Stories on Whalls: what we call the beginning is often the end.

“What took you so long?”

A voice bounced around my head as I crossed the threshold of Thurning Village Hall in deepest Northamptonshire to look at the newspaper cuttings and memorabilia collected by the church warden and his family over the years commemorating one of the village’s most famous son, Christopher Whall: one of Britain’s leading stained glass artists from the turn of the last century.  His voice was on the irascible side; as if he’d been waiting in situ for the last century and was mightily impatient for someone from the family to turn up and genuflect at the altar of his birthplace.

What took me so long‘ I replied was that it had taken quite a while for my mum to tell me that the reason her first name was Veronica was because she was the God-child of Veronica Whall who happened to ‘do a bit of stained glass’.  Understatement doesn’t begin to describe that description.

Consequently,  it’s taken me some time to realise the extent to which both Veronica’s work – and her dad’s (that would be you Chris,  if you don’t mind me calling you that?) has had such an impact on stained glass across the world.

It then took me some time to find Thurning on the map, and even longer to realise that together with its nearest neighbour, Little Giddings, here was a geographical hotspot which would account for some of the world’s leading artistic creation.  T.S. Eliot for example composed the final part of the Four Quartets after he visited the area:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.

…seems an apt homage to how this mini-pilgrimage is developing.  Start at the end and work backwards to the beginning via the middle, Chris: that’s what I’ve been doing and what would account for how long it’s taken me.

It is funny how long it takes us to realise what’s on our genealogical door step so to speak.  TV programmes tap into that desire to find out who we think we are, who we really, really are and aren’t: and the questions of how on earth we got to be where we are, are never far away from those deliberations and which even Wikipedia is incapable of answering.

Some years ago, Talking Heads had a hit with their song, Once in a Lifetime: the opening  lines including ‘And you may ask yourself / Well, how did I get here?’  and the punch line eventually, over time , reveals itself as ‘And you may say to yourself, / My God What have I done?’

Chris, I’ll never know whether you and Veronica asked yourselves those questions, but rest assured your beings and doings,  comings and goings still live on, in the most surprising of places.  They just take some time to find.  As T.S. might have (and did) write:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Stories on Whall’s: King Arthur’s Hall, Tintagel, Cornwall.

King Arthur’s Great Hall was built in the 1930s by a custard millionaire whose company is thought to have invented the confection “hundreds and thousands”. The Halls of Chivalry are built from 53 different types of stone and are big enough to hold 1000 people. Whall designed 72 stained glass windows which tell the story of King Arthur and show the Coats of Arms and weapons of the knights involved. (List of works by Veronica Whall)

Stories on Whalls: St. Marys Church, Bleasby, Nottinghamshire

St Mary’s Church, Bleasby. Nottinghamshire 1910,  known as the “Magnificat” window and the easternmost window in the south wall of the nave, this window is a memorial to Henry Lewis Williams, who was the vicar at St Mary’s for twenty-two years, from 1888 to 1910. It has three lights with St Mary with the child Jesus in the central light. The two side lights feature angels playing musical instruments. The principal inscription on the window is the opening words of the Magnificat: “My soul doth magnify The Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour”. In the bottom right hand corner an inscription reads: “To the Glory of God, and in loving memory of Henry, Lewis Williams: for twenty-two years Vicar of this parish 1888–1910”. (List of works by Christopher Whall)

There is something mournful about seeing a solitary maypole in a field outside a church. Despite the cheerful “Welcome to Glebe Field” sign on the gate which leads to it,  the solitary maypole spoke of pleasures long since past whilst it resolutely stood upright in a small bit of pasture which seemed not to mean much to anyone.

They’re called orphan spaces in some parts of the world: not large enough to be anything particular and usually un-noticed and unloved, even though they may be used for a variety of purposes like walking the dog (although not here), fireworks, bonfires and camping (although also not here).

The Nottingham arts production company, Excavate, for example, work on how to create interventions in spaces which draw attention to the histories and identity of orphan places, amongst others. They use the atmospheres and challenges of spaces to interrogate their value and potential future use; and find ways to create spaces in those places where people feel able to sit and talk and share ideas and stories.

Whilst St. Mary’s Church hasn’t orphaned its Whall windows,  the maypole in the field next door is looking a bit unloved. Perhaps one day the church will be able to extend the hand of friendship to the field and bring the orphan space, complete with maypole, back into the fold.

Stories on Whalls: Leicester Cathedral.

“Christopher Whall completed two windows for St Martin’s Cathedral in Leicester. These were an East window and a West window in the inner South Aisle. The three-light window was installed in 1905 and has St Martin in the central light. The East window, dating to 1920, is a war memorial window. In “The Buildings of England. Leicestershire and Rutland” this window was described thus “In an Expressionist style with many Pre-Raphaelite memories”. The lower left-hand light features St Joan of Arc.” (List of Christopher Whall works in cathedrals and minsters)

Two windows were completed by Veronica for the Cathedral’s St Dunstan’s Chapel(List of works by Veronica Whall)

Imagined conversation between Christopher and Veronica, any time between 1905 and 1920.

“Veronica, go and tidy up those glass splinters, there’s a good girl.”

“Dad, I’m busy. It won’t take you long. You do it, if it’s so important to you.”

“Veronica, I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.”

“You can’t order me about.”

“I’m not ordering you about. I’m asking you, as I would ask any apprentice of mine to tidy up after themselves.”

“Yeh but no but yeh but no but I’m not any old apprentice am I?”

“That’s besides the point. Just do as I ask.”

“You’re not my boss.”

“Yes, actually, I am.”

Look, I’ve got this window to finish. Just put a sock in it. If you’re stressed about a few pieces of glass, go and get a cleaner.”

“Veronica, I will not be talked to like that.”


Plus ça change.

Stories on Whalls: All Saints Church, Little Casterton, Rutland.



“The East and West windows are by Whall and are in memory of former tenants of Tolethorpe Hall. The east window depicts St Hubert, “Christ in Majesty” and St Francis and is in memory of Hubert Francis Christian Harrisson. The west window features St George and dates to 1919. According to legend, St Hubert was an eighth-century nobleman who was converted to a religious life by the vision of a stag bearing a crucifix between its antlers, seen when hunting in an Ardennes forest on a Good Friday.”  (List of works by Christopher Whall)

Psalm 22: King James Version (KJV)

1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
2 O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.
10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23 Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, –that he hath done this.

If a shorter text is preferred, use 1 – 11 or 1 -20.

Thank goodness for the shorter text. Whilst the King James Version bible has a certain commanding theological gravitas,  the people who translated it appreciated brevity over gravity, and understood that the average congregation member may be unfamiliar with the strong bulls of Bashan (v12), and may not have much time to find out about them either. Such is church life it seems these days. Huge texts to communicate and illuminate and such little time to do it in.

Up the road at Tolethorpe Hall, they have a similar issue to contend with: huge Shakespeare texts to perform in a venue which is susceptible to the weather and liable to curtail their expressive tendencies at the drop of a Easter snowflake.

It was comforting to note that Christopher Whall’s work in the church was made in memory of the former tenant of Tolethorpe Hall – which in turn has memorised his work by installing their own stained glass windows in their splendid building.

Whether Tolethorpe Hall will produce a full rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet – all 30,557 words of it – is probably as likely as the church congregation singing the full 31 verses of Psalm 22 – but they are both tasks worth stepping up to the dramaturgical ecclesiastical plate for. Even if the potential audience is likely to doze off after a short while.

Stories on Whalls: St. Mary’s Church, Stamford, Lincs.



Whall designed the Lady Chapel East window in 1891. This was Whall’s first independent commission and was given to him by John Dando Sedding. Whall described the window as “the foundation and beginning of everything”. Indeed Whall designed and made the window, with the help of one assistant, in a cowshed at Stonebridge, near Dorking in Surrey which Whall was using as a workshop. Meticulous preparation was said to have gone into producing the window, including the making of a suit of armour for the St Michael figure from papier-mâché – which his assistant had to wear! The window shows Adam and Eve in the outer main lights flanking Gabriel and St Michael with the Virgin & Child in the centre light. The tracery lights are based on the Mysteries of the Rosary. At the apex of the tracery is the Coronation of the Virgin. The firing and glazing were carried out by Britten & Gilson. The image in gallery below is shown courtesy Peter Jones. In The Buildings of England: Lincolnshire by Nikolaus Pevsner and John Harris they say of this window “in a style derived from the Pre-Raphaelites but more hard edged and Impressionist”. There is a second window dating to 1893 in the North side of the Lady Chapel this completed jointly with Louis Davis. (List of works by Christopher Whall)

“Listen, God love everything you love – and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything. God loves admiration.”
You saying God vain? I ast.
Naw, she say. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”  (Alice Walker, The Color Purple)

(Thanks to John Smith for all his help and insight on the Christopher Whall window.)

Stories on W(h)alls: Erika Fuchs Haus, Museum für Comic und Sprachkunst, Schwarzenbach.

“This is a fictional country isn’t it?”
“No, it’s real – we just don’t know where it is yet.”

My mum, daughter and I had just arrived in Schwarzenbach to visit the Erika Fuchs Haus, named after my god mother and my mum’s aunt, Erika Fuchs, who used to send me ten Deutsche Marks annually for my birthday which was quite a tidy sum for a youngster back then.

In those days I was completely oblivious to her work and much more inclined to follow The Beano. But I was rapidly brought up to speed some 50 years later when being introduced to the museum by its head, Dr. Alexandra Hentschel, and private collector, Gerhard Severin.

After being introduced to a multimedia history of comic stories and graphic novels in a darkened studio, a side door opens and a bright green gallery of the country of Entenhausen and all the Disney characters greets you in a sunny, shiny green lively reveal which made us all go ‘wow’ in unison.

Gerhard showed us an interactive map of Entenhausen which looked simultaneously plausible and impossible and which prompted my question of whether or not Entenhausen was fictional. His response of “No, it’s real – we just don’t know where it is yet” struck me as the perfect riposte to those of us who struggle with whether stories are fictions, whether fictions are facts, whether facts are fictions, and all those impossible questions about what constitutes real worlds, unreal worlds, truths and falsehoods.

It’s also a great antidote to those who tell you, in these post-Brexit times of ‘There is No Alternative‘ in the UK, that there is a very real, viable and tangible alternative: we just don’t know where it is yet.


As well as enjoying the museum we were also fortunate to encounter the stories of the stained glass windows in the restaurant of our accommodation, the Hotel Strauss in Hof.  They provided a comic contrast to Erika’s work, simultaneously conjuring up the work of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and playing against the religious symbolism of the Whall windows I’ve been visiting across the UK.

Many personal and family stories revealed themselves over the following days and helped place various pieces of the missing family jigsaw into the relevant slots in the bigger picture: whether they are actually truth or fiction is an ongoing question which will require a few more visits to Schwarzenbach and its homage to the work of my mysterious god mother and Great Aunt, Dr. Erika Fuchs neé Petri.

Stories on Whalls: St. Mary’s Church, Marston, Lincolnshire


The church has an Early English tower. The Chancel was restored by Charles Kirk in the 1880s. The church is a Grade I listed building. Whall’s two- light window in the South Aisle West celebrates the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s rule. The left hand light shows a mother with two children and the right hand light shows a child sitting on Christ’s lap. Inscription in left hand light reads “Suffer the little children to come unto me” and that in the right hand light reads “For such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” At the foot of the left hand light is a crown and the date 1837, and at the foot of the right hand light is V.R.I. and the date 1897. (List of works by Christopher Whall)

Many moons ago when I was rethinking my Christian roots, I was guided to read a new passage from a prayer-book every time I entered a church. I was a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction at the time and so one day went into the local church to see if I could find the quote which Samuel L Jackson’s character, Jules, claims was from Ezekiel 25:17:

“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”

I found out soon after that in actual fact, Ezekiel 25:17 doesn’t say this at all. Tarantino had liberally exposed Ezekiel to the Genesis story of Cain and Abel which he then finished it off with an infusion of the spirit of Psalm 23. It was quite a marriage of different texts used to justify vengeance and acts of great violence throughout the film.

Whilst I was disappointed back then to find the text was a figment of a screen writer’s and not a scripture writer’s imagination, I was reminded of Tarantino’s stories a few days after Brexit’s Article 50 trigger had been pulled,  and when I visited  St Mary’s Church in Marston to view the Christopher Whall window which commemorated the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was a lively affair full of exhortations of national pride and future empire building. Chamberlain suggested the Diamond Jubilee should be seen as a “Festival of the British Empire” and communities across the country decorated streets with arches, flags and bunting and the usual Jubilee paraphernalia. Children received Jubilee mugs; elderly women were given tea and elderly men were given tobacco. Clearly they’d not heard of Health and Safety in those days. In Marston, the Christopher Whall window was installed in the west window in the south aisle to commemorate the event.

“The streets, the windows, the roofs of the houses, were one mass of beaming faces, and the cheers never ceased,” Queen Vic wrote in her journal the day after her anniversary (presumably about the street parties, not about the installation of the window). Later that night Victoria sat next to Archduke Franz Ferdinand at a state banquet in Buckingham Palace.   His subsequent assassination in 1914 led, as we know, to the start of World War I.

Perhaps had they had the benefit of a Tarantino mixed up biblical script we wouldn’t be sat where we are today. He could have added a recipe to the Barkston Village Recipe Book which instead of calling for vengeance, could have made a powerful call to action for wisdom in times of nationalistic fervour and difficult international relations. He might have fused elements of Chapter IX of the Wisdom of Solomon – the bible reading on the lectern from last week’s service or the preparation for next week’s:

God of my ancestors, merciful Lord, by your word you created everything. By your Wisdom you made us humans to rule all creation, to govern the world with holiness and righteousness, to administer justice with integrity. Give me the Wisdom that sits beside your throne…

with something from Matthew from the New Testament:

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…

Unfortunately, as far as I know, Tarantino hasn’t yet visited Marston, but when he does, I’m sure he’ll be given a warm welcome, especially if he can shed some guiding light on the fictions we’re all facing in these Brexit fuelled, anxious times.

Stories on Whalls: St. Nicholas Church, Barkston, Lincolnshire.




The Church has a Whall window portraying the “Annunciation”, this in the Chancel North (List of works by Christopher Whall)

Thanks to the late Joyce Ashton, the people of the village of Barkston in Lincolnshire will be remembered for what they loved about their food.

In a publication compiled by Joyce and subsequently published to raise funds for St. Nicholas Church, you can learn about and try out all sorts of recipes collected from the villagers, not so ancient and not so modern: Pan Haggarty (a new one for me), Elderflower Champagne (an old one for me) and Grantham Gingerbreads , named presumably after the nearest town to the village.

Grantham is of course famous for all sorts of things: Isaac Newton went to The King’s School, it had the first women police officers in the UK, it produced the UK’s first tractor in 1896 and there’s something else it was responsible for which I can’t quite put my finger on at the moment but it may well have been the Grantham Gingerbreads (page 12 of the Barkston Village Recipe Book) which I shall be attempting to rustle up in the not too distant future.

You wonder though as you skim through the recipes how she went about collecting them. Did she put out a call one Sunday morning to the assembled parishioners? Follow that up by door to door visits? This book of ‘retro-recipes’ was printed in 1978 so we can be sure there was no social media activity at the time to help her put out her call.

No Googleing, no Twittering, no FaceBooking, no Instagramming, no Snapchatting, no LinkingIn, no Soundclouding, nothing of those things. And if she had even heard those words in 1978, chances are, unless she was a clairvoyant or an ICT expert who had insight into the impending internet revolution, those terms would have been utterly meaningless to her as they would have been to the rest of us. Some of us might look back to those halcyon social-media-free-zone days of 1978 and wonder whether the social media revolution that’s been transforming (or wrecking, or salvaging – take your pick) our lives since then is all it’s cracked up to be.

No, chances are she would have had to rely on the good old-fashioned form of the call out – the Word of Mouth. Perhaps she also took some inspiration from the Christopher Whall window in St. Nicholas Church, which tells the story of the Annunciation, made by Christopher Whall as a tribute to the memory of Kathleen Elizabeth Clements, wife of the rector for the Church who died on April 18, 1920.

The Annunciation is the moment when the Archangel Gabriel pops down from on high and proclaims to Mary that she is going to give birth to the son of God, some time soon. It’s quite a pronouncement, the mother of all ‘calls to action’ you might think. You also wonder if the Archangel Gabriel had had access to the internet, whether he too would have resorted to tweeting about his proclamation umpteen times (firstly to tell people he was going to make it, secondly to tell them he was doing it and thirdly to tell them he’d done it.)

But putting Archangel Gabriel’s call to action aside for one moment, however Joyce Ashton undertook her labour of food love, she clearly heeded her call to action and proceeded to produce a book that has lasted nearly 30 years, and continues to enlighten us about the food loves and lives of the people of Barkston.

Thanks to Carrie James, Faith Ballaam, John Crozier, Revd. Stuart Hadley, Richard Shireby and Cora Townson for their help making my visit to Barkston and Marston so memorable this morning.

(Thanks Mrs Priestley too, your Chocolate Crunch recipe went down a treat tonight.)

%d bloggers like this: