders of the window suggests that this panel (or at least the cartoon for this panel) was originally designed to fill a larger space. This is what my report said about the conserving of this part of the window:
Where possible, evidence of the original draughtsmanship and painting – even if faded – should not be destroyed by being overpainted. This applies in particular to the face of Christ and to the scene of the Women at the Tomb, which retains a very strong (and all the more poignant because fading) sense of the high quality of the original draughtsmanship and painting.
The importance of the Waterbeach window lies particularly in this small panel. There are dozens of Kempe windows that depict –often as one of a series of Resurrection subjects – the appearance of the angel to the women at the Tomb. I know of none, however, (and certainly none so early) depicting the scene with such economy and restraint. The tense and anxious women on the one hand and, on the other, the relaxed and reassuring angel perched on a corner of the plinth where Christ had been laid; the exquisite drawing of all the hands; the simple green latticework background and the flowers dotting the grass mound; these features remind us how the whole composition relies on just four colours – white, gold, green and red. In both the draughtsmanship and in the colour of this miniature scene there is a clarity and freshness I cherish in very early Kempe. How then can conservators preserve these fragile characteristics of a scene that has already started to disappear before one’s eyes?
Here I admit to divided feelings. I want this window to be once again a pleasure to look at; I want visitors to come to Waterbeach and admire this fine example of early Kempe glass; but at the same time Ruskin’s diatribe against restoration rings in my ear:
Do not let us deceive ourselves in this important matter; it is impossible, as impossible as to raise the dead, to restore anything that has ever been great or beautiful in architecture …. The life of the whole, that spirit which is given only by the hand and eye of the workman, never can be recalled. (‘The Lamp of Memory: XVIII’ in Seven Lamps of Architecture)
I’m pleased to be able to report that Auravision, the conservators entrusted with the Waterbeach window, have responded to the Kempe Trust’s report in reassuring terms. Clarifying the areas of badly lost paint, such as the lower inscription and the legs, they suggest,
would be achieved by painting the lost details on separate pieces of clear glass and attached to the back of the original pieces, so the original glass is untouched. This process is completely reversible and the newly painted pieces could be removed at any point. But only important areas, such as heads (and legs, in this instance!) and inscriptions are treated in this way in order to make the design legible, in line with the artist’s original intent. Any new paintwork would be painted to match the brush strokes and colouring of the original, and softened so as not to appear too heavy or too pristine for the design in its current aged condition. It should resemble the original paintwork as it is and not as it was.
However, if the precise wording of the inscription cannot be agreed upon, then we would leave it untouched. If we only enhance one piece of glass in this window, it should be that lower inscription.
I suspect this would not have satisfied Ruskin, and probably not William Morris either, but the important principles spelt out here – that the process is entirely reversible, and that the work should resemble the paintwork as it is, not as it was – are principles I fully endorse. So, I believe, would Kempe himself have done.
I shall report again on progress with this window. And in a future post, I shall discuss the techniques of conservation and restoration adopted by the Kempe Studio itself, under Kempe’s guidance and (after his death) by Kempe and Co., at Fairford, at Lichfield Cathedral, and in Malvern and Tewkesbury Abbeys.
* I had failed to mention that the face of the angel in the scene of the women at the Tomb also appears to be cracked. Damage across such a delicate piece of painted glass could never be repaired with lead, but today’s polymer resin adhesive is increasingly being used to repair such sensitive areas of damage. An alternative method, sometimes appropriate, is to laminate the damaged piece between exactly matching pieces of clear glass, held in place by new and specially strengthened leadwork.
[illustrations: St. John’s Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire – the Appearance of the Angel to the Women at the Tomb (detail from the W window); photo © the author.
It is rare for Kempe windows to be in need of major conservation. Most, as it happens, have survived very well, apart from those that have been vandalized or fallen victim to wartime bombs or peacetime terrorism. Relatively few are the windows whose lead-work has become so perished or whose ferramenta (the iron saddlebars to which the panels of glass are attached) so rusted or loose in the surrounding stonework that urgent – and costly – repairs are needed. Indeed it’s a tribute to the quality of the lead Kempe used that so much of it is still sound well over 100 years after its installation. It’s also a tribute to the craftsmen Kempe employed for the unglamorous but vital job of fixing the glass securely – often at scary heights –into church and cathedral windows that they have survived so well. We know that loyal Alfred Tombleson, longest-serving of all Kempe’s inner circle, was at different times glass installer and manager of the Studio glass works as well as master glass painter. Kempe trusted him above anyone else to do a good installation job, taking him to Germany, for instance, in 1877 to insert the memorial windows into the mausoleum of the Grand Ducal family of Darmstadt & Hesse. His huge contribution to the Kempe story is still too easy to underestimate.
But a few windows from the Studio’s early years have suffered from loss of definition (especially of faces and other physical details) or discoloration. It’s not always easy to identify the reasons for this. Dirt and pollution may play a part, of course; so may poor firing of the glass by inexpert workmen. The ‘great borax disaster’ which afflicted so much glass in the 1860s and 1870s did not leave Kempe’s work unscathed either. Occasionally an early Kempe window is in such a poor state that a church may feel some action must be taken – even, at worst, that it should be removed. It is one of the prime objects of the Kempe Trust to provide financial aid to assist in the conservation of Kempe glass, but the trustees would never want to see a window permanently taken out.
This dilemma has been faced by the churchwardens of St. John’s Waterbeach, (Cambridgeshire). Here the west window, a single lancet under the Tower, suffers in places from severe discoloration and loss of detail. It is a sad sight in its present condition, and it is heartening that the church has recognized the need to do whatever it can to preserve this important window.
Why important? I’ll quote from a report I have written on the window in response to a request from the firm of conservators for information that might help them to establish exactly what has been lost. In particular, the firm (Auravisions) wanted help in deciphering what remained of the two inscriptions.
This is an important early Kempe window, created only three years after the establishment of the Kempe Studio. Earlier windows (for example at Ovingdean, Sussex, Frankby and West Kirby, Cheshire) are all smaller in height and overall size than this one. However, the Kempe Studio had by this time also completed at least one large-scale commission overseas, for Bombay Cathedral.
The subject of the window is The Risen Christ, an unusual subject to be chosen for a window at the W end of a church, near to the font where themes related to the childhood of Christ are more common (e.g. The Presentation in the Temple, in the tower W window at Hucknall, Notts). At the top of the window, against a dark blue background within a six-pointed and floriated cartouche, are the arms of the Diocese of Ely (Gules, three crowns or; NB, however, that except in very strong late afternoon light the red of the shield is no longer apparent).
Below this is the full-length Christ. Behind his head a golden nimbus is quartered by a black cross with equal arms. His face is carefully delineated using silver staining techniques: shoulder-length golden hair, a full beard divided under the chin, and heavily-lidded eyes. His naked body is partially covered by a cloak he has gathered into his left hand. It is held under his throat by a clasp with a red precious stone. The outer side of the cloak is white, patterned with sprays of golden leaves; it is edged with a border of golden daisies within circles. The inner lining of the cloak is a rich green. Christ’s right hand is raised in blessing, and the mark of the nail is visible in his exposed palm. His left hand appears to be simultaneously holding the gathered ends of the cloak and grasping the long shaft of the cross that rises above his head. From the top of the cross a billowing red-cross banner of Victory has two fringed streamers that loop around the inscription above Christ’s head. His feet stand on what would surely have been originally a black and white chequer-board floor.
In a self-contained panel, inserted towards the bottom of the window, is a scene depicting the arrival of the Women at the Tomb. Mary the mother of James, Mary Magdalene and Salome (Mark, 16:1) all carry vessels containing embalming ointments. Each has a differentiated red halo: the elder woman on the left – presumably Mary mother of James, though her flowing golden hair might equally suggest Mary Magdalene – has an elaborate head-dress, the others are veiled and wimpled. Greeting them, seated on the empty tomb, is an angel wearing an alb, with a golden stole crossed over his chest. In his left hand he carries a palm. The foreground appears to be grass, dotted with white flowers; the green background is patterned with a lattice of squares, each filled with a quatrefoil.
From top to bottom the window is glazed with diamond-shaped quarries, each bearing the same hand-painted design. The window is edged by a striking blue and black strap-work border, and a series of golden crowns and silver fern leaves threaded onto a continuous rod or stem running around the window’s perimeter.
So much for the design of the window. The inscriptions come next: there are two, each in Gothic script, but with different styles of Gothic lettering presumably painted by different artists. The upper inscription is in black lettering on a white scroll above the head of Christ. The lower, white lettering on a black background (unusual in Kempe windows, but to be seen for instance in the Gloucester Cathedral ambulatory windows ), is seriously faded and in parts indecipherable. The upper inscription, however, is easily understood. It reads
Ego sum resurrectiõ & vita [I am the resurrection and the life]. The letter m and the space between m and r are obscured by the fringe of one of the banner’s streamers. There is one puzzle, however: the bar above the letter o is unexpected. Usually this would indicate a contraction to enable the inscription as a whole to fit into the available space, but the Latin ‘resurrectio’ is the full form of nominative case for this noun. This is the more puzzling because Kempe was usually punctilious about his inscriptions, frequently consulting his old Rugby School housemaster on points of Latin syntax or grammar.
All that can confidently be deciphered of the lower inscription are two words: Ihesus ….. gloria [Jesus … glory]. Conjecturally, the next word is ‘Christus’: a trace of the letter s is apparent, and the first letter could be an upper-case C. If so, there should be a further word. This might be ‘Rex’, though then the final word ought to be ‘gloriae’ [King of glory]. It could also be ‘in’ as in Ihesus Christus in gloria. A further possibility is that the text might read Ihesus Cui Sit Honor & Gloria [Jesus to whom be honour and glory]; again, though, some contraction might be needed.”
It is frustrating not to be able to identify the missing words. I have so far found no comparable text – either in Kempe or in any other window. If any readers can suggest what the full text should be, the Kempe Trust and the conservators of the Waterbeach window would be very pleased to hear from them.
[illustrations: (i) the W window in St John’s, Waterbeach © the author; (ii) detail of the missing inscription © Peter Robb.