Defenders of the Realm at Poole Hall, Cheshire
This month’s panel was created during the often overlooked period of English glass painting between the Reformation and the Gothic revival. It is something of a departure from previous panels: not only is it composite and post-medieval, but it has no religious content or association. Although the armorial element is typical of its period, the quarries now accompanying it are far more unusual and interesting. They constitute an extremely rare piece of evidence in glass of the early seventeenth-century preoccupation with civil defence and the practical measures which resulted from this. They are also the precursors of a better known Cheshire window, which until now has been considered only in isolation.
Our panel consists of an armorial of the families of Gamul impaling Poole surrounded by quarries depicting soldiers practising military drill. These are set amidst fragments of lesser interest including shield quarterings and garish yellow, red and purple stopgaps added in the early nineteenth century to create a panel measuring 42cm square.
Poole Hall and its glass
The panel is one of three composite panels of similar dimensions which were in a window of the study of Poole Hall near Nantwich (Cheshire) until a decade ago, when the surrounding wall was demolished due to structural defects. After this the loose panels were stored in the house. Poole Hall is a large red-brick Georgian country house with fine Regency interiors which was built between 1812 and 1817 for William Massey of Chester, who had inherited the Poole estate from his mother. The previous hall, which was on another site on the estate, has now disappeared, but some of its fittings were evidently transferred to the new building, including the centrepiece of our panel.
The centrepiece is an armorial commemorating the marriage of Thomas Gamul (d.1588) and his wife Ellen, daughter of John Poole of Poole, as is evidenced by the scroll inscribed ‘Thomas Gamul Elin Poole’ displayed above the shield. [Fig. 2]
The Gamuls were a prominent Cheshire family of merchants and landowners, several of whom were mayors of Chester, including Thomas’ and Ellen’s son Edmund and his grandson Sir Francis, a prominent Royalist who entertained Charles I at his house in Chester in 1645 and watched the Royalist defeat at the battle of Rowton Moor with him from the city walls.
Glass-painting techniques – challenges and drawbacks
The style and execution of the Gamul/Poole armorial shows that it postdates by several decades the couple’s marriage, which must have taken place before the birth of Edmund in 1537. The shield is set on a lozenge of white glass and framed by an elaborate scrollwork cartouche, executed using black and sanguine paint with yellow stain and blue enamel. It is typical of its period in several respects. As preoccupation with genealogy intensified during the sixteenth century, the display of a single paternal shield no longer sufficed to record the ancestry of distinguished families. Coats of arms were subdivided into ever more quarterings, resulting in more crowded designs using smaller areas of colour. These armorials were difficult for glass-painters to represent using the traditional techniques of grozing pieces of pot metal glass, or of abrading the coloured top layer of flashed glass to reveal the white base which could then be painted and stained. The solution adopted was to take a panel of white glass as a canvas and to use black, sanguine and flesh paints and yellow stain as heraldic tinctures. The introduction of blue and purple enamel paints increased the palette available. However the result was often disappointing: paints provided weaker tinctures than pot metal glass and were prone to fading, while enamels, particularly blue, had a tendency to flake off, leaving exposed areas of white glass which reduced heraldic legibility even further.
The Gamul/Poole armorial demonstrates these defects well. Thomas Gamul’s shield has six quarterings. The sanguine and, in some places, the black paint has faded and the blue enamel has flaked. Although Ellen Poole’s shield (Azure semy of fleurs-de-lis or a lion rampant argent armed and langued gules) is not quartered, the blue enamel of the field has flaked, causing the white lion to blend into its background, while the sanguine red of its tongue and claws has faded almost to white. The panel’s disjointed appearance is exacerbated by damage, including two missing portions and several breaks. Compared with near contemporary surviving armorials from the 1580s which originated at other Cheshire sites such as Brereton Hall and Lyme Hall, it is not a particularly distinguished example of heraldry in glass. But it provides a link between Poole Hall and the quarries which now surround it, since the Poole family connection shows that it must have been brought from the present building’s lost predecessor. This suggests – although it does not prove – that the pieces with it originated from the same location, rather than being brought from elsewhere.
Musketeers and pikemen
Each of the ten quarries surrounding the armorial depicts a musketeer or a pikeman performing military drill. The diamond-shaped quarries (approximately 12cm by 9cm) are carefully executed in black, flesh and sanguine paints, blue and purple enamels and yellow stain. Each is inscribed with a written instruction describing the action depicted, including: ‘In the left hand carry the Musket with the Rest’, ‘Unshoulder yor Musket’, ‘Advance yor Pike’ and ‘Recover ye Pike by Palming’. [Figs. 3 and 4]
Although their appearance is marred by the blue enamel having flaked badly in places and by the impossibility of integrating inscriptions of such varying lengths smoothly into the overall design, the quarries are lively, attractive pieces with a direct appeal often lacking in the flawless facsimiles of prints found in ornamental glazing of this period. The number painted at the apex of each one indicates that they were originally members of a complete series of drill quarries. They were copied from a book published in 1627 entitled The Military Discipline, wherein is most martially shone the order of Drilling for ye Musket and Pike, which contained a sequence of forty-three copperplate impressions depicting a musketeer’s drill followed by another of thirty-two plates depicting a pikeman’s drill. The ultimate source of these plates was ‘The Exercise of Armes’ by Jakob de Geyn, the seminal drill manual of the period, first published in the Netherlands in 1607. [Figs. 5 and 6]
Drill quarries: a Cheshire phenomenon?
The Poole Hall quarries are the finest extant examples of a type of decoration which survives or is recorded at half a dozen sites in Cheshire alone. Five, now lost, quarries which were in a window of Tranmere Old Hall until its demolition in 1862 were based on the same printed models as the Poole quarries, with three of the drill postures depicted appearing in both sets. [Figs. 7 and 8]
Three cruder examples survive in the drawing room windows at Lyme Hall; a single pikeman remains in the window of a private house in south-west Cheshire and another was at the former rectory in Nether Alderley until it vanished in the 1980s. [Fig. 9]
A fragmentary pikeman in Birtles church may also derive from a drill quarry. The two musketeers remaining in a private house in Derbyshire and another of unknown origin in the Walker Art Gallery Liverpool are the only known examples outside Cheshire, but whether their prevalence within the county indicates that drill quarries were produced locally in a centre such as Chester or were brought in from elsewhere remains a matter of conjecture. [Figs. 10, 11 and 12]
The military context
The contemporary preoccupation with civil defence that they reflect was a national one. The threat that the Spanish would attempt to invade England to depose Elizabeth I subsided after the accession in 1603 of James I, who made peace with Spain. Thereafter county militias were neglected. However, the Spanish mobilisation in Europe in 1616 led the king’s council to order musters to be held in every county. In response to these concerns, the Earl of Derby, Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire, reported in 1619 that men were badly trained and their firearms obsolete. The prospect of entrusting the nation’s defence to a prototype Dad’s Army spurred the government into action. In 1623, a new book of instructions for militia training was sent out to the counties, describing the use of modern firearms and the latest drill methods. The warlike activity following Charles I’s accession in 1625 increased the need for proper equipment and training. Experienced professional soldiers were deployed to instruct the trained bands of militia; two came to Cheshire in 1626 to instruct the raw infantrymen, with apparently successful results. At the same time the county’s deputy lieutenants intensified their efforts to equip local forces with modern firearms. Magazines of arms and ammunition were established, and by 1629 Cheshire could boast seven hundred muskets and a local militia instructed in the latest techniques for their use. After this, the momentum slipped, as England was at peace, but the quarries remain as witness to the military activity of the period 1623–29. They were evidently intended to be didactic, with the drill position, the accompanying brief textual instruction, and sometimes the sequence number of the illustration in the manual being reproduced on the quarry. However, they also served a decorative purpose and may have reflected the status of the families who commissioned them, who – as prominent members of county society – probably had some involvement in training and equipping the local militia. This may account for the fact that after heraldry, drill quarries seem to have constituted the most popular form of domestic glazing in early seventeenth-century Cheshire. Most decorative glazing during this period consisted of quarries and other small scale pieces copied from prints and books, which depicted themes such as Roman emperors and sibyls, occupations and pastimes, and flora and fauna. But unlike these impersonal subjects, drill quarries evoked the involvement of their owners in the defence of the realm, and as such may even have been a source of pride.
The Civil War and the Farndon window
The martial activities of the early seventeenth century may now be a forgotten historical backwater, but the catastrophic sting in their tail is well known. When the Civil War broke out in the 1640s, Englishmen used the fighting techniques they had learned as comrades-in-arms in order to protect their country from foreign invaders against one another. Chester was a Royalist stronghold which suffered a major siege from 1643 until its defenders were defeated in 1645. One of them, William Barnston (d.1664), later commissioned a small window in Farndon church to commemorate his part in the siege. It consists of twenty individual rectangular compartments in which are depicted weapons; armour; sixteen figures consisting of pikemen and musketeers in positions familiar from the drill quarries; musicians; and five distinguished local Royalists, including Barnston himself. [Fig. 13]
This window has been the subject of interest to military historians and it has been established that the figures and weapons are based on various prints and engravings from the first half of the seventeenth century. However, the Farndon window has always been viewed as an isolated piece. It has never been recognised that it was derived from a popular form of decorative glazing and that the glass-painter may not have needed to use print sources for the military figures, since drill quarries demonstrate that suitable models were readily to hand in existing windows.
The Farndon window brings us back to the Poole Hall panel, for the Royalist depicted indicating a display of weaponry in its central panel is the king’s faithful companion Sir Francis Gamul, and the arms which appear beside him, Or 3 mallets sable, are those in the first quartering of his great grandfather Thomas Gamul’s shield. [Fig. 14]
But by the time the Farndon window was created, the Gamul male line had been extinguished by the death of Sir Francis’ son in 1654. It seems likely that the demand for drill quarries shared the same fate: reminders of the conflict which had recently killed so many Englishmen can hardly have remained such a popular subject for domestic contemplation in its aftermath.
- P. Hebgin-Barnes, The Medieval Stained Glass of Cheshire, CVMA (GB), Summary Catalogue 9, Oxford, 2010
On Poole Hall
- Y. Davies, ‘Poole Hall, Nantwich’, Cheshire Life, xxvii, April 1961, pp. 64–67
- P. Figueiredo and J. Treuherz, Cheshire Country Houses, Chichester, 1988, pp. 263–64
- N. Pevsner and E. Hubbard, The Buildings of England: Cheshire, London, 1971, p. 289
On the Tranmere Old Hall quarries
- J. Mayer, ‘On the Old Halls of Cheshire. – No. I. Tranmere Hall’, Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Historic Society, iii, 1851, pp. 107–11
On the military background
- D. J. Blackmore (ed.), The Renaissance Drill Book: Jacob de Gheyn, London, 1986 (reprinted with new introduction, London, 2003)
- G. P. Higgins, ‘The Militia in Early Stuart Cheshire’, Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society, lxi, 1978, pp. 39–49
- J. Mayer, ‘On the Arming of Levies in the Hundred of Wirral, in the County of Chester, and the Introduction of Small Fire Arms as Weapons of War in Place of Bows and Arrows’, Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Historic Society, xi, 1859, pp. 83–96
- R. H. Morris, ‘The Siege of Chester 1643–1646’, Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society, new series, xxv, 1923, pp. 1–253
On the Farndon window
- C. Field, ‘Army Uniforms in a Stained Glass Window in Farndon Church Cheshire, temp. Charles I’, Journal of the Society of Army Historical Research, v, 1926, pp. 174–77
J. W. F. Harriman, ‘A reappraisal of the English Civil War window in Farndon Church, Cheshire’, Journal of Stained Glass, xxvi, 2002, pp. 75–85