In Memory of … Christopher Woodforde
This is the first in an occasional series of articles that will profile pioneering stained-glass scholars in the United Kingdom. The series begins with an assessment of the Revd Dr Christopher Woodforde by our News Editor, Roger Rosewell. Last year was the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Woodforde, the author of numerous books and articles about stained glass published between 1931 and 1954.
Woodforde was born on 29 November 1907, and was one of the five children (four sons and one daughter) of Dr R. E. H. Woodforde, a general practitioner in Ashwell (Hertfordshire). He was educated at King’s School, Bruton, and Cambridge University (Peterhouse). He was ordained in 1930, after study at Wells Theological College, after which he held a number of curacies, including King’s Lynn (1930–32), Louth with Welton-le-Wold (1932–34), and Drayton with Hellesdon, Norwich (1934–36). Subsequently, he became a Rector in Somerset (Exford in 1936, Axbridge in 1939), and Vicar of Steeple Morden (Cambridgeshire) in 1945. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (FSA) on 14 January 1939 and resigned from the fellowship on 31 December 1957.
Although there was nothing in his immediate family background to suggest any strong antiquarian interests – the distant kinsman and celebrated clerical diarist Parson James Woodforde (1740–1803) is remembered more for his descriptions of contemporary country life and manners – Woodforde’s interest in stained glass blossomed during his time in Somerset. His first article in an academic journal, which appeared in 1931, was followed by a virtual stream of publications in the run-up to the Second World War. These included A Guide to the Medieval Glass in Lincoln Cathedral (1933), The Medieval Glass of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich (1934), and Stained and Painted Glass in England (1937). Between 1940 and 1944, he was editor of the Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters (BSMGP) and spent most of his remaining spare time at Exford and Axbridge researching his first major book, Stained Glass in Somerset 1250-1830 (1946). This work was the first attempt to catalogue early glass in the county and described glass up to 1830 at major sites in the county, beginning with the fourteenth-century glass at Wells Cathedral. The book includes chapters on the Somerset school of glass-painting in the fifteenth century; heraldic glass; the arms, badges, motto and monogram of John Gunthorpe, dean of Wells 1472–98; a 1530s window at Winscombe Church donated by Peter Carslegh, the local vicar; medieval glass at Orchardleigh and East Brent; the iconography of medieval glass in the county; a summary of stained glass in Somerset between 1545 to 1830; and finally, a chapter on foreign glass, including that at Marston Bigot [Fig. 2].
The Somerset volume was followed by what some regard as his best book, also the fruits of earlier research, The Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century (1950). It included a list of over fifty named glass-painters active in Norwich from 1279 to the Reformation; an in-depth survey of the glass in five churches (St Peter Mancroft in Norwich, East Harling, North Tuddenham, Ringland and Long Melford); chapters on angels, the Labours of the Month, and the sadly no longer extant Blasphemy Window at Heydon; as well as a round-up of inscriptions in stained glass, especially those in English [Fig. 3]. Woodforde also contributed photographs and original drawings and watercolours to these books.
Woodforde was was awarded a Litt.D. (Cantab.) in 1947, and a D.Litt. (Oxon.) in 1948 for these two studies. In 1948, partly on account of his Somerset book, Woodforde was invited to New College, Oxford, as chaplain by the then warden, Alic Halford Smith (1883–1958). Within a couple of years, he produced The Stained Class of New College, Oxford (1951), which remains the best account of this important glass, some of which was made by the late fourteenth-century glazier Thomas of Oxford. Chapters examine the history of the medieval and later glass, including the work of William Peckitt and Thomas Jervis, and extensive descriptions of the glass were included. The final chapter discussed the surviving panels of the medieval Jesse Window, which was removed during Peckitt’s renovations and given to him in part payment for his work in the college. The panels were subsequently installed in York Minster.
From 1950 to 1953, Woodforde would also serve as canon and wiccanical prebendary at Chichester Cathedral. 1951 saw Woodforde elected an honorary fellow of the BSMGP, of which he was vice-president in 1947, but just as he should have been drawing strength from these successes, his life was suddenly turned upside down: his wife Carol (b.1914, née Muriel Carol Forster), whom he had married in 1935, died unexpectedly and preventably – not, as stated in the obituary in The Times of 13 August 1962 subsequently reproduced in the BSMGP journal, after ‘a long and painful illness’. This left Woodforde both in shock and with the bewildering responsibility of raising an eight-year-old son, Giles (b.1941) as a single parent. For a quiet and somewhat formal and reserved man, Carol’s death proved intensely painful, casting a long over his remaining years that perhaps never lifted. To make matters worse, Woodforde found some aspects of senior common room life very much not to his taste, and he had to weigh the comfort he found in pastoral work among the undergraduates (rescuing more than one from possible suicide) against his objections to the choirmaster’s harsh discipline of the young choristers [Fig. 5].
In 1954, Oxford University Press published English Stained and Painted Glass, a much slimmer volume than his previous works, consisting of 65 pages of text, a short bibliography, an eight-page guide to where readers could see stained glass, and a separate appendix of eighty full and half-plate photographs. Although the book was well received at the time, a comment in the obituary in The Times newspaper on 13 August 1962 cast the book in a different light. Calling his writing style ‘so terse that it was almost unreadable’ and wondering whether ‘the highly critical atmosphere of an Oxford common room … made him avoid saying anything which might lay his work open to attack’, the writer leaves the impression of a man running out of steam, perhaps weighed down by unhappiness. Yet eight years earlier, the reception of the book had been nowhere near as negative. Bernard Rackham (1876–1964), a former keeper of stained glass at the Victoria & Albert Museum, said it had ‘substantial value’ despite being aimed at those ‘with little or no knowledge of the subject (Antiquaries Journal, xxxiv/3–4, October 1954, pp. 260–61), while one reviewer (‘JS’) said that it would ‘take its place … as by far the most useful introduction to the subject … clearly written, well planned and illustrated’ (Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, xxx, 1954, p. 137). Jean Lafond (1888–1975), was another who praised Woodforde’s efforts; while taking issue with a few points, he declared the book ‘a most welcome addition to the literature … an elegant volume … full of interesting and valuable information’ (The Archaeological Journal, iii, 1954, pp. 239–41).
In the introduction to the book, Woodforde says it was but ‘a forerunner of a larger and more detailed work’. Correspondence in the English Heritage Archive bears this out. Shortly after the book had been written in 1953, Woodforde was corresponding with Cecil Farthing (1909–2001), the Deputy Director of the National Building Record, asking for a £100 a year towards the purchase and processing of negatives, as ‘it is now clear that I will be able to write and publish the large and, I hope, definitive book on English medieval glass. It looks as if I will be preparing it during the next three or four years’ [Fig. 6]. Woodforde had hoped that this funding would be guaranteed for five years, but in the event Farthing was unable to reassure him on either point, and the project may have stalled for no other reason than a lack of support.
The obituary in The Times cited above also gives a misleading impression of Woodforde’s response to the post-Second World War move to form the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi (CVMA). The writer says that after the Secretary of the British Academy (the national body for academic research in the humanities and social sciences in the United Kingdom) had sought Woodforde’s opinion as to the practicality of British scholars joining with colleagues in Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland to form a British branch of the CVMA, Woodforde responded: ‘Of course, one’s first and lasting reaction to a plan which requires the publication of seventy or more volumes on a subject of such restricted interest as medieval stained glass is that it will sooner or later break down through lack of money or interest. In short, I believe that the project is respectable, but hardly practicable.’ It is therefore not surprising that some have assumed that Woodforde did not support the initiative. In fact, whatever his initial misgivings, he put them aside and agreed to join the first national committee of the British CVMA, after it had been established in 1956 under the chairmanship of Professor Francis Wormald (1904–1972), a highly respected medieval palaeographer and art historian. Moreover, as Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1890–1976), the then Director of the British Academy recalled in his history of that event, Woodforde also agreed to prepare a preliminary survey of extant glass for the committee, including how much had already been discovered and photographed. (See Mortimer Wheeler’s account in The British Academy 1949–1968 (London, 1970), pp. 108–116; this work is available on the CVMA (GB) website here.)
Apparently Woodforde’s report was not encouraging, stating that a great part of the extant glass remained quite unstudied, and that much of the work attempted in the past was superficial. As a result, the committee decided that, as a first requisite, a ‘pilot’ volume should be prepared covering the glass of three counties: Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, with Woodforde as a director of the survey, aided by a photographer and a draughtsman. Yet despite the fact that funding and other resources were in place as early as 1957, the project stalled after, as Wheeler put it, the chief pilot himself fell overboard: Woodforde was appointed to the deanery of Wells in 1959 and effectively withdrew from any further involvement.
With hindsight, these disappointments seem to coincide with a generational turning point in the historiography of stained glass in the United Kingdom. Woodforde was one of a long line of erudite clerics and antiquarians whose diligence and prodigious work rates laid the foundations for modern research. Woodforde’s departure spurred Wormald to tackle the problem directly, and in a report to the Secretary of the British Academy on 17 July 1961 he observed: ‘The Committee was quite clear that the scheme for producing any volume of the Corpus will be wrecked if there cannot be someone who can work on the job full-time. The whole study of glass in this country has been for years hag-ridden by amateurs, and I for one am convinced that we shall never get anywhere unless we can have somebody doing it all the time. Peter Newton, a young student of the Courtauld Institute who has just completed a large thesis on stained glass in the Midlands, would do this very well … What we should like is for the Academy to employ him full-time for X number of years.’ (A portrait of Francis Wormald by Hermione Hammond can be seen here, and Peter Newton’s thesis was recently made available to the public for the first time on the CVMA (GB) website, here.)
Although Woodforde’s productivity in the mid-1950s may suggest a waning interest, he nonetheless remained an active and influential figure in other areas of stained glass, enjoying a long friendship with the Norwich-based conservator Dennis King (1912–1995), with whom he worked on a number of important commissions. These included the restoration of the William Wykeham glass in Winchester College Chapel, a task in which he collaborated with John Harvey (1911–1997), and the glazing of the parish church of St Michael at the North Gate in Oxford after a fire in 1953.
As mentioned above, Woodforde’s life took a new turn in 1959, when he left New College to become dean of Wells, one of the United Kingdom’s greatest cathedrals and itself home to some remarkable medieval stained glass. It is possible that he saw the appointment as offering a new direction; in the process of leaving Oxford he gave away several scrap books of cuttings about manuscript images that he had spent years assembling (according to Michael Archer FSA, interviewed for this article). According to Woodforde’s son Giles, who was also interviewed for this article, an undercurrent to this appointment was the rumour that Woodforde might eventually succeed Hewlett Johnson (1874–1966), then dean of Canterbury. Appointed in 1931, Johnson was regarded as an acute embarrassment by many in the church, on account of his unwavering and vocal support for Stalin and Soviet communism, and there were frequent rumours of plots to oust him. As the distinguished literary critic Ferdinand Mount wrote in 2012: ‘What infuriated [Johnson’s] critics, was that there was no evidence that Johnson had made any but the most superficial study of the issues that he spouted on with such mellifluous certainty.’ (‘To the End of the Line’, a review of The Red Dean of Canterbury: the private and public faces of Hewlett Johnson, by John Butler, 2011, in The London Review of Books, xxxiv/8, 26 April 2012, pp. 27–28). But if Woodforde was seen as a safe pair of hands by those who wanted to topple Johnson, he was certainly not a top hat and frock coat establishment figure; he often preferring a collar and tie to clerical garb. According to his son, his puckish wit and sardonic humour was often wielded to prick pomposity. Examples include an occasion on which he asked a visiting bishop, who had appeared dressed from head to toe in gold vestments, if he was appearing at the London Palladium after the service. (‘Sunday night at the London Palladium’ was a British television light entertainment/variety show that ran from 1955 to 1967.)
More to the point, Woodforde found himself overwhelmed by the practical demands of his new posting. According to the obituary in The Times: ‘He was frustrated by lack of funds, a lack which became something of an obsession. Playing his hand as it seemed to him in isolation, he would speak (by all accounts) to his diocesan or in chapter with a candour that his more conventional associates, unaware of the man behind the mask, no doubt found lacking in charity. Nevertheless, for an outsider visiting the cathedral in the last months of Woodforde’s life was to appreciate immediately the excellence of his stewardship.’ His central preoccupation was the repair and conservation of the famous west front of the cathedral, and its rescue was in no small measure due to his efforts. Sadly, Woodforde did not live long enough to see the fruition of that campaign, or the publication of Peter Newton’s ground-breaking CVMA volume on Oxfordshire (1979). He died from cancer, at the age of 54, on 12 August 1962. A memorial tablet in the cloisters of the cathedral, where he was buried, commemorates his work in the diocese of Bath and Wells.
Apart from his interest in stained glass, Woodforde also wrote a number of stories. The best known are his ghost stories, initially compiled as bedtime entertainment for New College choristers. His foray into this particular literary genre may have been influenced by the output or interests of M. R. James (1862–1936), a distinguished medievalist whom Woodforde admired and who was also an acclaimed author of supernatural tales. Coincidentally, another prominent clergyman and writer of ghost stories in the Jamesian tradition was Woodforde’s predecessor bar one at Wells, the Very Revd Richard Henry Malden (1879–1951), who had been dean at Wells from 1933 to 1950 and published a series of stories, Nine Ghosts, in 1942. Twenty of Woodforde’s tales were published in a single volume, The Pad in the Straw, in 1952 with a prefatory note by his friend Lord David Cecil (1902–1986), whom he had met in the senior common room at New College. It was reissued in 2012 by Sundial Press with a preface by the author’s son. One of the stories concerns stained glass: ‘The “Doom” Window at Breckham’. According to the editor and literary researcher Richard Dalby, an expert on supernatural fiction, the character of the scholar in this story, Charles Hawthorn, is clearly based on Woodforde himself. A book in an entirely different genre, Record of John, the story of a boy growing up, was published shortly before his death.
Woodforde’s Contribution to Stained Glass
Although he was not an expert at dating glass or identifying stylistic groupings, and despite a tendency to repeat the art-historical orthodoxies of his day (such as the description of East Anglian glass-painting as the product of a ‘school’), Woodforde excelled at compiling lists and gathering information on a prodigious scale. He was a diligent and hard-working researcher in the antiquarian tradition, and given the restrictions imposed by his jobs, the responsibility of single parenthood, and difficulties with money, transport and access to often uncatalogued library collections, his efforts were impressive. According to CVMA (GB) committee member David King, Woodforde was ‘a pioneering scholar in the study of East Anglian glass and laid the foundations for my work in his publications … He was a good iconographer and did some work on the historical background of Norfolk glass, useful work on medieval English glaziers in Norfolk and elsewhere … With his ecclesiastical background he was able to identify many of the liturgical texts found in the glass. And some of his analysis of ornamental motifs remains very useful. His 1936 article on foreign stained glass in Norfolk churches [see below] was an important initial contribution to this extensive field.’ Again, Anna Eavis, another CVMA (GB) committee member, who is researching the New College glass, has said that his book ‘remains the standard text in the absence of any other’. Woodforde’s final work, English Stained and Painted Glass, is less influential, largely because of its brief and unambitious character. Aimed at newcomers to the subject, it fares less well compared to other books intended for the same market, particularly John Le Couteur’s English Medieval Painted Glass (London, 1926).
Tragically, what may have been Woodforde’s greatest work was never completed. The book he seemed so keen to write in 1954 – ‘the large and, I hope, definitive book on English medieval glass’ – remained unwritten at the time of his death.
To date, no personal archive has been traced. No papers remain in the family.
The King & Son Archive
Forty items (some large) are in the King & Son archive deposited at the Society of Antiquaries of London. An inventory of these is available on the CVMA (GB) website here.
English Heritage Archive
Several hundred drawings of stained glass made in the 1940s and 1950s, together with a substantial correspondence. EH Archives Collection Number: CWE01; NMR Open Access Files
New College Oxford
New College Oxford has some papers relating to his book on the college’s glass (part of NCA 9246).
Michael Archer; Tim Ayers; Anne Crawford (Archivist, Wells Cathedral); Anna Eavis; David King; Ian Leith (English Heritage Archive); Giles Woodforde.
This bibliography owes a great deal to the entries in M. H. Caviness (with E. R. Staudinger), Stained Glass before 1540: an annotated bibliography (Boston MA, 1983).
‘Fifteenth-Century Glass in Somerset’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, iv/1, April 1931, pp. 5–12
‘Two Unusual Subjects in Ancient Glass in Long Melford Church’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, xxi/1 (for 1931), 1932, pp. 63–67
• The unusual subjects are the lily crucifix and Trinity rabbits.
‘The Medieval Glass in Elsing Church’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, iv/3, April 1932, pp. 134–36
The Locksley Hall Collection of Stained and Painted Glass, privately printed, 1932
(with H. A. Harris) ‘ The Medieval Glass in Yaxley Church’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, xxi/2, 1932, pp. 91–98
‘Medieval Painted Glass in Norfolk’, Norfolk Archaeology, xxiv (for 1930–32), 1932, pp. 251–53
‘Medieval Glass in East Harling Church’, Norfolk Archaeology, xxiv (for 1930–32), 1932, pp. 254–61
‘The Fifteenth-Century Glass in Blythburg Church’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, xxi/3, 1933, pp. 232–40
‘Schools of Glass-Painting in King’s Lynn and Norwich in the Middle Ages’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, v/1, 1933, pp. 4–18
‘Further notes on ancient glass in Norfolk and Suffolk’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, v/1, 1933, pp. 57–68
Guide to the Medieval Glass in Lincoln Cathedral, London, 1933
• Published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; 44 pages, 12 illustrations
‘Ancient Glass in Lincolnshire. Part I, Haydor’, Lincolnshire Magazine, i/3, 1933, pp. 93–97. ‘Ancient Glass in Lincolnshire. Part II, Wrangle’, Lincolnshire Magazine, i/6, 1933, pp. 197–99; i/11, 1934, pp. 363–67; ii/9, 1936, pp. 265–67. ‘Ancient Glass in Lincolnshire. Part III, Long Sutton and Barton upon Humber’, Lincolnshire Magazine, ii/12, 1936, pp. 346–48
‘The Medieval Painted Glass in North Tuddenham Church, Norfolk’, Norwich and Norfolk Archaeological Society, xxv/2, 1934, pp. 220–26
‘The Stained and Painted Glass at Hengrave Hall, Suffolk’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, xxii, 1934–36, pp. 1–16
‘Essex Glass-Painters in the Middle Ages’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, v/3, April 1934, pp. 110–15
‘Painted Glass in Saxlingham Nethergate Church, Norfolk’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, v/4, October 1934, pp. 163–69
• Discusses the 13th–15th-century glass, including the late 13th-century medallions of St Edmund
‘Glazing Accounts at Little Saxham Hall, Suffolk’, letter to the Editor, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, v/4, October 1934, p. 206
‘Medieval Glass Restored to Cawston Church’, Norfolk Archaeology, xxv, 1935, pp. 138–39
The Medieval Glass of St. Peter Mancroft, Norwich, 1935
‘Foreign Stained and Painted Glass in Norfolk’, Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, xxvi, 1936, pp. 73–84
• Discusses German, Flemish, French, and Swiss glass from the mid-15th to 16th centuries brought to England, particularly through Hampp
‘The medieval glass in the churches of St. John the Baptist, Mileham, and All Saints and St.Michael-at-Plea, Norwich’, Norfolk Archaeology, xxvi (for 1935–37), 1938, pp. 164–77
‘Glass-Painters in England before the Reformation’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, vi/2, October 1935, pp. 62–69; ibid., vi/3, April 1936, pp. 121–28
‘A Group of Fourteenth-Century Windows, Showing the Tree of Jesse’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, vi/4, April 1937, pp. 184–90
• Attributes eight windows in the west country, dated c.1330–50, to a single workshop on the basis of overall design and decorative motifs; the group includes Madley, Ludlow, St Mary’s in Shrewsbury, Tewkesbury, and Bristol Cathedral. Recent scholarship however attributes these schemes to several different workshops. For more information, see S. Brown, ‘The fourteenth-century stained glass of Madley’, in D. Whitehead (ed.), Medieval Art and Archaeology at Hereford, British Archaeological Association, Conference Transactions, XV (London, 1995), pp. 122–31.
‘A Medieval Campaign Against Blasphemy’, reprinted in the Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, vii/1, October 1937, pp. 13–17
‘Franciscan Saints in English Medieval Glass and Embroidery’, chapter 3 A. G. Little (ed.), Franciscan History and Legend in English Medieval Art, Manchester, 1937, pp. 22–33
Stained and Painted Glass in England, London, 1937
‘The Fourteenth-Century Glass in North Luffenham Church, Rutland’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, vii/2, April 1938, pp. 69–73
‘The medieval glass in the churches of St John the Baptist, Mileham, and All Saints and St Michael-at-Plea, Norwich’, Norfolk Archaeology, xxvi, 1938, pp. 164–77
‘The Medieval Stained Glass of Long Melford church, Suffolk’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 3rd ser., iv (for 1938), 1939, pp. 1–63
‘A Further Note on the Medieval Stained Glass at Long Melford, Suffolk’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 3rd ser., iv (for 1938), 1939, pp. 193–96
‘The Painted Class in Withcote Church’, Burlington Magazine, lxxv, 1939, pp. 17–22
‘English Stained Glass and Glass-Painters in the Fourteenth-Century’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 1939, pp. 29–49
• Concentrates on records of glass-painters, or of men named ‘LeVerrour’ or ‘Le Glasier’; no supporting references
‘Peter Carslegh’s Window in Winscombe Church, Somerset’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, viii/2, April 1940, pp. 51–57
‘The Origin of the St. Catherine Window at Clavering’, Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, xxii/2, 1936–39, pp. 1–3, 1 plate
‘The Medieval Stained Glass of the East Harling and North Tuddenham Churches, Norfolk’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 3rd ser., v, 1940, pp. 1–32
‘The Ancient Glass at Orchardleigh’, Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, lxxxvi/2 (for 1940), 1941, pp. 79–85
‘The Passion Window in East Brent Church, Somerset’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, viii/3, April 1941, pp. 96–100
‘John Gunthorpe, Dean of Wells 1472-1498. His Coat-of-Arms, Badges, Motto and Monogram’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, ix/1, 1943, pp. 2–14
‘Some Medieval English Glazing Quarries Painted with Birds’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 3rd ser., ix, 1944, pp. 1–11
• Discusses numerous 13th–15th-century examples from collections in England: their form and placement, and identification of species
‘Some Medieval Leaden Ventilating Panels at Wells and Glastonbury’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, ix/2, 1944, pp. 44–50
Stained Glass in Somerset, 1250–1830, London, 1946
• 314 pages, 52 plates (12 colour), 7 figs
The Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century, London, 1950
• 233 pages, 44 plates
The Stained Glass of New College, Oxford, London, 1951
• 111 pages, 1 colour plate, 20 figs
‘Address on some medieval glass in Christ Church, Oxford’, Annual Report of the Friends of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, 1953
English Stained and Painted Glass, Oxford, 1954
• 101 pages, 80 plates