Hursley Parish Church History in Detail
“The glass windows in a church are Holy Scriptures, which expel the wind and the rain, that is all things hurtful, but transmit the light of the True Sun, that is God, into the hearts of the faithful”
William Durandus (c 1220 – 1296) from “The Symbolism of Churches and Church Ornaments”
John Keble (1792 – 1866), the vicar of Hursley parish from 1835, was one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement which brought about a revolution in church building and decoration, which in turn brought about a revival in the art of stained glass manufacture.
As part of that Movement, the church at Hursley was rebuilt at Keble’s instigation in 1847/48 in its present form, although the stained glass windows were made a few years later. Many 19th century designers attempted to recreate or replace medieval glass in effecting church restorations, but the previous church at Hursley had had clear glass in the windows, so there was no medieval glass for Keble to re-use. Accordingly, instead of creating a pastiche of old glass, new designs were used.
The stained glass windows at Hursley were planned by Keble, based on the scheme of the medieval windows at his childhood home of Fairford in Gloucestershire. The scheme was prepared by the architect,
William Butterfield (1814 – 1900), but as Fairford Church is much larger than Hursley, that plan could not be exactly followed. According to Keble’s sister, Elisabeth, “The Hursley windows are meant to be a course of instruction in Sacred History from Adam to the last day; the church being dedicated to All Saints”.
The designs were suggested by the artists William Dyce (1806 – 1864) and Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (1787 – 1855) and executed under the supervision of Butterfield by William Wailes (1808 – 1881), who was seen as a Gothic Revival artist. Having trained with Franz Mayer & Co. of Munich, Wailes established his own stained glass business in 1838 which became one of the largest in England and was in great demand for use in new and restored churches of the period.
His work retained the style of stained glass produced in Germany and Limoges, being often a little paler and more brightly coloured than many English works. It tended to have distinctive colour combinations in the clothing of the figures (for example in the West window Christ’s red robe is lined with green), and he often used pink glass, which is noticeable in many windows at Hursley. His bright colours have been used throughout the windows at Hursley and, as commented by Charles Winston (1814 – 1864), an English historian of stained glass, dark interiors require more richly coloured glass than light interiors, and indeed Keble found that his new church was so dark that he later installed clerestory windows in the roof.
It was originally intended that the cost of the windows would have been raised from contributions of friends and readers of Keble’s writings but in the end only the four three-light windows and the repentance window were given, two others were paid for by special offertories and the rest were finally given by Keble from his published writings.
The stained glass windows at Hursley are typical of their time, and are a reflection of the changes effected by the Oxford Movement. Yet they have their roots in the past, in that the Hursley windows follow the same plan as the medieval windows at Fairford: from the Garden of Eden, through the Prophets and other Old Testament characters, the life of Christ, the Apostles and Saints to the Judgement Window. These windows will be looked at in detail in subsequent issues of the Parish Magazine.
Although the Fairford windows receive almost universal acclaim and astonishment at their longevity, the windows at Hursley arouse mixed opinions. Some consider that the Hursley windows “are an excellent example of early Victorian stained glass”, whereas others regard them “as lurid as a row of jars in a candy shop”. Charlotte Yonge’s view was that” ... though the colours are deeper, and what is now called more crude, than suits the taste of the present day, they must be looked upon with reverence as the outcome of [Keble’s] meditations and his great delight”.