With the aid of a Heritage Lottery Fund award of £9400 granted to The Friends of Stoke Minster the Memorial Stained Glass Window in Stoke Minster has been restored and was rededicated on 3rd August 2014 to mark centenary of the start of the First World War.
The Memorial window was designed by Gordon Mitchell Forsyth (GMF) (1879-1952). GMF was highly influenced in his stained glass window design by the Arts & Crafts movement. The movement, originally led by John Ruskin and William Morris, taught that the separation of design from the act of making was aesthetically damaging. Christopher Whall, who was GMF’s tutor at The Royal College of Art in London, produced books on the art and craft of stained glass window making and taught the complete process of stained glass window making – cutting, painting, firing and glazing, and we can see some influence of Whall in the design and subject-matter of our memorial window. Students and church parishioners (their initials can be seen in the window) were trained to create the window and it was completed in 1923.The window was dedicated on 10th November 1923, and unveiled by General Sir Walter Congreve. The Staffordshire Sentinel reported on 12th November that: 340 men of the parish of St Peter’s Stoke fell in the war.
According to a leading Arts & Crafts stained glass window expert, Dr Neil Moat, perhaps the most striking visual aspect of this window is the quality and intensity of the colouring, achieved by the use of the especially thick and richly textured glasses that were much favoured by Arts and Crafts artists.
Although constructed as war memorial window it nonetheless has a strong emphasis on Peace. Dr Moat points out the symbols of peace and abundance, signified by the doves and cornucopia of flowers.The text on our window reads: Be Faithful Unto Death And I Will Give Thee a Crown of Life (Revelation 2:1) and Greater Love Hath No Man Than This, That He Lay Down His Life For His Friends (John 15:13) was used by the bishop for the focus of his sermon during the commemoration of the window in November 1923.
At the heart of the window is the vibrant picture of the archangel with wings outstretched. Yet interestingly, this is not the Archangel Michael, the warrior angel. There is no armour, spear or sword in sight. Instead, we see the more gentle features of Gabriel, the Messenger of Peace. One reason why this place of prayer is referred to as the Peace Chapel. When we look at the stole on the angel can we detect an influence of the design on the carved Saxon stone shaft, now outside the main doors of the church? or is it rather a reference to Celtic strapwork, seen in other windows designed by GMF. Dr Neil Moat suggests the influence of Robert Anning Bell (1863-1933), who was a colleague of GMF at the Royal College in both the decorative placing of the texts, and the facial types of the angels. Anning Bell was probably a close friend of GMF as he came to Burslem Art School in the late 1920s as visiting lecturer.
GMF designed windows for other churches, both in Stoke on Trent and further afield. A particularly fine example of his window design can be seen in St Joseph’s Church, Burslem. GMF was inspired by the windows in Chartes Cathedral and here we see the same, jewel-like quality. Windows designed for The Sacred Heart Church, Tunstall, reflect Arts & Crafts designs of the late 19th and early 20th century. With both church communities, GMF led teams of parishioners to make the windows.
In a window created by his students at Burslem School of Art in 1933 the text by Kipling: “and only the master shall praise and only the master shall blame and no one shall work for fame but each for the joy of working and each in his separate star shall draw the thing as he sees it for the God of things as they are” is shown around the window. We might guess that GMF was in the habit of quoting this saying to his students – see stars and planets scratched out on our window, probably by the students who made it.
GMF was involved in a wealth of art and craft activities throughout the city, as well as being engaged in the teaching of art education. At his retirement in 1944-45, he said: “We are not here by accident, but by design. Our lives from the day we were born to the day we take our leave, are planned for us.” He might also have reflected William Morris’s view that “No work which cannot be done with pleasure in the doing is worth doing.”
This memorial window was beautifully cleaned and restored by Dennis Holgate. St Peter’s Academy meet with the Restorer, as part of their Memorial Project.