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Civic Society column: The next best thing to Grantham’s art gallery

This window at the west end of St Wulfram's Church depicts the Nativity.
This window at the west end of St Wulfram's Church depicts the Nativity.

Although Grantham has no public art collection in the usual sense, the windows of St Wulfram’s Church are the next best thing.

In an earlier article we saw how these windows depict a variety of themes, in a range of styles and dates, and in no particular order. Now let’s take a closer look at some particular windows.

One of the large windows at the west end has a Nativity scene, a sort of perpetual, giant Christmas card complete with angels, shepherds, and the Wise Men. The picture spreads across the six lights. Some readers may remember what the window (installed in 1857) looked like before being damaged by a storm in 1979. It was redesigned by John Hayward who created a clear glass frame for the scene.

Along the north side of the church is a pair of similar windows by John Kempe from the 1890s depicting Church Fathers (Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory, Augustine) and Lincolnshire saints (Remigius, Hugh of Lincoln, Botolph, Gilbert of Sempringham). The pattern here is the traditional one with each figure neatly boxed into his own compartment with a scene from his life underneath.

The neighbouring window (Harry Harvey 1962) makes a startling contrast to these. It is a Judgement scene showing St Michael with his sword and scales casting down the damned on one side whilst the righteous ascend on the other. The picture is in vivid purples, greens and yellows, spreading across the window and Michaels’s sword reaches into the top circle of the tracery. The gloomy aspect of the hellish side is further darkened by the position of the vestry building which encroaches on that side of the window.

Two of the Lady Chapel windows, devoted to the Virgin Mary, were designed by Kempe & Tower, the successor to the Kempe firm of glass makers. These windows have a very Victorian feel to them and it is a surprise to discover that they date from as late as 1920 and 1931. The centre of the large east window shows the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary at the Annunciation with other figures, such as King David with his harp, in attendance.

On the south side are two modern windows. One, designed by L C Evetts (1969) in memory of Jessie Porter, with a theme of offering to God our lives and work; tools from Jessie’s workshop can be seen alight with the flame of the Holy Spirit. The Pinchbeck window (1974) depicts the seven sacraments of the church; baptism, for example, is represented by large drops of water.

Another modern window is the favourite of many visitors. The Hall family specified the theme ‘Peace, Perfect Peace’ which the artist John Hayward (1970) chose to illustrate with the story of Jesus walking on water and saving the drowning Peter. The fishing boat is on the left, Peter in the water with raised hand, and Christ above reaching out to him. Strange diagonals suggest rays of light or the boat’s oars. There is a setting sun with reflected flecks of red in the water and a moon rising between the sails. Above, in the central circle of the tracery, is a large sunburst. The perspective is strange: we are looking down on the boat but, with Peter, up at Jesus.

The artist rated this to be his best window design and surely, had this been an oil painting, any art gallery would be glad to own it.


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