This month marks the eighty-fifth anniversary of the first photographic exhibition in England devoted to stained glass [Fig. 1]. It was held between 3rd and 27th December 1927 at the then offices of the Royal Photographic Society, in Russell Square, London, and was a landmark in the historiography of stained glass in Great Britain.
The exhibition was the work of a single man, Sydney Alfred Pitcher (1884–1950), perhaps the most prodigious, knowledgeable and innovative photographer of stained glass in the twentieth century. The 1927 exhibition featured 72 works and was hailed by the important art critic Herbert Read as a ‘triumph of photographic art’.
Apart from recording stained glass, Pitcher was also the author of the pioneering survey Ancient Stained Glass of Gloucestershire Churches, which is now available online here. Published in 1925 in the Journal of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, the survey listed all the surviving medieval glass in the county, together with extensive references to lost glass, compiled after trawling through several antiquarian descriptions of Gloucestershire churches made in the eighteenth century. A review of the article by the stained glass historian John Alder Knowles called it ‘a model to all future cataloguers and writers how these things should be done’. Another mused: ‘If a similar work were carried out for all the English counties we should be in possession of an archaeological “corpus” of permanent value and wide interest’, anticipating the publication by the first British CVMA volume by over forty years. Based on personal visits made by Pitcher between 1915 and 1925 to every church in the county, the survey listed 115 sites with extant medieval glass, as well as a further 23 sites recorded before 1875 as having glass that had subsequently disappeared.
Apart from well-known places such as Gloucester Cathedral, Tewkesbury Abbey, and Fairford Church, the survey introduced readers to such lesser-known treasures as the parish churches of Arlingham, Bagendon, Bledington, Buckland, Cirencester, Deerhurst, Eastington, Edgeworth, Hailes, North Cerney, Stanton and Temple Guiting, to name but a few. Ninety years later it remains the most comprehensive survey of medieval glass in the county, and although some observations, such as the suggestion that the fifteenth-century glass at Bledington was painted by the king’s glazier, John Prudde (d.1460/61), have proved unfounded, the scale of Pitcher’s achievement cannot be overstated.
The 1927 exhibition included images from some of the most famous sites in England: Eaton Bishop, Herefordshire (4); Doddiscombsleigh, Devon (3); St Neot, Cornwall (9); Great Malvern, Worcestershire (11); King’s College, Cambridge (4); Fairford, Gloucestershire (7); and All Saints, North Street, York (3). Also featured were images from the Bodleian Library, Oxford (3); Little Malvern Priory, Worcestershire (1); the Beauchamp Chapel at St Mary’s, Warwick (2); St Mary’s Hall, Coventry, Warwickshire (1); Wells Cathedral, Somerset (1); Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucestershire (1); Coventry Cathedral (1); the Old Mayor’s Parlour, Leicester (1); Leicester Museum (3); Exeter Cathedral, Devon (1); Bristol Cathedral (1); and Gloucester Cathedral (1). Lesser-known examples came from Cirencester, Gloucestershire; Credenhill, Herefordshire; Edgeworth, Gloucestershire; Westwood, Wiltshire (2, Fig. 2); Oddingley, Worcestershire; Crudwell, Wiltshire; Winscombe, Somerset (2); Holy Trinity, York; St John’s, North Street, York; Fladbury, Worcestershire; Buckland, Gloucestershire (Fig. 3); and Notgrove, Gloucestershire.
Vidimus is grateful to Roger Rosewell for the information about the 1927 exhibition. For the past two years he has been researching the life and work of Sydney Pitcher for a forthcoming study and possible exhibition.