Cathedral of the Arts & Crafts
Daniel Martin and Stephen Clare
||HH Armstead’s bronze lectern of 1890 with choir stalls beyond by FW Pomeroy
Holy Trinity, Sloane Square,
London is one of the most artistically
significant churches in the UK.
Designed by the architect John Dando
Sedding, it was consecrated on 13 May 1890
and is a Grade I listed building. It is a classic
example of a late 19th century gothic style
church, drawing on an eclectic range of styles
including early medieval, Byzantine, pre-renaissance
Italian and English Decorated
Gothic. Poet laureate Sir John Betjeman, with
his passion for architecture and churches,
dubbed it ‘the cathedral of the Arts &
Crafts Movement’, a phrase that stuck.
Sedding was a founding member of the
Arts & Crafts Movement and one of the most
distinguished designers and architects of
his time. He was an accomplished designer
of wallpaper, embroidery, metalwork and
sculpture. As a founder and second master
of the Art Workers’ Guild, Sedding’s aim
was to revive the medieval system of cooperation
between architect and craftsman.
Holy Trinity is home to a wealth of
treasures from the Arts & Crafts period
including works by Henry Wilson, a student
of Sedding who completed the building of
Holy Trinity following Sedding’s death. The
angel lectern and spandrels of the nave and
chancel arches were designed by Henry Hugh
Armstead, the angels on the pillars of the
Baroque chancel screen and panels in the choir
stalls were designed by Frederick Pomeroy, the
altar frontal of the entombment was carved by
Harry Bates of the New Sculpture movement
and the reredos is the work of John Tweed.
Occupying a prominent position in the
heart of Chelsea in London, the church was
badly hit by German air raids during the
Second World War. In September 1940 a
bomb fell on the church causing a fire that put
its organ out of action for six years. Another
bomb hit the church in May 1941 destroying
the roof. Miraculously, the Great Eastern
Window remained undamaged, but it took
ten years to complete a new permanent roof.
In recent decades, in line with the growing
prosperity of the neighbourhood, the church has been rejuvenated as a focal point of the
local community. The building is open to
the public throughout the day, holding daily
morning and evening prayer sessions.
In light of the many treasures in the
church, it was decided in April 2007 to
commission a condition survey to establish the
extent of repairs that would be necessary to
maintain the building. The detailed condition
survey found that, given its age and history,
the church was generally in a good state of
repair although some urgent repairs were
necessary to avoid progressive decay.
Even among this extraordinary confluence of art and architecture, Holy Trinity’s stained
glass is often considered the finest of its
treasures. The most notable example is the
Great East Window, designed by the pre-Raphaelite
painter Edward Burne-Jones.
It is a classic example of a 12 light window
and depicts 48 figures including prophets,
apostles and saints beneath scenes from the
Nativity, the Garden of Eden, the Crucifixion
and the Annunciation. The window is the
largest ever manufactured by Morris & Co.
The south aisle windows and clerestory
windows were designed by Christopher Whall,
arguably the most important stained glass artist
of the 20th century. The initial design concepts
for Holy Trinity survive in a sketchbook held by
the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow.
The stained glass in the church, although
dirty, was in reasonably good condition. All the
glass was cleaned but only the two Christopher
Whall windows in the south aisle were releaded.
Minor repairs were undertaken to other
windows. While the resources were available
and the Whall glass was in the workshop the opportunity was taken to commission Peter
Cormack of the William Morris Museum to
draft a report on the history of the glass in the
church. It was discovered that descriptions
exist in Whall’s notebooks for every window
at clerestory level but that only part of the
scheme was ever cartooned and realised. The
legibility of these windows in particular has
been greatly improved by the in situ cleaning.
|Top left: The Great East Window, designed by Edward Burne-Jones. Above right: A detail from Christopher Whall’s Pentecostal window
in the south aisle which was releaded, showing Simon
the Cyrenian wearing a coat of richly mottled glass. Above left: the releading of South Window III in progress.
South windows III and IV were produced
by Whall in collaboration with JD Sedding.
It is clear that Sedding had great faith in
Whall’s abilities and included him in the design process for the elaborate scheme
of decoration which he had planned for
Holy Trinity as early as March 1889.
Window III is a four light window
depicting The Holy Spirit and the Pentecost,
and dates from 1907. It was designed by
Whall and made with the collaboration
of his pupils and assistants at his newly established
studio-workshop at 1 Ravenscourt
Park, Hammersmith. The window was
donated to the church by Frederica Cook
in memory of her husband, Wyndham
Francis Cook, who died in 1905.
Window IV is a three light window
that depicts The Adoration of the Magi
and the Shepherds, and dates from 1900. It
was designed by Whall and made by him in
collaboration with his pupils and assistants,
using the workshops of Messrs Lowndes &
Drury of 35 Park Walk, Chelsea. The window
was donated by Mrs E Harvey in memory of
her husband, Edmund Harvey, who died in
1898. These great windows by Christopher
Whall are rightly considered to be major
works of the Arts and Crafts period.
The reasons behind the intervention
were straightforward; the extremely heavy
leaded panels were severely bowed and this
was causing the glass to crack and allowing
water ingress. In common with many Whall
windows these are constructed using his
beloved ‘Norman Slab’ glass and heavy
lead ‘cames’ with a very deep heart section
(the part of the H section which separates
the glass panes). The decision was taken
to remove both windows for cleaning and
repair following the recommendations
of the original report of March 2007.
||A detail of Christ the King from one of Sir William Blake Richmond’s windows in the north aisle which was cleaned.
The windows were removed by carefully
chipping away the perimeter mortar and
the panels were then transported to the
workshop. In the workshop a number of
steps were carried out in the conservation
of the stained glass. These were as follows:
1 The conservators closely examined the
panels individually, taking careful note of
the glass types, condition of painted detail
and methods employed in the original
leading of the panes.
2 Detailed photographs were taken of the
lead matrix to allow conservators to
consult full scale computer images of the
original panels during the reconstruction.
A photographic record was taken of each
panel on the light box in reflected light and
transmitted light, clearly scale marked.
3 Three rubbings were carefully taken from
the leadwork of each panel. One of these
was used to lay out the glass following
dismantling from the lead. The second was
used as a guide during re-leading and the
third was marked up as a conservation
diagram using CBC (Church Buildings
4 The glass was then carefully cleaned using
a 50/50 solution of acetone and de-ionised
water. Cracks to the glass were repaired
employing the copper foil method, which
is reversible but, like a thin lead came,
obscures the edges of the glass on either
side. In isolated places pieces which had
multiple cracks were edge bonded with
epoxy resin (Araldite 2020) to reduce the
visual impact of the repairs. Protective
backing glasses were not provided as the
great thickness of the original glass allowed
the resin to form a very strong bond.
5 Lead was commissioned with the same
sections as the original with heart depths
of 6, 8 and 10mm. This allowed the original
lead forms to be accurately replicated.
However, for the thickest pieces of Prior’s
Norman Slab it was necessary to open out
the lead further to accommodate the glass.
In these areas the heart of the lead was
soldered to ensure rigidity.
6 The panels were cemented in the
traditional manner; photographs of the
completed panels were taken as before.
Numerous ‘in progress’ photographic
details were also taken.
7 The panels were then re-fixed on site into
a hydraulic lime mortar using one part
St Astier NHL3.5 to three parts sharp sand
and horse hair.
The building itself was found to be
structurally sound, although there were
several areas where rainwater had penetrated
creating a need to repair roof coverings
and overhaul and improve the rainwater
drainage system. Equally important was the
installation of a new access harness system
that will allow routine maintenance of the
drains to be performed more regularly.
|Stained glass conservation diagram marked up
using Church Buildings Council annotation
At the front of the building the stonework
at the top of the facade, particularly that of the
parapet, was showing signs of considerable
erosion. Early photographs show that the
parapet was originally constructed as a
pierced open screen. The infilling brick
panels are a later addition. Such slender
detailing in this exposed location was always
going to be problematic. Consideration
was given to removing the brick infill but
this approach was rejected since it would
have resulted in far greater replacement
of the stonework if the structural stability
of the parapet was to be guaranteed.
The repair approach adopted generally was
to indent with new sections of stone as mortar
repairs were not considered appropriate for
such exposed locations. Priority was given
to repairing hood mouldings and other
elements that protect the surfaces beneath,
and some of these had to be replaced,
including those above the clerestory windows
in particular. In the parapet a few complete
blocks of stone also had to be replaced.
The stone finial at the apex of the west front was renewed. It was unclear when this
had been lost but it may have been a victim
of the bombing. The design was developed
using record photographs and design elements
found elsewhere in the building. The finial
sits above an alcove accommodating a statue
of Christ. Minor consolidation work was
carried out to the face and robes on the
statue but the temptation to reinstate the
eroded face of the statue was resisted.
Gentle cleaning of the brick and
stonework on the flank and rear elevations
helped to identify defects during the repairs
contract but also revealed the yellow and
red banding on the face of the church that
had previously been concealed by dirt.
The interior of the church was originally
finished in the same way but has since
been covered with painted plaster.
The quality of the lead detailing to the
west elevation cupolas is exceptional but
previous repairs to the lead-lined gutters at
the base of the two large cupolas had been
poorly executed and had resulted in saturation
of the timber wall plates beneath. The bases
of both cupolas had to be almost totally
rebuilt. Sourcing timbers of the required size
proved difficult and the structural engineers
had to develop a design that minimised the
extent of replacement while ensuring stability
throughout the process of rebuilding.
Due to the position of the building and
the size of this project it was essential to
keep the entire church covered in scaffolding
for nine months. With the scaffolding now
removed and almost all of the essential work
to the exterior of the building complete, it is
unlikely that a programme of this scale will
be needed for at least another 40 years.
|Above left: colour-coded repair guide showing the stone conservation work carried out to the front facade. Top right: The west elevation cupola prior to gutter repair. Above right: Rev’d Rob Gillian blessing the new front
finial on completion of the works.