Wikipedia has an extensive and very well illustrated series of articles about stained glass,which are well worth reading for further information. Much of the following is condensed from them.
Stained glass, as an art form, reached its height in the Middle Ages when it became a major pictorial form used to illustrate the narratives of the Bible to a largely illiterate populace, and it was sometimes known as the Poor Man’s Bible, for the windows and walls showed bible scenes. Dr Powell (The Ancient Borough of Bridgwater, 1907 vol 1, p 113) remarked that St Mary’s would have been bright with painted colour and with stained glass in the windows, but this disappeared after the Reformation.
No record remains of what was once there, but an idea of the opulence can be gained from the inventory of the plate and vestments, dated 3 October 1447. It is most likely that the Friary church and St John’s Hospital chapel also had coloured glass.
The present pulpit had traces of colour in the carvings when the Victorians got at it — they scraped it away and stained the wood black. There are colour traces still in the medieval bosses in the Chancel roof, and may be traced on the font.
During the Reformation in England which started in the reign of Henry VIII, and was urged on by reformers such as Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer, limited official action was taken against religious images in churches. Henry’s young son, Edward VI, came to the throne in 1547 and, under Cranmer’s guidance, issued injunctions for Religious Reforms in the same year and in 1550, an Act of Parliament “for the abolition and putting away of divers books and images.” During the English Civil War, Bishop Joseph Hall of Norwich described the events of 1643 when troops and citizens, encouraged by a Parliamentary ordinance against superstition and idolatry, behaved thus:
Lord what work was here! What clattering of glasses! What beating down of walls! What tearing up of monuments! What pulling down of seats! What wresting out of irons and brass from the windows! What defacing of arms! What demolishing of curious stonework! What tooting and piping upon organ pipes! And what a hideous triumph in the market-place before all the country, when all the mangled organ pipes, vestments, both copes and surplices, together with the leaden cross which had newly been sawn down from the Green-yard pulpit and the service-books and singing books that could be carried to the fire in the public market-place were heaped together.
The town was stormed on 21 July 1645. Fairfax took Eastover with 600 prisoners, finding that most of the suburb had been fired. He then crossed the Parrett, forcing the royalists to yield the town. A total of 2,000 prisoners, 800 horse, and 36 guns were taken. Estimates of the damage varied. Fairfax said that a third of the town had been burnt, while a royalist declared that ‘most of the town’ was destroyed by fire except some houses near the castle, the damage ascribed either to Col. Wyndham or to the townsmen. Henry Harvey, lord of the Castle manor, claimed to have lost £4,000 including a house by the bridge, and the mayor in 1656 asked help to repair 120 houses destroyed in the town including the almshouses. Many of the inhabitants had removed themselves for safety to Wembdon. Presumably St Mary’s may have been caught up in either the artillery duel between Eastover and the Cornhill, the subsequent fire of the town, or been sacked by Parliamentary soldiers.
The Catholic revival in England, gaining force in the early 19th century with its renewed interest in the medieval church, brought a revival of church building in the Gothic style, claimed by John Ruskin to be “the true Catholic style”. The architectural movement was led by Augustus Welby Pugin — under whom had worked on the re-building of House of parliament, W.H.Brakspear the architect of the Victorian restoration of St Mary’s.
Clayton and Bell was one of the most prolific and proficient English workshops of stained glass during the latter half of the 19th century and early 20th century, and three of their windows are in St George’s chapel, the two Sealy windows and the Plowman window. The Good window in the chancel is also one of theirs. The company was founded in 1855 and continued until 1993. The 19th-century windows of Clayton and Bell are typified by their brilliant luminosity. This is because they were quick to adopt the advice of the student of Medieval glass Charles Winston, who propounded that “modern” commercially made coloured glass was not effective for stained-glass windows, as it lacked the right refractive quality. In 1863 John Richard Clayton was among those who was experimenting with the manufacture of so-called pot metal or coloured glass produced by simple ancient manufacturing techniques which brought about great variability in the texture and colour of glass which is characteristic of ancient windows. It is possible that more of St Mary’s windows were made by them — more investigation is needed.
Work in Progress, pictures perspective corrected where possible. Based on Sir Mervyn Medlicott’s 2013 survey, expanded and corrected.
1851: South Porch (later removed)
Morning Chronicle, Saturday 22 November 1851
ST. MARY’S CHURCH. We understand that Mr Alfred Beer, of Exeter, is executing a stained -glass window from a design by W. H. Brakspear, Esq., for the south porch of St. Mary’s Church, which will be presented by Mr. H Salmon, of this town. We have been favoured with a sight of some beautiful work by this talented artist …..shows a great superiority in style and finish. The chancel of the church at Grenton, in this county, has lately been supplied with several elegant windows, the workmanship of Mr A. Beer. We trust the example of Mr. Salmon will be followed by others of our townsmen, in order to effectually complete the restoration of our parish church.
Bridgwater Times, 18 December 1851
We mentioned a week or two since, that Mr Henry Salmon had give orders to Mr Alfred Beer, the talented artist of Exeter, for the execution of a window for our parish church, which is now in the course of restoring. The window has been completed and now fixed over the south porch and adds to the well placed laurels of the young and talented artist. We understand the young artist has received instructions to prepare designs and tenders for two other windows for St Mary’s, which are intended to be presented by gentlemen of the town. From the work already executed by Mr Beer we have no doubt the forthcoming designs will possess great merit.
Jarman: Over the south porch is a small chapel corresponding with the parvice on the opposite side, and like the latter, having a-carved free-stone front. It was formerly faculty seat belonging to the Harvey family, of’ Bridgwater Castle, and afterwards, through, the same family, becoming appurtenant to the Old Globe Hotel property. It contains a very brilliant coloured window, presented by Mr. Henry Salmon (Henricus Salmon: Dono Dedit).
The glass was later stripped out and replaced with plain.
The Beer studio in Exeter was started by Robert Beer (1798-1850). He may have begun in 1820, but the earliest identified window dates from 1842. He had married Elizabeth Drake in 1827, and they had two sons and two daughters and moved to Exeter from Teinmouth in 1837, where they established a studio in Okehampton Street – then to move to Bartholomew Street in 1857. They carried out work for a number of clients in both Devon and Somerset, much driven by the demands of the Gothic Revival which influenced members of the Exeter Diocese Architectural Association, many of whom patronised Beer. Many commissions were noted in the press, as is evidenced in Bridwater. Robert Beer died in 1850 following surgery. His son Alfred succeeded him. and ran the business till his own death fifteen years later.
Mary Siraut, Editor of the VCH Somerset, writes: Alfred Beer was born in Teignmouth in 1831 and by 1851 was working with his mother Elizabeth a professional glass painter of Allhallows Exeter employing 5 men. By 1861 Alfred had married and become a partner in his mother’s business. He continued to live with her at 40 Bartholomew Street. He died 30 November 1866, only 37 years old. More on the firm can be read here.
The V&A advise that there is no trace of Brakspear’s design for the glass among his surviving papers.
1852: Ford Memorial Window, Corporation Chapel
Dorset County Chronicle – Thursday 25 March 1852:
A large stained window also been put in the South aisle of the Church, manufactured and designed by Mr. Alfred Beer, Exeter, being the gift of Thomas Ford, Esq., Mayor of the borough.
Jarman (Book of SM) says: There is a handsome stained window in the Corporation chapel, given by the late Mr. Thomas Ford, Mayor of Bridgwater, in 1852. An inscription to that effect will be found inserted in some devices across the top of the sections, where there is a representation of the borough arms, and also those of the donor himself—Azure, three lions, rampant, argent.
c.1876 Sealy Memorial Windows, St George’s Chapel
These were the first windows added since the south porch and Ford window.
“To the glory of God and sacred to the memory of John SEALY, who died 15 th December, A.D. 1864, aged 84 years, also of Emma, his wife, who died 25th August, A.D. 1825, aged 27 Also of their two sons, John Lovell Sealy, who died 25th July, A.D. 1876, aged 56 years and of Edmund Grey Sealy, who died 31st October, A.D. 1864, aged 41 years”.
Second Window, presumably contemporary.
“To the glory of God and sacred to the memory of the SEALY family, for some centuries resident in Bridgwater, many of whom are buried in a vault in the chancel of this church about eleven feet distant from these windows”.
Jarman says about the above: Since the preceding was written three very handsome stained glass windows (supplied by Messrs, Clayton and Bell, London); have been placed in ;the east chapel. Two were erected to the Sealy family by Miss Sealy, of The Priory, Bridgwater, and depict eighteen scenes from the life of Christ. The first bears the inscription : “ To the glory of God, and sacred to the memory, of the Sealy family,’ for some centuries resident in Bridgwater, many of whom are buried in a vault in the chancel of the church, about eleven feet from, these windows.” Two scrolls have the texts, “Now hath Christ been raised from the dead,” and “. Death is swallowed up in victory.” On the second window are the texts, “ I am the Resurrection and the Life,” and “ I know that my Redeemer liveth,” and at the .bottom runs the following inscription : “To the glory of God, and sacred to the memory of John Sealy, who died 15th December, A.D. 1864, aged 84 years. Also; of Emma, his wife, who died 25th August, A.D. 1825, aged 27 years. Also of their two sons, John Lovell Sealy, who died ,25th July, A.D. 1876, aged 56 years, and Edward Grey Sealy, who died 31st October, A.D. 1864, aged 41 years.’’ In each window, are representations, of the family coats of arms, with the mottoes, “ Confido ” (I trust”), and “ Concipe spes certas” (“ Conceive sure hope.”)
1877: Windows for the West End
The Bridgwater Times of 14 March, 1877 reports of civic service with details of a fund to replace the glass in the windows at the west end of the church: presumably with stained glass. This effort seems to have come to nothing.
1880: Good Memorial Window, Chancel
Stained glass south window, Victorian in date by dedicated to an eighteenth century individual: “In memory of Benjamin GOOD, died 19 Nov: 1768, aged 69” Jarman says: It represents the patriarch Jacob, with his younger sons Joseph and Benjamin. Good was Mayor of Bridgwater in 1752, 1758 and 1763. Stone Monument in the south aisle (now missing): Benjamin GOOD, surgeon, three times Mayor of this town, dyed Nov 19, 1768, aged 69.
West Somerset Free Press 11 September 1880: BRIDGWATER: NEW CHURCH WINDOW: A handsome and valuable stained-glass window (supplied by Messrs Clayton and Bell of London), has just been placed in the chancel of St Mary’s Church, in this town, by Mr J.H. Good, of Upper Hamilton Terrace, London, in memory of Mr Benjamin Good, his grandfather, who was thrice mayor of Bridgwater.
c.1880: George Henning Pain Memorial Window, Chancel North Side.
George Henning Pain lived in Dampiet House.
Top light: IHS – the initials of Christ in Greek.
2nd and 3rd row of lights: a choir of angels (ie these three rows represent the heavens, with Christ at the top)
Left light: King David (not St David of Wales), David holding a harp/lyre is usually a visial metaphor for him composing the psalms.
Central light: Christ as the good shepherd
Right light: St John the Apostle (not John the Baptist), taken to be author of various books of the bible (hence the pen and book) and the only apostle to die of natural causes.
Essentially here we have a window depicting Jesus instructing by example, David instructing via song, and John instructing via the word.
c.1882: Thomas Plowman Memorial Window, St George’s Chapel
“Thomas PLOWMAN died Christmas Day 1882, aged 73 years Mary Ralls Plowman, died April 22, 1882, aged 73 years”.
A nearby brass plaque on the east wall beside the above window reads: “To the glory of God and in loving memory of Thomas PLOWMAN who died Christmas Day 1882, aged 73 years Also his wife Mary Ralls Plowman who died April 22nd 1882, aged 73 years The east window of this chapel was erected by their children”.
Jarman notes: The third window [in the east chapel], and the largest, was the gift of Miss Plowman, erected to the memory of members of her family. It illustrates the text—“ For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me drink : I was a stranger and ye took me in : naked and ye clothed me : I was sick, and ye visited me : I was in prison, and ye came unto me St Matthew. xxv., 35, 36.
c.1890: Parsons Memorial Window, Tower Window
Ellen Parson was the wife of Dr F. J. C. Parsons, churchwarden, whose plaque is in the North Transept. She was aged 77 when she died
In the top light is a personification of hope, holding an anchor.
The bottom of the window, with this text, is obscured by the floor of the ringing chamber installed in 1980, so can now only be read with difficulty. We are most grateful to Richard Lee for helping with this.
From the Taunton Courier:
The Melancholy Death of a Lady at Bridgwater. At the Town-hall, Bridgwater, Feb. 11, 1890 [Note — 2 days after the date on the window]
Mr P. O. H. Reed, the borough coroner, held an inquest on the body of Mrs Parsons, wife of Mr John Parsons, sen., medical practitioner, of that borough, who died under melancholy circumstances on Saturday night. Dr. Winterbotham deposed that the body was much scorched, with the exception the feet and hands. The burns were for the most part of a superficial character, and were not, in opinion, sufficient to account for death. He concluded that death resulted from stoppage of the heart’s action, and he was sure the deceased lady had for some time past suffered from a weak heart. Annie May, housemaid, stated that for the past few days her mistress had been suffering from severe cold, and was constantly confined her bed. On Saturday evening, shortly after seven o clock, the deceased partook of dinner, and when witness left the room her mistress was in bed, and a chair was placed before the fire with nightdress the back of it. She left the bedroom door ajar, and whilst absent heard no noise or disturbance, but about twenty minutes after she had left the room thought she smelt something burning, upon entering the deceased’s room she was horrified in finding the deceased sitting the chair with her night-dress completely burnt off. She was dead, and the night-dress left the back of the chair was still smouldering. Witness, although much alarmed, manage to remove the deceased from the chair to the floor, and from there, with the assistance of others, to the bed. When she (witness) went into the room first she rang the bell violently, and consequently broke the rope She was aware from her own knowledge that the deceased had suffered from weak heart and had become more feeble.
The Foreman: He most deeply sympathised with Mr Parsons and other members of the family their sad bereavement, and he was sure was echoing the sentiments of the jury, and not only so, but those of the inhabitants generally, the deceased being most genial, kind, and charitable lady. After a short deliberation the jury returned a verdict that death resulted from natural causes, namely, failure the heart’s action rated by fright, occasioned by the night dress worn by the deceased having caught fire. On the suggestion of the jury, the Coroner undertook to forward a resolution of condolence to the bereaved family.
c.1895: Towells Memorial Window, North Trancept
“TOWELLS family memorial window”
Brass Plaque (below the above window) (with coat of arms). “In memoriam Hercules TOWELLS, died 1 March 1862 Susan, his wife, died 14 August 1873 Henry, their son, died 24 November John, their son, died 23 February 1892 Mary Ann SMITH, their dau: died 8 May 1895.
This tablet and stained glass window have been placed here in accordance with directions contained in the will of the said Mary Ann Smith to the memory of the above”.
1903: Halson Memorial Window, North Transcept
“To the glory of God and in memory of Albert HALSON, of this town, this window was erected by his widow, A.D. 1903”.
White on black marble Tablet (below the above window).
“To the glory of God and in loving memory of Hannah HALSON relict of Albert Halson who died July 19th 1905 Erected by her surviving daughter”.
The upper text on the window, in a scroll held by three angels reads ‘where faith is lost in sight, and patient hope is crowned, and everlasting light its glory throws around’. This comes from the first verse of the hymn ‘There is a blessed home’ by Sir Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877)
The window bears the Latin: FIDES CHARITAS SPES, faith, charity and hope, below figures representing each quality. Faith looks to the heavens, holding the sceptre of the heavenly king; charity gives a needy boy a loaf of bread from her ample supply, while hope holds her heart and supports an anchor. Not to be confused with Saint Philomena, who also carries an anchor: an anchor was a metaphor for hope.
At the bottom of the window in the central roundel is a pelican feeding her young with her own blood, ‘pelican in her piety’, a metaphor for Christ’s sacrifice, a very popular emblem in the middle ages, and one keenly adopted by the Masonic orders.
Albert Halson was born 1832, his parents being Joseph and Jane nee Dunn and was living in St. Mary Street, Bridgwater in 1841. His father was a plumber. Albert was Initiated into Lodge 157 Perpetual Friendship, Bridgwater on 3rd March 1862, Passed on 7th April and Raised 6th May. 1862. Giving his occupation as being a Merchants Clerk. Source. UGLE Freemason Membership Records 1751 – 1921 He married Hannah Murliss the daughter of Joseph Murlis, a Tailor, at Holy Trinity, Bridgwater on 12th February 1863. He gave his Occupation as Accountant. The Western Gazette on 2nd April 1869 reported that he had been appointed Overseer for the Parish of Bridgwater. His business was as an Ironmonger & Gunsmith. He was buried at St. Mary Bridgwater 8th May 1902 and interred at Wembdon Road Cemetery. Taken from an article on St Mary’s church hosted by the Somerset Rose Croix, by LJFH, 2020
c.1909: Pearce/Truman Memorial Window, West End
“To the glory of God and in memory of Emma PEARCE, elder daughter of John and Ann TRUMAN, born at Bridgwater, May 11th 1840 entered into rest at Christchurch New Zealand, October 24th 1909”
c.1911: Cook Memorial Window, or Union Window, Corporation Chapel
Brass Plate below records: “This window was given by James COOK, J.P. and for nine years Town Clerk of Bridgwater in memory of his parents November 1911”.
James Cook (1835- November 1911) was a solicitor. He left £300 in his will to St Mary’s Church for a new stained glass window. Whether he had any influence on the ‘Unionist’ design is unclear: he was a liberal in politics, so this may be a subtle expression of federalism and support of Home Rule for the UK’s constituent nations. It depicts the saints of the constitute nations of the United Kingdom; St Patrick, St George, St Andrew and St David. At the very top is shown the town arms alongside the arms of King John, who granted the charter that founded the town. Below are depicted the Arms of each royal dynasty since. Cook also donated the four statues of the apostles in the Nave of the church.
c.1921: Waddon Memorial Window, North Trancept
White marble Tablet (below the above window).
“This window was placed here to the glory of God and in loving memory of John Henry WADDON, J.P. who died Jan: 29th 1915 Rose, his wife, who died April 29th 1921 And their children: Alfred Henry Faun Lilia Blanch, Kate Faun Herbert Henry and Florence John Henry, Rose Helena”.
John Henry Waddon was a rope maker of Eastover, and lived in Northfield House.
Another window, to Rose Helena Waddon, can be seen at Pawlett.
c.1924: Boulting Memorial Window, South Nave Aisle
Small stone Tablet on east side of stained glass south window reads: “To the glory of God this window was erected in memory of Susan BOULTING who died on the 9th April 1909. Also of George William Boulting husband of the above who died on the 20th day of March 1918. And Amy Boulting, daughter of the above, who died on the 23rd day of Novr: 1924”.
c.1954: Michell Memorial Window, South Nave Aisle
“To the glory of God, in memory of P. T. Pryce MICHELL, priest the gift of his widow”.
Obituary from Western Daily and Bristol Mirror, Saturday, November 24, 1945.
He was born in 1867 educated at Wells Theological College, Queen’s College, (Oxford), obtained his B.A. in 1881, his MA in 1883, was made deacon in 1890, and ordained priest in 1891. After holding several curacies was made vicar of North Petherton in 1894, where here remained until retirement 1916. He died at his residence, Huntworth House, near Bridgwater.
He was a member almost since its inception in 1896 of Bridgwater Rural District Council, and after a period as vice chairman he succeeded Mr George Lansdown as chairman 15 years ago and had been in the office ever since. He was Chairman of the Board of Guardians, and later until two years ago served on the Area Guardians Committee. For many years represented North Petherton on the Somerset County Council. He was a former president of Bridgwater and District General Hospital — an office which his wife has also filled.
In the 1914-1918 war he was a chaplain with the army, and in the 1939-45 war was Bridgwater area commandant of the Somerset Special Constabulary. He was associated were the Boy Scout movement, North Petherton Nursing association, and North Petherton Horticultural Society.
He had no known links with St Mary’s, so it is most likely it was placed here to commemorate his Civic activities in the area.
The faculty papers for the window were dated 30 Aug 1954: Somerset Heritage, Centre Ref D/D/cf/1954/8/14