“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.
These almshouses were founded in 1331 by Henry Earl of Lancaster and Leicester and were rebuilt in 1901. The original almshouses were known as the “Hospital of Annunciation of the Virgin Mary”. They were for a warden, 4 chaplains and 50 poor and infirm people, 20 of whom were to be resident there. By 1354 the number of resident poor people had doubled to 40. The almshouse survived the dissolution and was renamed Trinity hospital in 1614. Whall executed an East window for the Chapel. (List of works by Christopher Whall)
You never know who’s looking over your shoulder.
“The Vice-Chancellor and his senior staff are delighted that you are able to join them for lunch. The lunch will take place after the ceremony in Trinity House at 12.00 for 12.20pm.”
So I sit down amongst the finery and refinery sporting my guest badge meeting with a laudable gent from the Guild of Patten Makers (inserts in shoes not templates for sheet metal) and a lecturer in photography and before you know it there’s a very decent three course meal and then someone gives a welcome speech and then I’m chatting to someone from the arts and humanities department about the cross overs between arts and science education and evaluation processes and what’s causal and what isn’t then someone points to the bread and something in a bowl next to it and we’re not sure whether it’s pate or butter and then there’s a very nice glass of wine on offer but I’m not drinking as it’s midweek and if I have a glass now I shall be out like a light and then there’s some very appetising chicken so I give the wine a miss but the elderflower cordial is pretty lovely and think I’d better get off to work as it’s a busy day and I have a meeting in thirty minutes and then I have a train to catch and then there’s loads to do and it’s fifteen minutes until the next meeting and then and then and then and then.
What I didn’t do was stop in my tracks. Turn a corner and look up at the altar at the end of the chapel. If I had, I would have seen the magnificent window by Christopher Whall, benignly staring at us assembled hoards, albeit around the corner, just feet from where I was sitting.
I didn’t have a clue who or what was looking down as this whole stained glass window thing was news to me and anyway I was far to busy to stop in my tracks this time but I should have stopped I should have done and taken it in for a few minutes how something in our past can be just around the corner out of sight but benignly present if we were so inclined to see it.
We don’t stop often enough to take stock of what’s just around the corner, wishing us all good grace and offering to be an angel in the midst of our day. And we lose out, being engulfed in the mist of our daily routines.
Three-light window in St Catherine’s North Nave depicts the life and martyrdom of St Catherine (List of works by Veronica Whall).
It’s the first trip of the mini-pilgrimage to visit St. Catharine’s Church in Irchester, near Wellingborough, and to see Veronica Whall’s window which depicts the life and martyrdom of St. Catherine of Alexandria.
I take an East Midlands Trains from Nottingham to Wellingborough, a walk into the town centre and finally collect the X47 Bus from Swangate Centre which takes me directly to Irchester, dropping me literally onto the doorstep of the Vicarage. The Revd. Caroline Lucas is up at the church at the time, holding a bible study class on the Beatitudes and when I get there, there’s a low murmuring discussion about the complexities of turning the other cheek in times of conflict.
The patron saint of the church, Catherine of Alexandria, would have been an exemplary model of turning the other cheek. She was was the daughter of Constus, the governor of Alexandrian Egypt during AD286 – 305. When the persecution began under Maxentius, she chastised him for his cruelty to Christians which led to her being condemned to death on a spinning wheel into which a load of knives were set (the origin of the Catherine Wheel firework) but miraculously she was spared this agony – only to be later beheaded by Maxentius who clearly knew nothing about turning the other cheek.
Caroline tells me she’s been nominated as a pioneer vicar. The town is in the process of building a new community in Wellingborough, Stanton Cross. This will see homes for 10,000 people, three new schools and all the associated infrastructure being built: and her role is to offer pastoral and spiritual care for all the folk who would make Stanton Cross their community and new home.
She’s not going to have a church building to work from – and whether the new infrastructure will extend into providing stained glass window design lessons across the curriculum is debatable – but it will be interesting to come back later to see how Catherine and the Church have managed to build a sense of community and belonging in to what is currently a sprawling building site next to the railway station.
Let’s hope the planners don’t forget that roads and railways are one thing: but that it’s culture, diversity and mutual respect that binds people into community.
Christopher and Veronica Whall were English stained glass artists who worked in the late 19th and early 20th Century and became recognised as two of the key figures in the modern history of stained glass. They were also father and daughter; and, as it turns out, my great-great-Uncle and cousin. They were perhaps, in our family, our earliest film makers given their ability to conjure up complex stories onto walls using, as Veronica herself said: “glass, lead and light… for lead is our medium, and light is our colour.”
They were also widely recognised as great advocates for the arts for everyone and Veronica was also remarkable for crafting her career as a stained glass artist in the early 20th century when the tradition was heavily dominated by men. Consequently, they have both provided me with inspiration over the years – even if I was unaware of their work and inspirational force at the time.
Their work can be seen across the UK and as far afield as New Zealand. So I thought it was about time to undertake a series of mini-pilgrimages to visit their works, record how the years have treated them, and to consider not just what’s on the walls in front of me, but what’s around and behind them, and what future they’re facing.
This blog will record those mini-pilgrimages, relay what stories the Whalls told to each other and the world on their walls: and imagine what stories we could be telling them, and how we would tell them, if they were alive today.
I’m hoping it will turn into reflective and celebratory history of two English stained glass artists which at least honours Christopher’s mantra: “the design of the window must relate to the architecture of the frame” albeit written from the point of view of a distant family member as opposed to a stained glass expert: but time will tell on that one. If you want a more authoritative account of their work, you can start by looking at a list of Veronica’s work here and a list of Christopher’s work here.
I start in Ilchester near Wellingborough on a cold, sunny Spring day in 2017. Where I end up, and how I get there? Just read on.