The ‘Pevsner Guides to the Buildings of England’ are the premier county-by-county accounts of historic architecture (old and new) in this country.
Reading recently through the Shropshire volume, which was last revised in 2006, it was very interesting indeed to read the author’s view on stained-glass in this county from 1900 to 1940. He says: “Women stained-glass artists are responsible for some of the best work in Shropshire in the early 20th century: Mary Newill made windows at Hopesay (1905) and Wrockwardine (1906) … comparable and equally personal are the windows by Margaret Rope – extensive series by her are at Newport (RC) Church and Shrewsbury Cathedral”.
This Pevsner Guide is not infallible; it could have strengthened its case by remembering that Marga’s cousin, Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope, also has work in Shropshire (see article) from this period, and it has Marga’s dates wrong.
However, it is a fascinating statement.
Mary Newill, like Marga, is not so well-known these days. However, her window at Wrockwardine Church in east Shropshire is one of the treasures of the church there (see photos below).
Described by Pevsner (a little dismissively one feels!) as “in the English book-art style” it was designed by her as a memorial to her parents. Like Margaret, she was Shropshire born and bred.
Mary Newill must have been known to Marga, even though she was twenty years older. She is listed as one of the judges at an art competition in Shrewsbury in 1906, when Margaret took one of the prizes*.
At this time Newill was teaching at Birmingham Art School, where Margaret was also a student – though Newill taught mostly needlework & textiles, the discipline for which she is most famous as an artist (Newill did very little stained-glass in fact).
However, Pevsner’s statement about women’s work being the best in Shropshire in this period is perhaps – when one thinks about it – not all that surprising.
The fact is that women were very prominent in ‘progressive’, authored stained-glass making in this period – all across England.
Christopher Whall, the doyen of Arts & Crafts stained-glass work, encouraged women to take up the discipline so much that nearly half his pupils were female.
It was profession in which women, for a number of interesting reasons, were able to make breakthroughs – and it’s time other art-historians lined up alongside Pevsner in recognising this.
(*Thanks to Rosemary Thornes for this information)