The following is an edit of a post which first appeared in February 2010 on The Blah Blah Blog.
I was going up to London to meet some friends, one of whom was over from Paris, and Stephen and I thought it would be a good idea to visit some of his father’s windows while I was there. Stephen was to be at his family’s home in Hastings and said that he would be able to get into London – Piccadilly – to meet me by 10.30. However, as the date neared, his family’s plans changed and he would no longer be visiting them. No problem, he would travel to London from the Isle of Wight. I suggested that we meet a little later than planned – after a little discussion we settled on 10.45 instead. Apparently it would have been more difficult to get out of the small town near Hastings early in the morning, than to get off the Isle of Wight. I take back everything I have ever said about the place. Well almost.
One of the magnificent abstract windows at the Royal Society of Chemistry, Piccadilly
Back in the middle of February we had been contacted, via the Flickr site we have set up for the Lawrence Lee project, by David Allen of the Royal Society of Chemistry who is in the process of compiling a booklet on the society’s historical collection. He was looking for more information on the windows. We decided we had to visit.
So we met at Piccadilly at 10.45 – almost bumping into one another in the street as we both tried to locate Fortnum & Mason which I had thought was on the main street, but which is tucked behind – and headed to Burlington House where we walked past the huge queue for the Van Gogh exhibition to find the society in the corner of the courtyard. We were both bowled over by the windows (click the image left to see the other) and the glorious sunlight flooding through the first one on the lower landing made it all the more stunning.
Unfortunately we were unable to tell David anything new about the windows as all we had from LSL’s collection were a couple of slides. Stephen will ask his father about the designs when he next sees him, although he may not remember the concept behind them. David said that none of the chemists thought that there was anything particularly related to chemistry in the windows, but we all agreed that there was a certain biological and cellular look about them, and also perhaps an astronomical aspect. We also found favourite themes – Fire, Earth, Air and Water, the four elements – which often appear in LSL’s work.
Many kinds of glass make up the windows at the Royal Society of Chemistry
The pieces of glass are of many varieties – some being like that of patterned ‘bathroom window glass’ and the whole is held together with cement. Stephen was concerned that there appeared to be no cement between some of the pieces of glass so we took a trip through the corridors of the building to be able to view the higher window from the outside. This confirmed that the glass pieces were stuck onto plain glass. Stephen commented that the adhesive would normally cloud over time, but these 1968 windows showed no sign of any deterioration.
The coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass
We grabbed a quick coffee and some cake before getting onto the tube (no imitation Sean Connery satnav this time) and heading off for Southwark and Glaziers’ Hall. Lawrence Lee was elected Master of the Worshipful Company of Glaziers in 1974 and was instrumental in introducing practicing stained glass artists into the Company at an affordable rate, as most of the members had hitherto been wealthy businessmen. I had been corresponding with the clerk of the company and there had been some confusion about the piece as it is not actually a window but a backlit piece in a hall without windows. Also the slide photograph we had of the work in progress showed a whole lion on the shield whereas this piece has a demi-lion. By the time we visted, Alex Galloway (the clerk) had looked into it more and it seems that this was the piece from the photograph but that LSL had had to revise the lion in order to make the coat of arms accurate. Basically he got the lion wrong first time.
This piece is another where the glass has been stuck onto plain glass. What can’t be seen in the image above is the very dark glass surrounding the roundel – the backlighting was not very helpful when it came to photographing the work, although I did manage to knock a lot of the yellow out of it in Photoshop. Tungsten light can be a nightmare. The glass around the outside is all chunky lumps of clear glass (click the image to see more).
Detail from one of the windows at Southwark Cathedral
Next it was a moment around the corner to Southwark Cathedral where we found two windows. The first, a large window with three main lights, was done in 1959 and depicts the Madonna and Child at the centre, with various religious figures in other roundels. The Holy Spirit (one of LSL’s ubiquitous doves) tops the design. What fascinated me was the detail as usual. Within this window are a great number of images of craftsmen working. Whether or not they were based on actual people is unclear but some have very clear faces which are not LSL’s usual style of ‘generic’ face. The window is dedicated to Thomas Francis Rider who rebuilt the nave of the cathedral. He died in 1922, long before the window was made.
The second, much newer window (1987 – click for detail) is a memorial to Maurits & Maise Mulder Canter. It seems he was a Glazier because the window also depicts the Glaziers’ coat of arms (with the demi-lion) and a figure holding a sheet of glass. Also shown are two glass-blowing instruments and a sketch of a stained glass window. The words “Oh God give us thy light” is the English translation of the Glaziers’ motto – Lucem tuam de nobis Deus. Quite fitting.
Looking out from one of the doors of Southwark Cathedral, featuring a typographic map
It was by now time for lunch so we decided to eat at the Cathedral. The food looked wonderful and was quite different from the usual fare. Quite a variety of foods too. Stephen chose a stuffed pepper and I went for the stuffed aubergine. We had two choices of salad with that – though all were more substantial than what usually passes for ‘salad’, mine being one with cous cous and another with chick peas. The coffee was wonderful. Sadly the aubergine was tough (but its topping was lovely and the salads were more than enough to make it a meal). We paid 30p each to use the toilets – wouldn’t mind but it meant we had to go to the shop to buy tokens to put in the doors, which was a bit of a palaver – and set off for London Bridge.
I haven’t walked over London Bridge for many years and it was a lovely day. No sign of the volcanic ash wafting over the us at great height from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano which was stopping all flights to and from the UK. I swear the underground staff were queuing up to make tannoy announcements just so they could say “volcanic ash from Iceland”. It’s not every day you get to do that.
Detail from the window at Carpenters’ Hall
We walked up to Throgmorton Avenue by London Wall to visit the Carpenters’ Company where we met their archivist. There we saw a very large window with many heraldic shields, connected by a simple Tree of Life design which also incorporated the four elements of Fire, Earth, Air and Water (the sun, opposite, representing Fire). It also includes “symbols of learning and medicine”. The coats of arms in this 1970 window, known as “Bernay’s Memorial Window” are believed to ‘belong’ to the one person.
The Carpenters’ Hall
We were also treated to a view of their main hall which is, as you might expect, completely decked out with wood. It’s very dark in there, but the two huge stained glass windows bring a warm light into the room and really make it glow. I can’t remember the exact details but I think we were told that the floor was a couple (or few) hundred years old. These old halls were making a nice change from churches.
Often Lawrence Lee would write a little about his windows for the place where they would be installed. Unfortunately this was not always the case – or at least, we are discovering that not all places have the information. Many of his designs require no explanation, but some of the more abstract pieces would be enhanced by a few words from the artist. Here at Carpenters’ Hall there is a key to the window and its elements.
Our next stop was the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers at Little Trinity Lane. We were greeted by the beadle (I have never met a real beadle before and I love that these designations are preserved) who showed us into a dark hall with an array of heraldic windows along one wall. Lawrence Lee’s windows were at the far end – a group of three – and with some help the curtains were pulled aside to reveal even more heraldry. LSL took quite a few secular commissions and I suppose it was inevitable that coats of arms and the like would be the norm – after all, they appear so frequently in his church windows too. I find them a little dull though. Stephen says they will have put food on the table and you can’t argue with that.
One of two windows at St Lawrence Jewry
Our final call was to be St Lawrence Jewry at Guildhall Yard and we had to dash to get there in time as it was due to close at 4pm. I had contacted Canon David Parrott the previous week to find out if we could visit and by coincidence he was, when he received my mail, about to host a memorial service for the late Sir Charles Alexander, son of Sir Frank Alexander – and one of the windows was to be the centre of attention.
He asked if I might be able to photograph the other windows in the church while I was there, as they do not currently have any good images of them. Of course I was happy to do this and spent some time capturing the huge windows in this lovely Christopher Wren building. Worth a visit if you’re in the area and you can read more here.
We did try three more places – St Mary, Abchurch; St Mary, Aldermary; and St Magnus the Martyr – but they were all closed. We have become used to rural churches staying open until sunset. This is not the case in the city but at least here we did not need to find someone two miles down the road who had a church key under a flower pot, except on Wednesdays. I exaggerate.
All in all it was a successful day with six sites visited and we are optimistic for the next foray into the area when we will try to complete the set. After a well deserved coffee Stephen and I parted company at the Monument – he returned to the Isle of Wight via Waterloo and I headed north for a quick drink with my friend before going back to hers for the evening.
Some of the images link to larger versions of themselves, but others will take you to other views of the same window or to an image of another window in the same building. Always worth clicking through. There are also several links within the text of this piece.
Detail from one of the windows at the Royal Society of Chemistry