▪The Suffolk Ropes

If geneticists are looking for proof that a gene-pool can often concentrate certain talents, it might be worth their looking at the Rope Family.
As family research into Marga’s life continues, it becomes very clear that many of her immediate relatives were more than usually accomplished and strong-minded.
It is also interesting to note that most of these gifted relatives were women.

The Suffolk side

The artistic gifts in Marga’s extended paternal family first become most clear with George Thomas Rope (1846-1929), Marga’s paternal uncle.
The paternal branch of her family was based in Suffolk (her father, Henry, left Suffolk as a young man, to set up in practice in Shrewsbury).

The wealth of talent among the Suffolk Ropes is evidenced in the work ‘Suffolk Painters’, which lists no fewer than six artists related by blood to Marga! See them listed below.
The most famous of them are Ellen Mary Rope, who exhibited internationally, and Margaret Edith Rope, a fellow stained-glass artist.

Ellen Mary Rope – sculptor and designer of ceramics; aunt to Marga. Below you can see her memorial to her nephew.

Dr Henry Rope Triptych

Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope – stained-glass artist who was as well-known as Marga and even more prolific; Marga’s cousin
Dorothy Anne Aldrich Rope – another cousin, almost exactly the same age as Marga; she pursued her art career (sculpture & ceramics) by moving to London with Ellen Mary (her and Marga’s aunt). It’s possible that Marga and she shared lodgings in the early days in London
George Thomas Rope – Marga’s uncle, who exhibited at the Royal Academy in his lifetime, and whose landscape and wildlife watercolours can still be seen today at Ipswich Museum & Art Gallery.
Edith Dorothy Rope – aunt to Marga
Emmeline Anna Rope – Marga’s first cousin once removed

Yes, it’s possible that genteel Edwardian ladies may have had few other permissible outlets than art for their ambitions, but for the majority of them to also achieve national profiles is surely unusual…
Whether through the influence of genetics or environment, or both, this is certainly an outstanding pool of artistic sensibilities and talent!

The other notable characteristic of the women listed here is that all of them chose to remain unmarried (as did Marga).
Is it possible that these women, who lived at a time when women’s emancipation was on the rise, chose deliberately to eschew the doubtful privileges of marriage, and also reinforced each other’s choice? If so, it shows quite a collective strength of mind…

Shrewsbury relatives

A similar pattern emerges with Marga’s maternal extended family, based in Shrewsbury, though, in this instance, it is a startling sense of drive and ambition that emerges rather than an artistic sense.
But, yet, again, it is the women who stand out most.

(An accompanying Shrewsbury Relatives post is in the process of being written. Watch this space.)

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▪Hoylake’s mystery knight

In St Hildeburgh’s Church at Hoylake is a lovely war memorial window by Margaret. It shows a medieval knight holding a shield with a red cross. Behind the figure are lilies, and boats crossing a seascape. Above are doves, and below an inscription, ‘Put on the whole armour of God’.
St Hildeburgh's Hoylake knightAs befitting an ‘Arts & Crafts’ period church, the window is low on the wall in the side-chapel, with the bottom of the light at eye-level, and the figure is life-size.

And it is a mystery.


Who is the knight? Is the knight male or female?
What do the elements in the window represent?
The light is a companion piece to another window (by a different artist). Why did Captain James Getty – to whom the windows are dedicated – require two window memorials, side by side?
Why is this window here at all? It is in an Anglican church – yet, apart from this instance, Marga took commissions only from Catholic churches (unless there was a family connection).

St Joan

First – who is the figure?  The red cross on the shield would indicate St George, but there is no dragon. Anyway, there is already a stained-glass St George in the church.
So art-historians Pevsner and the Armstrongs simply describe the figure as “a knight”. The cross on the shield thus becomes just simply a symbol of Englishness.

But… yet… the excellent guidebook to the church describes the figure as St Joan Of Arc …!
Joan Of Arc was the fifteenth century female warrior saint who led French armies in battle (and wore armour).
We visited Hoylake to speak to the church’s current archivist, who explained that the attribution is one long-held in Hoylake, but that the last archivist, who might know the secret of why this is, had recently died.

Could it be St Joan??
The fact that the figure is medieval and a knight is not really an indicator. In fact, at this time, artists looked back to the Age of Chivalry in many war memorials. (It seems rather bizarre to do this, when one remembers how brutal WW1 was, but they did.)
However, the face of the figure is certainly androgynous.

Hoylake church knight detail

The lilies in the background are symbols of virginity (as well as France), both attributable to Joan, and they also remind us of her personal battle-standard – because Joan “…had a standard whose field was sown with lilies”.
The inscription, ‘Put on the whole armour of God’ (from the letters of St Paul) echoes the divine instructions that Joan heard in her internal ‘voices’.
Apart from the doves (of peace?), there is no overt reference to World War One.

And by the time this window is said to have been created (in 1919?), St Joan was on a roll.
Actress as Joan Of Arc 1911In fact, the figure of St Joan had become incredibly popular by the early 1900s, not just in France but England too. She was being adopted by ‘new women’ as a representation of female strength, independence and ability.  Actresses (such as Ellaline Terriss, right, in 1911) lined up to have themselves photographed as Joan.
Joan was adopted by the suffragette movement in the decade up to the First World War.

In the Catholic faith (Marga was Catholic), Joan’s popularity was so prevalent that she was beatified in 1909, and canonized as a saint in 1920. (However, Anglicans revere her too).
Another allusion to consider is that by this time, even Catholic women, usually so conservative, were actively taking part in the suffrage movement, having formed the Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society in 1911. The society was re-named The Saint Joan’s International Alliance in 1923…

In the art of the time; St Joan was equally popular. She was even depicted by the great Christopher Whall – another convert to Catholicism – in a famous 1922 stained-glass piece.

Could Margaret, by ‘hiding’ St Joan in this window, have been making a veiled reference to women’s equality in this window?*

It’s tempting to read these sorts of allusions into this window. Artists have, for centuries, buried hidden meanings into their artworks, and Marga was not only well aware of this tradition; she practised it quite a lot, too.
But, it is all speculation until further research is done.


The window contains other features that need explaining.
The field of pansies at the knight’s feet: pansies are often used as symbols of remembrance, which would suit a memorial window of course.Hoylake church knight details 2
The boats & seascape behind the knight (see pic above): Hoylake Church is at the far end of the Wirral Peninsula and less than a mile from the coast. Was the infantry captain James Getty, to whom the window is dedicated, a keen sailor in peacetime?
The other window dedicated to Getty in the chapel: this shows an angel crowning a young man, a more typical subject for a war-memorial window of the time. Why did Getty’s parents want a second window, and why did they agree to Marga’s very ambiguous artwork?


In the end, though, past all the puzzles, the window is also a lovely work reminding us that Margaret was at the height of her powers around this period.

The metallic blue tinge of the armour is finely created in glass, while the detail of the armour is painstakingly painted.
It has to be seen in sunlight of course…when the red and blue colour combination produces an intensity of power ‘behind’ the strong stillness of the human figure.

Perhaps, taken all in all, it is an amalgam.
It seems to be depicting, in both the art and the meanings, an idea of the Glory Of Service In the Pursuit of Right – something that Captain Getty, St Joan and also Margaret herself would have seen as a central driving force to their lives.


ADDENDA – thanks to everyone who has contacted us with more evidence of the place of St Joan Of Arc, during Marga’s lifetime, in inspiring women seeking equality.

~John Tober said: “You may be amazed (I was) to know that there is a photograph from 1895 of Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux – dressed as Jeanne d’Arc!” Saint Therese was one of Marga’s role-models.
~MConnell pointed out that suffragettes were often seen dressed as Joan Of Arc in demonstrations pre-1914. The two most famous were Elsie Howey from Cradley (in Staffordshire, less than 100 miles from Marga in Shrewsbury) and Marjorie Annan Bryce, who, as well as dressing in ‘armour’ would each ride a white horse too!
~In 1896, when Marga was fourteen, Mark Twain published his last novel, Joan Of Arc, a surprisingly sympathetic account of the saint’s story.
~George Bernard Shaw’s play is, arguably, the most famous Joan Of Arc artwork of the time. It could not have influenced Marga’s depiction of the knight though, as it was only performed in 1923, four years after it’s thought that the window was installed. But – it does reinforce the fact that the Saint Joan figure was in the zeitgeist.
~SK quoted for us the words of The Suffragette magazine from May 1913: “Joan Of Arc is the militant women’s ideal… they recognise [in her] the same spirit as that which strengthens them to risk their liberty and endure torture for the sake of freedom.”

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Once again – my apologies for some of my photos. Stained-glass, in its lit form, is very hard to capture well!  Thanks to Arthur Rope though for the one decent photo…

*(See also our article on Marga & The New Woman).

▪A Rope wartime Christmas

The Christmases of the First World War, one hundred years ago, were surely difficult ones for Agnes Maud, the mother of the Rope family.
Of her six siblings, four were directly involved in the war effort, and none was living at home with her in Shrewsbury.
It must have been in a spirt of courage then that she asked her artist daughter Margaret to design a special family card for Christmas 1916. Marga duly obliged, and the result you can see below.

Ropes 1916 Christmas card

Margaret’s father, Henry Rope, is absent of course. He had died, prematurely, at the age of just 50, nearly twenty years before. There is a plaque in his memory in St Mary’s Church in the centre of the town.


The card is a kind of visual update on the children’s lives.

Henry, the eldest, was studying to be a priest; he’s shown with his head in a book as he was a great reader. Later he also became a published poet.
Denys had become a doctor by this point, and it’s believed he spent a deal of the war abroad attending to wounded soldiers. This may explain the dots around his head – suggesting heat (?)

Michael had spent part of the war supervising railways in Africa, but by late 1916 he had joined the Royal Naval Air Service, a precursor to the RAF.
It’s interesting to speculate about the airship he appears to be holding: is it a German Zeppelin of the sort the air service had to combat, or is it a British navy ‘blimp’ airship? Michael became famous after the war as a designer of airships, but perhaps he was already working on airships by late 1916…

Irene, Marga’s sister, volunteered to go out to Serbia as an ambulance driver, joining an unusual group of women who just wanted to get involved in the ‘action’. You can see the full story of this remarkable woman by clicking here.
(Bizarrely, at one point during the war, in southern England, Marga and Irene were arrested as German spies. They were riding their motorbikes, and, as it was so unusual for young women to be doing such a thing, they were immediately held on suspicion).

About Monica, the Sister of Charity nun, very little is known. Family lore says that she was so badly affected by her war work – tending to damaged soldiers in a London hospital – that it unhinged her mental state. It’s said she never recovered and had to be looked after by her fellow nuns until she died.
And so to Marga herself. As usual she depicts herself as unattractive and last in regard (though she was actually second-eldest). The real fact is however that she was already running her own successful stained-glass studio in London; she was one of the main bread-winners for her mother.

Fortunately, all the family members survived the war.

Agnes Maud

As is fitting, Agnes Maud, the matriarch, fills most of the card.
She was, by accounts, a formidable woman, and some older people in Shrewsbury remember her still and tell stories about her. Apparently, she disliked motor cars, and even in old age walked up the steep hill to services at Shrewsbury Cathedral from her home (a house known as The Priory, which now forms part of the town’s Sixth Form College). On winter days, when darkness fell early, she would use an old-fashioned candle lantern to light her way.

… and the dog? Ah, whoever he or she was is lost in the mists of time….

This card is one of the interesting ‘surprise’ items on the official Margaret Rope website: http://www.arthur.rope.clara.net/oldsurprise2.htm
The card must have been copied and sent out to a number of people, as one than one copy survives. It can be see by the public at the Margaret Rope Archive in Suffolk.

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▪A private grave

It was sixty-four years ago today (5th December) that Margaret Agnes Rope died. However you will seek her grave in vain; only the permitted few are allowed to visit it.
And this is because Marga – aka Sister Margaret of The Mother Of God – died, and was buried, as she had latterly lived, away from public gaze, behind the walls of the estate of the convent of the ‘enclosed’ order of nuns that she had entered at the age of forty-one.
After her final vows, she lived without direct contact from very few but her sister nuns for thirty years.

Straw beds & six hours sleep

The Order of Discalced Carmelite Nuns is one that has a long history, and had a high reputation in the 1920s when Marga was looking for a religious life.

It is surprising that she did not join The Sisters Of Mercy or a Sisters Of Charity order – these were ones that a number of her relatives had joined. However, the Carmelite house at Woodbridge in Suffolk was near to where her paternal grandfather’s family lived, so it may just have been at hand, or Marga may have been positively attracted to the idea of leaving the public world behind – an aspect which the other orders could not offer.

Sister Margaret of the Mother of God
Sister Margaret, 1925

However, it was no easy life she was opting for.
A contemporaneous account of life at the Woodbridge Carmelite house describes a tough life:
“These Woodbridge nuns observed the liturgical hours of Church through an eighteen hour day which began at 4.45am when they rose to sing the prayer of the Church together in choir. Their day was divided into periods of time for solitary meditation, communal recreation, and work.
At night they slept on beds of straw palliasses (thin pads) laid on boards. In the day had no chairs but sat on the floor. They had two meals, one at 11am and one at 6pm. They ate no meat and grew their own vegetables. They exercised in the garden and needed also space in the convent for this.” (sic)

As we know, Sister Margaret continued at her stained-glass commissions even after she joined the convent (this was a way to bring much-needed funds into the community).  It’s extraordinary to think she could combine the physically demanding work of glass design with just six hours sleep, much intense prayer and just two meals.


No one can know if she pushed herself too hard, but she was in failing health by her mid-fifties, effectively putting a brake on her career.

During the war, the nuns had to move to a new convent at Quidenham, and it was here a decade later that Margaret died, from the complications of pneumonia, in 1953. Grave of Sister Margaret of the Mother of GodAlthough it is not permitted to outsiders to enter the convent-enclosure to visit the grave, it has been photographed.
It is a simple cross with a dedication on its base. The lettering of the dedication has become badly eroded but it is just still legible; the inscription on it is in carved Roman majuscule script and reads (in Latin):
Sister Margaret of The Mother Of God, born 20 June 1882, professed as a nun (monacha) on 1st July 1925, died 6th December 1953

The Latin on the cross-head reads Pax Christi – the peace of Christ.

Thanks to the St Thomas Woodbridge website for the excerpt; and thanks to Quidenham Monastery for the use of the photograph of Marga’s gravestone.

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▪Neglected female artists

Recently, the Sunday Bulletin newsletter in the UK ran a series of four articles called ‘Hidden From History’, each about a neglected female artist. Among the four was Margaret Rope.

These features, written by arts critic Joanna Moorhead, reminded us all of the astonishing discrimination against talented women that existed across the last 500 years. Not only that, but these artists also then had their achievements forgotten or ignored by the Establishment after their deaths.

Sunday Bulletin Oct 2017
Ms Moorhead points out that, even today, pieces by female artists makes up less than 5% of the holdings of major art galleries; and only 3% of art books are about women practitioners.


The artists chosen by Joanna Moorhead for the series were: Artemisia Gentileschi, Elisabetta Sirani, Imogen Stuart and our own Margaret Agnes Rope.
Of them all, Gentileschi (who lived in the seventeenth-century) is the one now gaining wider recognition – her paintings are tours de force that leave one stunned.
Elisabetta Sirani, who had the fortune to have a father in the business, had competed thirteen public altar-pieces by the time she died in 1665, at just 27. (In this she vaguely resembles Margaret, who completed the largest stained-glass work produced by a woman at that point, the Great West Window, when she was only 29).
Imogen Stuart, the Irish sculptor, is still living, with sculptures in cathedrals across Ireland – but how many of us have heard of her?

Of course, the common thread to these four is that a male figure (often the father, sometimes a patron) is in the business, and – one presumes – has been open-minded and strong enough to support and promote the said female artist, who otherwise might never have made through the ‘glass ceiling’ at all. (For Marga, the male figure was her patron/mentor, Canon Moriarty).

It is however a dire reflection on the state of (male-dominated) art-criticism down the centuries that they get relegated to footnotes thereafter.

Museum of women’s art

Fortunately, change is afoot. Moorhead reminds us that the National Museum Of Women In The Arts in Washington DC was founded in 1987, and it continues its mission to promote and acquire works by women artists.
(None of Margaret’s work is on show in galleries. A project to see one of her pieces get a semi-permanent display in Shrewsbury Museum appears to be foundering, while the two pieces of hers in American galleries have been buried in basements ever since they were acquired just over a decade ago).

And, never say die. Perhaps, in 2018, the year of the anniversary of women’s suffrage in the UK, one might see a quickening of progress…

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For examples of the astonishing ignorance (discrimination?) concerning the work of Margaret Rope, even in her homelands, see our Neglected feature

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▪Christmas in cards

As the festive season approaches, the usual quest for appropriate Christmas cards gets under way, and, yes – you can find some such cards using designs by Margaret Agnes Rope.
They are published and printed by the Carmelite convent at Quidenham, which was Marga’s home (as Sister Margaret Of The Mother Of God) between 1948 and her death in 1953. The nuns at Quidenham still honour her memory.

Curiously, only one of the five Marga Christmas cards printed by Quidenham features a stained-glass window – a card she based on her ‘Paris’ Nativity window, created in the 1930s but since transferred to Quidenham Chapel (see pic, below)Nativity Christmas card

Arts & Crafts

The designs on three of the other four cards were originally simply private seasonal cards specifically made by Marga for a limited circulation, ie among her sister nuns.

Marga designed many illustrated cards in her lifetime, but these should not be seen just as the casual works of a quiet moment. In fact, these ‘minor works’ reflect the Arts & Crafts ethos she learnt as a student: an ethos which called on artists to be pluri-disciplinary craftspeople, and to experiment with different media. For example, her ‘Bethlehem’ card (see below) is an example of a very innovative approach to the City Of God motif she depicted so often elsewhere but one that would not have worked in glass.Bethlehem Christmas Card Classic-75

The last of the Quidenham-printed cards is actually a photograph. It shows the life-size painted figures which make up a nativity scene put together and created by Marga. This collection of figures – about a dozen of them – was actually not seen in public until last year, when the convent loaned them to the Margaret Rope Exhibition at Shrewsbury Museum. Until then, the figures had been the Christmas highlight in the nuns’ private chapel.

You’ll find details of the five cards, and their prices, on the Quidenham website:
The Word was made Flesh / Paris (Classic 63); Bethlehem (Classic 75); Midwinter Madonna (Midi 37); Come and Adore (Midi 48); Margaret Rope Crib Figures (Midi 47).

In the archives

Of course, there are many more card designs by Marga, most of which are lying neglected in her unresearched papers.

One of the most exciting aspects of the recent news – that Marga’s papers are being transferred (as we speak) to a new, custom-built archives room – is that scholars will at last be able to sift through the documents properly – and will probably find unidentified drawings by her, including designs for cards.

One card that we are aware of, and believe will be there in the papers, is her World War Two Christmas card, which shows a soldier, sailor and airman approaching the stable (see below). It will be a revelation to see the real thing.Nativity + searchlights Christmas card

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▪Margaret Rope(s) photo-book published

It’s a happy day when one can say that one can get two Margaret Ropes for the price of one. And that is the case this month as the long-awaited photo-book of Margaret Edith Rope’s stained-glass works finally reaches publication.
Margaret Edith Rope is of course the cousin (younger by eight years) of Margaret Agnes Rope; and this book is the follow-up by Arthur Rope (a descendant, actually) to his earlier photo-book of Margaret Agnes’ works.
(Margaret Edith was also a stained-glass artist, which is why the two are often confused.)

The book comes in a number of formats (see below for details); and for those with deep pockets, you can even buy, in one volume, the earlier book (updated) combined with this later one.

The Two Margarets book
Margaret Edith, aka Tor

The two cousins were brought up on opposite sides of the country, but, thanks to the nature of their close extended family, would have known each other well. They would have used their family nicknames – Margaret Edith was Tor, Margaret Agnes was Marga.

There are amazing similarities to aspects of their lives – both called Margaret Rope of course, both took up stained-glass (which caused the younger cousin to call herself M.E.Aldrich Rope in professional circles, to distinguish herself from Margaret Agnes); both were born Anglican and converted to Catholicism, both were unmarried, and both mixed in the Putney artistic milieu of the 1910s/1920s.

Tor seems to have joined Marga at the famous Glass House Studios in London in 1911 when she was barely twenty and when Marga was already established. At the Glass House, instead of having to work within the restrictions of a corporate environment, young men and women glass-artists could carve out their own independent careers.
Presumably – no one is really sure – Tor acted as a sort of assistant to Marga for a few years, before striking out on her own.

Work & style

Like Marga, one of Tor’s greatest works is a very early piece, a huge set of window-lights – the East Window at St Chad’s in Leeds. It is a dashing, freewheeling, exuberant piece of work.
However, the exigencies of making a living may have been behind the way she started later to tone down her style, as it evolved into something – as befitted the new democratic era, perhaps – plainer, simpler and more accessible, while still keeping a mastery of form. (At worst though, even her admirers will admit that her work does become ‘charming’).
Did she envy her cousin Marga, one wonders? Behind her convent walls, Marga could insist on her own vision, one that permitted a sense of ‘mystery’, symbology and uniqueness, as Marga did not have to kow-tow too much to a paymaster.

Wistanstow - nativity in St Anne window
Wistanstow Church – Tor’s nativity scene in the St Anne window

Though one may argue about who is the ‘better’ artist of the two, Tor’s name is certainly to be found in art-history researches more often. She figures in newspaper profiles; two of her glass panels are now exhibited in the Stained Glass Museum at Ely; and the V&A keep some of her work. No similar accolades are accorded to Marga (see Neglected Marga).
Tor didn’t lack for work either – she was working into her seventies.
She died in March 1988, thirty-five years after her elder cousin.


Arthur’s book is the first time that Tor’s work has received such a comprehensive profile. Like his earlier book profiling Marga, nearly every page is covered in superb photographs of the works, which each have tantalising captions and informative descriptions.

Though not a work of biography as such, there is yet enough here about Tor and her life to make one wish that one had known her; she seems to have met and been friends with many of the great female stained-glass makers of the years between the wars.
Arthur is clearly a fan of Tor’s work, and he ensures it is given a fair airing.

Formats aplenty

Thanks to the joys of modern online publishing, the reader can choose in which format s/he wishes to purchase this fruit of Arthur’s labours.
Because this started as a self-generated online project, one can choose it as an ‘pdf’ e-version (for tablets, Kindles etc) – but one can also have a printed version.

And – joy of joys – one can even pick a version which puts the works of both Margaret Edith and Margaret Agnes into the one volume…  In other words, Arthur has managed to combine the works of both Margarets into a ‘double-volume’, so that his earlier profile of Marga’s works and the new profile of Margaret Edith’s works can be found in the one book.
Online publishing makes such things possible.

For myself, in acquiring the book, the format that worked best was the format that brought both Tor’s and Marga’s works together in one volume – and in printed form to boot. (Colours still seem truer on paper than on a computer screen).
To have Marga’s and Tor’s glass together in a printed book made it easier to compare and contrast their careers – a fascinating process – and this ‘double-volume’ comprises nearly 120 pages, so there is plenty to go at.
Click here for details of how and what choices to purchase.

The online-publishing platform which Arthur has used is Blurb.  One advantage of Blurb is that it provides previews of the pages within the books as well as views of the cover… so you can peruse first!
The disadvantage of Blurb is that it sets the price, so the large-format printed versions can run expensive.  But… they are things of great beauty…

Arthur Rope is to be congratulated on the achievement: stylish, professional and beautifully presented, any lover of Arts & Crafts Movement stained-glass will consider this work a must-have item.