Kempe (?) (no in fact a WalterTapper) altar frontal at Grantham

Grantham, St Wulfram
Click through for high resolution photos

I took these photos in the summer on a trip to St Wulfram's Grantham, Lincolnshire with Gordon Plumb, but have only just got round to uploading them to Flickr. They show details of a really splendid altar frontal on the lady chapel altar. It has a backing of blue silk decorated with glorious embroideries. The theme of the iconography is Marian. The first line of the Magnificat is embroidered on the frontlet.

Grantham, St Wulfram

The main frontal continues the theme, making use of various titles and attributes given to Our Lady. Out of a hortus conclusus (enclosed garden), grow two branches of conjoined stems both flowering with red roses and and lily flowers. The stems trail out over the rest of the frontal. Between them other Marian titles are depicted. Sedes sapientiae (Seat of Wisdom), Foederis Acca (Ark of the Covenant), Fons Hortorum (fount of the garden), Torris Davidica (Tower of David), Porta Coeli (gate of heaven), Regina Angelorum (Queen of Angels), Oliva Speciosa (fair olive tree), Stella Matutina (morning star). The artist has included two seraphim standing on wheels, which are evidently derived from medieval examples, probably from Mary Barber's drawings.

Grantham, St Wulfram

All in all it is a glorious piece, but who is it by? Well I don't know. The altar is surrounded by some rather fine Kempe windows and Gordon and I suspect that it came out of Kempe's studios. Perhaps it was made by the Clewer sisters, who are known to have produced some fine work for Kempe. Very little of their work can be attributed firmly, but I can't help thinking that the colouring of the silkwork on the Grantham frontal has parallels with the red Kempe frontal at St Marks' Philadelphia. I David d'Ambly doesn't mind me using his photo to illustrate it.

Kempe Red Frontal St Mark's Philadelphia

Addendum.  Well it turns out I was a little off beam with my musings.  Gordon has made some enquiries and apparently the frontal was designed by the architect Walter Tapper and made by Watts and Co. It was given by Emma Sedgwick in 1928.  Tapper was one of the last Gothic revivalists, but he came out of the same stable as Kempe, both learning their trade in Bodley's drawing office.     


Zephyrinus said…
Thank you, Allan, for this marvellous Post on a most interesting and beautiful church. The altar frontal is truly outstanding. I also enjoyed your Flickr photographs and photo slideshow. in Domino.
Minnie said…
Beatiful, Allan, thank you. I hope you - or someone - will solve the mystery of the works' origins.
Christian said…
Thank you Allan for this wonderful blog. I just discovered it and spent most of the afternoon reading through all your old posts. Fantastic.
Frugal Dougal said…
I used to live in Grantham, whose residents are justifiably proud of St Wulfram's - thank you for this wonderful post!
Davis d'Ambly said…
Happy as always to supply a photo, Alan.

St Mark's Philadelphia has 5 frontals made by the Clewer Sisters for Kempe.

The fabric on the second you show is now called "Hilliard" by Watts, but it was originally called "The Bird" and was supplied (woven?) by Helbronner. The way the embroideries are laid down makes me wonder if they haven't re-laid it... Handsome - all of them, thank you.
Davis d'Ambly said…
I now see that they are all laid down on the same fabric.
Minnie said…
Thank you for the enlightening update, Allan. Turns out you were very close to the mark after all, as the two learnt their craft in the same studio.
Convenor said…

Dear Mr. Barton,

I edit a journal here in Ireland called CHRISTVS REGNAT. I have been trying to find someone who would be able to write a piece for us on one or two subjects: The Sarum Rite in Ireland (or something along those lines) and the liturgical implications of 'Anglicanorum Coetibus' for the Latin Rite (or something about the variety of liturgical forms likely to be used by Ordinariates).

I hope that my request isn't offensive.
Convenor said…
I should have added:
Peter Mullins said…
Tapper also designed the extraordinary Font cover in the church.
Allan Barton said…
Thank you all. @Peter, yes I understand he did and a second frontal for the high altar and the organ case. Peter don't you have in your care, Little Coates, one of his most complete churches?
Anthony Symondson SJ said…
I am a little surprised that Tapper's frontal at Grantham was thought to be by Kempe because it is more classical in design than his work and less densely ornamented.

I am glad that the school of Bodley is being rediscovered by a new generation. For those of us brought up when it was coming to an end it forms part of an armoury of Anglican taste that was largely destroyed in the 1960s.

Alan Barton, as a medievalist, sees symbolic horticultural references in the design but, like much early-c20 ecclesiastical work, Comper provides a closer precedent.

The key to embroidery of the period using winding tendrils lies in the Stonyhurst cope, now kept in the Victoria & Albert Museum. Lady Marion Alford drew attention to it as a source of design in her book 'Needlework in Art', 1886. Comper read this book as a note in one of his sketchbooks of 1894-6 records.

The Stonyhurst cope is of gold tissue and formed part of the vestments bequeathed by King Henry VII to Westminster Abbey in 1509. The structure of the woven design is in the form of sinuous branches of rose briars enclosing the Tudor badge and portcullises. The textile is of a Florentine weave thought to have been designed by Torrigiano. The cope was part of a set intended for the Henry VII chapel and was worn at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

Comper first used the precedent for an altar frontal made for the private chapel of Windsor Castle (now lost) in 1901 and for the sumptuous High Mass vestments made for St Mark's, Philadelphia, in 1903, previously illustrated on this web site using photographs taken by Davis d'Ambly. He went on to use the precedent further in painted glass but notably transformed it into sculpture for the alabaster reredos at St John's, Stockcross, Berkshire in 1905.

Tapper and Comper were contemporaries in Bodley & Garner's drawing office where Tapper was manager. He and Tapper had an edgy relationship but it is significant that Tapper not only adopted the form of the Gothic altar in some of his churches (notably at the Annunciation, Bryanston Street, Marble Arch, London, which originally had one in front of Bewsey's gilded triptych). He was also influenced by Comper's embroidery and painted glass design and the Grantham frontal is partly indebted to it, though not as closely modelled on the briar forms in the Stonyhurst cope. Nevertheless, the design solution originates there. Tapper went on to use the precedent elsewhere.

None can ignore the powerful influence that Comper exercised on medievalist taste from 1892 onwards and the speed with which his discoveries and design were copied and adapted not only by his contemporaries and those who followed them. Indeed, the embroidery and general purity of design in the Grantham frontal owe everything to Comper's disciplined abstraction. It was made, like all Tapper's work in textiles, by Watts & Co.

Should any wish to know more about Comper early needlework cf my article, 'Art Needlework in Ireland', Irish Arts Review Yearbook, 1994, pp126-135. The Royal Irish School of Art Needlwork executed some of his best early work and was as good as the Embroidery School of the Sisters of Bethany. It was run by Comper's friend and contemporary, Geraldine, Countess of Mayo.
Peter Mullins said…
Yes, Alan, Little Coates is a Tapper church; a small village church which has ended up as the Lady Chapel and side aisle of his much larger 1916 church (the same solution that Nicholson used for extending Frodingham church at the same time). I'd once hoped you'd visit to give an opinion on the mediaeval Font, but am now glad that you didn't as I suspect that recent alterations would not get totally sympathetic treatment on your blog. I'm grateful for the information in Fr Symondson's comments here and a few posts back providing the context for some of the furnishings. A Tapper enthusiast has just put up and would probably value you both visiting there and contributing what you know; he has only dealt with buildings thus far but i known he'd like to get on to furnishings in due course.
Allan Barton said…
@Peter. Now this sounds like an admission of guilt? Are you suggesting that alterations to Little Coates have been made that are not quite as they could or should be? Please don't get me wrong I don't mind alterations, church buildings have been in a state of flux since the Middle Ages. What I do find difficult to stomach is when workmanship of high quality and classic design is replaced with workmanship that is shoddy and of poor quality. Many of the contemporary fittings and fixtures I see introduced into churches and this goes particularly for textiles, are done locally under no direction and are at best pedestrian and at worst downright ugly. My view is that in each generation only the best workmanship and materials available should be introduced to a church building. Good work of a previous generation should only be replaced with work of equal quality. Neither do I know this goes against the grain, but I don't believe that everybody has the ability to be an arbiter of what constitutes good work or good taste. So as you'd expect I'm rather keen on the DAC system when it works. I am more than happy to visit, if the invitation is still open! I would have visited sooner, but I've been rather occupied with moving.

I've seen the Tapper website and have met John Whitworth who runs it. It's an interesting site, his interest stems research he did on a demolished Tapper church in his area.

Anthony Symondson SJ said…
Further to my earlier comment on Tapper's inspiration for the Grantham altar frontal. The precedent is clearly and obviously Comper's painted and gilded hangings of leather which he designed for St Cyprian's, Clarence Gate, Marylebone, and which were in place for the consecration in 1903. The design owed its origin to the Stonyhurst cope. From the opening, St Cyprian's had a massive impact on the ecclesiastical taste of the time and was widely visited by church architects, craftsmen and glaziers, Tapper among them. The hangings have recently been cleaned and conserved by the V & A's textile conservation department. Compare photographs of them with the Grantham frontal and you will see the connection.

Allan Barton

If you plan to raise the taste of the Church of England you are embarking on a storm-tossed voyage that could lead to professional suicide, so deep is the antagonism towards, and ignorance of, good work. I agree with all you have written but it is not what Bishops and Archdeacons want to hear. Few these days are men of education and taste.

As for the DAC system, it once had moderating effects but in recenr years these have been nullified by political correctness. Representatives of all constituencies are now found on them in order to represent wider influences, including gender, race and 'mission'. This means that authorities on architecture, church furniture and glass are reduced in number and, despite representatives of the national amenity societies, their influence is nullified by 'pastoral' arguments and political interest. The days of your heroes, Percy Dearmer and F. C. Eeles, are lost in the mists of time.

Much of the worst work I have noticed in Anglican churches in recent years has been authorized by faculty based on the advice of the committees, especially in the Dioceses of London and Bath and Wells. This has led to the resignations of good members who have come to the conclusion that they are banging their heads against a wall. You will find this in every diocese in the country.
Allan Barton said…
Father thank you, but what a bleak picture you paint. I think you are quite right that such issues are deeply unfashionable. Are we not to strive for better things? I don't think I mix in particularly rarified circles, but many of the younger clergy of my acquaintaince are well educated and are of a similar mind in such matters. I think the same can be said of the younger catholic clergy, of which the NLM is clear evidence. It is perhaps professional suicide in the short term, but quite frankly I really couldn't care. Ultimately striving for beauty in the service of God is more important.
Anonymous said…
I am delighted by your optimism, Allan, and the confidence you place in some of your clerical contemporaries, Anglican and Catholic. Remember, that I write from the long perspective of the last forty years, some of the most difficult decades of the last century. Plough your furrow by all means, that is the prerogative of youth, but be prepared for politically-motivated knocks and principles based on 'Pitching the Tent', the 'Parson's Handbook' of our age.

A further thought on St Cyprian's influence on Tapper. The nether frontsl (as Comper described it} is, of course, strongly influenced by the Butler Bowden cope in the V & A. But the halpas, or upper frontal, is inspired by the Stonyhurst cope and from there it went on to influence Tapper at Grantham.

As for Tapper's architecture, it was as much influenced by G. G. Scott, Junior, as it was by Bodley & Garner. And his furniture and glass even more to Comper's influence. Yet, overall, his work was distinctively his own and is among some of the best church architecture of the first half of the c20.

Fr Bennett used to say of the Annunciation, Bryanston Street, and St Cyprian's, that Comper was as David to Tapper's Jonathan. A shrewd and perceptive comment I thought at the time.

By the way, are you related to C. G. Barton, for many years Vicar of Gautby in Lincolnshire? He came from an old Lincolnshire family and was born in Boston in 1874 or so. He died in 1957.
Anthony Symondson SJ said…
Sorry, the last comment was made by me.
Lawrence Lew OP said…
Outstanding embroidery and design on these!
Anonymous said…
Fr Symondson's comments are all too true about taste and love of beauty in worship. Sadly, where he writes Anglican or Church of England, he could have easily written: English Catholic or Roman Catholics in England, where, as he knows all too well, almost anything that was beautiful has been ejected from many if not most English Catholic churches.[with a number of glorious exceptions] Is this an ecumenical issue, now ? Just as F.C.Eeles,P.D. and many others are forgoten in the C.of E.are forgotten now,so is the work of Dom Gueranger,Pugin,Fr Clement Russell(St George's Sudbury),Canon Ronald Pilkington; a random choice of Catholic beautfiers. Alan Robinson
Canon Tallis said…
Since there does not seem to be a Leave Your Comment place on the post on Stow, I am leaving it here. The Church is beautiful, majestic and should be considered a treasure by all who think or call themselves Anglicans all over the world. It must be rescued and we surely are bring that about.

I am a complete clutz at things like the internet or charities - especially the British charity law - but there should be someone in the Anglican community who could create a charity and a trust to raise the money world wide. When we come to England we don't want to see ruins or historic building placed in some sort of National Trust for Poor Parishes, but living reminders of the great faith and treasury that the English church has bestowed upon the whole of the English speaking world. There certainly should be enough loyal and faithful Anglicans, establishment and otherwise who could spare one pound or ten to save and repair this building. We need a website and someone to set up a trust so that donations can be received and used to keep this and restore this historic Church.

I realize, Allan, from the fewer posts made since taking up your new post that you are going to be an especially busy priest and maybe unable to do any more than you have done by this one post, but I am hoping that others who read this blog and don't want to see these treasure destroyed will pitch in and volunteer their particular talents to do what we can. We should remember that time is a very precious commody and we all have so little of it these days. So who will volunteer to help keep this noble church up and living for the next thousand years.
Allan Barton said…
Apologies to all. For some reason I disabled the comments box, though I'm not quite sure how I managed to do that. Canon Tallis, I've posted your message where it belongs.

I think you are quite right, this church is not just a national treasure but a building of international importance, both architecturally, spiritually and culturally. There are few buildings that trace their roots so directly back to the early days of the faith in this island. A building that was of major importantance well before Lincoln Cathedral was established. The care for a building of this significance should be the responsibility of the whole church, not just the local church. Sadly since the Reformation the burden has fallen full square on the local congregation. The parishioners were all for demolishing it in the 1850s and had it not been for the effort of George Atkinson the rector in face of opposition, it would have gone. So its future has always been precarious.

Sadly things are rather better now, the congregation love and appreciate the building. There is a trust, the Friends of Stow Minster, established to promote awarenss of the building and to raise funds. If anybody is willing to contribute directly to the restoration I can let them know how to do so. A number of lines of enquiry have been pursued and sufficient funding has been found to repair the transept roofs, but there is a great shortfall. What I would appreciate is for people to promote and make the minster known. It is in a bit of a backwoods and people don't know about it. Secondly I would gratefully receive suggestions as to any other lines of enquiry we might pursue to secure further funding.
Anonymous said…
I have an embroidered book of Tennysons Poems dated 1893 with the front cover embroidered with pink roses tied with white ribon and it is gold leafed.I have tried to find out more about this book and the value. Has anyone any information on this Book
Rosemary Potter