The past, even the recent past, is basically a set of jigsaw pieces, many of which are lost, meaning the full picture will never be seen. However, now and again, some jigsaw pieces are suddenly found to fit nicely together… and the past reveals itself a little more.
And so we have the story of some medieval glass in Shrewsbury Museum (see photos below), Margaret Rope and Canon Ambrose Moriarty.
In 1921, a Mr. GE Kinnersley of Pulley Farm, near Shrewsbury, decided to donate six fifteenth-century glass roundels to the town. Until this point they had been sited in some windows of his historic home.
All he asked in return was that the town pay the cost of some leaded lights to fill the gaps.
The Shropshire Archaeological Society couldn’t believe their luck of course – and accepted immediately, not least because on the committee was one very enthusiastic member, who was something of an expert in historic artefacts: Canon Ambrose Moriarty (see pic below).
Although a priest, Ambrose Moriarty, to all intents & purposes, was also the ‘manager’ of Shrewsbury Cathedral, and had been for the previous 20 years, with a driving determination to develop its profile; it was basically his life’s work. He was also an antiquarian and wrote more than a few monographs on the town’s history.
Then, the next we know is that, according to the committee’s minutes, a “Miss M Rope” has offered to submit a plan for the design and fixing of the pieces.
This is obviously our Margaret Agnes Rope.
For the decade 1910-1920, Marga had been designing and making stained-glass for Shrewsbury Cathedral, working very closely with Moriarty (see our article) – so it’s not too fanciful to think that the canon decided to pull a favour with her – and asked her to volunteer her services for his committee…
By today’s standards, the whole process is remarkably speedy, taking less than a year.
Marga’s offer of help is accepted and, under her supervision, the project got under way. (In fact, the process included Marga’s trip to the ‘South Kensington Museum’, aka the Victoria & Albert Museum, where she showed its curators the glass, and got their expert opinion).
By April 1922, the roundels, now enclosed in some custom-made plate-glass panels, have been satisfactorily installed in the town’s ‘Antiquities Room’. (This room is probably one of the rooms in Shrewsbury Library, where one of the former iterations of Shrewsbury Museum was housed). The text for the labelling of it was written by none other than Canon Moriarty himself.
And, for those who like such details, the final cost of the project was just over £16, with two-thirds of that sum coming from private donations, and the rest paid for ‘out of the rates’.
A bargain really…
The same roundels are still available for public gaze, in the current Shrewsbury Museum’s Medieval Gallery. This gallery is a little treasure trove of artefacts, giving a picture of what Shrewsbury felt and looked like five hundred years ago.
The scenes painted within the glass are clearly in the genre of what are known as ‘Labours Of The Months’, ie scenes depicting tasks of the agricultural year. These works are often a marvellous way for historians to find out how farming methods were carried out in the countryside centuries ago.
Usually, and it looks like this is the case with the Shrewsbury roundels, there is one for each month of the year – which means six, maybe more, are sadly lost.
Today the roundels take pride of place in the gallery, back-lit and in the centre of the room.
‘Miss Rope’ would have be proud.
You can read Moriarty’s own monograph on the roundels by clicking here.
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