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Stained Glass From Shrigley & Hunt

The firm in Lancaster and London

'The model of what stained glass ought to be'

Shrigley and Hunt, one of the finest stained glass manufacturers of the late nineteenth century, has long been overlooked for the excellence of its output. In its day it was ranked with Morris and Company, Powell's of Whitefriars, and the other great glass houses of the late Victorian period. This book evaluates the firm's history and qualities, and places it once again amongst its peers.

  • Hardback
  • Full Colour Cover
  • ISBN: 1-86220-140-4
  • 40 Black and White Figures
  • 58 Plates in Colour Sections
  • 136 Pages (including 40 pages of colour plates)

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Published by Centre for North-West Regional Studies, Lancaster University

About the Author
William Waters specialises in the history of nineteenth century fine and applied art and has published on Burne-Jones and the post-Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic tradition. Previously he was assistant curator at Carlisle Art Gallery and then senior assistant curator at the William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow.

Extract from the Introduction

At the height of its fame in the late Victorian era, the company of Shrigley and Hunt ranked among the leading designers and manufacturers of stained glass in Britain, rivalling the better-known contemporaries such William Morris and Company, or James Powell of Whitefriars. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, the name of Shrigley and Hunt means little to the average person and not much more to the historian of stained glass. The company deserves much more recognition. Its neglect is largely due to the fact that, unlike their better-known competitors, their designers did not double up as fine artists and the firm did not remain nationally active beyond the early twentieth century. Shrigley and Hunt’s story is rather one of an emergence from provincial obscurity into a position of national high regard, followed by a period of slow decline and a return to a local level of operation, albeit of some merit.

Its success relied on a marriage between sound business acumen and talented designers. The firm’s founder, Arthur William Hunt, who was a builder’s son apprenticed to a stained glass business, possessed a shrewd business sense, knowledge of the trade and a good eye for artistic talent. In a clever move he bought an existing decorating business in Lancaster and he was able to tap into a market that could exploit the opportunities opened up by the industrial and commercial expansion in the North West. His foresight proved accurate and he rapidly exploited the domestic and ecclesiastical demands for artistic decoration.

The success of the enterprise owed quite as much to the artists Hunt chose as it did to his own energies. Carl Almquist and Edward Holmes Jewitt in particular had genius as individual designers and were also able to work as part of a team. They rank among the best of late-Victorian stained glass designers, belonging to the group of artists that followed in the wake of the Pre-Raphaelites with Burne-Jones and Henry Holiday at their head. These artists of the second generation explored the decorative qualities of the medium, while also freeing the figure from some of its historicist tendencies. Moving away from the earlier mediaevalism, they pioneered a more realist style loosely inspired by Renaissance or classical precedents. Often drawing from the model they took steps towards raising the status of stained glass to a fine art, thus upgrading the position of the designer within the arts. In doing so they also increased the accessibility of the Biblical narratives, by selecting easily understood allegories or simply presented stories.

Under Hunt, Almquist and Jewitt were encouraged to develop their talents freely and in doing so they attracted the custom of architects and laymen alike, helping the firm to attain a position equal to any of their national compatriots. Almquist had a studio opened in London for him, which led to recognition in the capital and the Home Counties, providing yet another chance to expand the business. At the height of its fame Shrigley and Hunt was patronised by some of the greatest architects of the day. Paley and Austin, the Lancaster-based architectural practice, was their most important client, while G. F. Bodley, Sir Arthur Blomfield, Richard Norman Shaw and Alfred Waterhouse were numbered among the others. Private commissions poured in from the wealthy magnates of the North West, not just the Storeys, Williamsons, Garnetts and Fosters from around Lancaster itself, but business leaders on Merseyside, the Wirral and Manchester, including the Manchester brewers Henry Boddington, and Sir Gilbert Greenall of Warrington.

Shrigley and Hunt’s demise in the twentieth century paralleled that of other family businesses in which the original proprietor’s incapacity to allow new blood into the directorship, stifled development, while his too-tight control and over-disciplined leadership meant his sons lost their enthusiasm and looked elsewhere for a career. George, a talented artist and the natural successor, left to begin his own firm and the other sons joined the army or went abroad. Unfortunately, in spite of freelance artists being employed, the impetus was lost and the firm turned out mediocre work in the period between the World Wars.

Inevitably, a commercial firm is first and foremost committed to projecting a corporate identity, leading to problems in attributing windows to individual artists. Shrigley and Hunt, like all the other large nineteenth century stained glass houses and in spite of the two special talents the company nurtured, was not keen to promote the artists themselves except in their role as part of a design team. In the interests of commerce the firm wished to present a uniform style, characterising itself rather than any particular individual. In deciphering the oeuvre of Shrigley and Hunt, therefore, and sorting the windows into recognisable separate styles, it is necessary to understand the processes by which they were made. The initial sketch was often made as a joint effort of two designers, while the cartoon that followed could be the work of another. Further complications arise when existing cartoons were re-used, sometimes redrawn by apprentices and, of course, styles could be diluted by the transference of a design on to the glass by the glass painters. However there are clues in the firm’s records which help in detecting an individual designer’s work.

In the early years between 1873-85 Almquist and Jewitt tended to work separately, establishing a body of cartoons. From c.1885-1914, on occasions when money allowed, and a commissioner requested a superior window, then a single artist could be responsible for all stages in production. Composite windows that carry the work of a number of artists but in which the original cartoons are unaltered, allow for a comparison of styles. Windows were designed by freelance artists in two main periods; 1875-80 and 1905 onwards.

However there are many locations where a secure attribution is difficult and, lacking confirmation from archival sources, no absolute decision can be made. The complexities of attribution are exemplified in the case of the window at Finsthwaite, commissioned by Austin and Paley in 1894. Jewitt spent sixteen hours on the watercolour design, Almquist was responsible for the figure cartoons which took him a total of seventy hours’ work, but the account books show that Gamon also spent thirty-seven hours and Prest another thirteen-and-a-half hours on the cartoons. As birds feature prominently in the windows Gamon made when he left to start his own firm, one can assume he was responsible for the doves in the Finsthwaite window.

As would be expected there is a concentration of windows by Shrigley and Hunt in the north of England, with the largest number in the northern counties and the North West in particular. Those counties at a great distance from London or Lancaster naturally patronised local firms, or preferred to draw on the larger London glass houses. Shrigley and Hunt’s work is rarely found in Cornwall, Devon, Suffolk or Kent, but good examples are to be found in Cheshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Yorkshire. For reasons discussed in the text there are some fine examples thinly distributed across Scotland. Wales, too, is fortunate to have a few splendid windows. The metropolitan areas, with their concentration of wealth, were well served but the ravages of war, vandals and recent activities of the demolition men have taken their toll. Many windows have been destroyed in London, Manchester and Glasgow.

The firm in Lancaster and London

Arthur Hunt possessed a shrewd business sense but also set a hard-working example. He was continually away canvassing, either in London or the provinces searching out wealthy clients. Often away for weeks at a time, he targeted areas by lobbying local solicitors, architects and clergy.

He inherited and successfully retained an important local client base of Shrigley’s patrons which included many wealthy families who would prove advantageous to the new firm. On taking over the firm he made no radical policy changes; rather his intention was gradually to increase the range of the services he had to offer, the firm advertising itself in 1875 as ‘Church and House Painters and Decorators, Paperhangers, Carvers and Gilders, Stained Glass and Heraldic Painters, Castle Hill, Lancaster’. Initially, Shrigley and Hunt had to subcontract the manufacture to stained glass workshops elsewhere. A London firm, Baillie and Mayer of 18 Wardour Street, who had made up Charles Eamer Kempe’s (1837-1907) windows in the late 1860s, was engaged and, although the practice was not uncommon, it had obvious drawbacks largely arising from lack of supervision on the part of the contractor. January 1875, therefore, saw the erection of kilns for firing glass and tiles, the alteration of the building for a glazing shop and the preparation of a glass painting room in Lancaster. Once these were operating, all the stained glass was executed on the premises. William Eaves (1844-1907) who worked for the firm from about 1874 as chief glass painter and manager of some twenty personnel in the workshop, ensured that the team responded by using their skills to develop a whole series of superlative windows in the late 1880s and 1890s, which proved to be the high point in the firm’s history.

By the end of the 1870s Hunt had opened a London office at 28 John Street, Bedford Row, partly to retain the services of one of his chief designers, Carl Almquist, but also to interview southern clients. Being on the main line railway, Lancaster was less than a day’s journey from London and Arthur came to an arrangement with the railway company by which he was able to board any train he required, even if not scheduled to stop at Lancaster. Any packages sent would be received the following day. All windows were made and assembled at Lancaster but completed panels were exhibited for inspection by clients at both Lancaster and London show rooms.

Arthur Hunt’s commercial skills were coupled with a fine artistic intelligence. He had absolute faith in his designers and backed their judgement when clients called them into question. The business prospered. Over the first twenty years the firm recorded a yearly increase in trade, which was reflected in its healthy bank balance. Order books were full, the artists saw a gradual increase in their income and more staff were taken on.

By 1884 Arthur was confident enough to entrust the design of a large new house to the local architects Paley and Austin. ‘Longlands’ was an impressive redbrick, gabled house with tall chimneys standing within its own landscaped gardens in a salubrious suburb to the west of Lancaster. In fine Victorian style it had a conservatory, croquet lawn and tennis court. Well-proportioned but unostentatious, the house enjoyed a fine view of the city and was to serve Arthur amply with his increasing family and servants, including a nanny and gardener. Life at ‘Longlands’ was that of an upper middle-class family. A man of culture, Arthur surrounded himself with art and decoration typical of the period. His walls, covered with Morris wallpapers, were tastefully hung with paintings and drawings by local painters and the finest cartoons by his artists. His furniture displayed a collection of De Morgan vases, tiles and dishes and not surprisingly the windows were filled with the best stained glass. The house served as an impressive backdrop for the entertainment of clients.

Over the years he established himself as a leading public figure in Lancaster’s social life. Widely respected, he was a church warden at the Priory Church, a freemason, an active committee member of the Storey Institute and a member of the local hunt. All his children rode and their horses were stabled at Halton Green Farm, an eighty-three acre holding which he had bought and rented out. Arthur Hunt’s family grew almost yearly. His wife gave birth to twelve children between 1875 and 1895, although three died before they reached adulthood. Of the remaining nine, two were girls who were taught locally. Arthur, with an eye to the future, had the seven boys well educated. After preparatory school, at Dunchurch in Warwickshire, they attended Sedbergh School before continuing to Wadham College, Oxford. They were required to spend periods working in the business, presumably with a view to inheriting joint responsibility for it after their father’s death.

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