Beryl Dean’s textile work for All Saints Church, Newland, Gloucestershire: more Lady Chapel Furnishings

 

All Saints Church Newland Gloucestershire: altar frontal designed by Sylvia Green under Beryl Dean and worked by their team of former students.

I’m conscious of describing All Saints Newland as being in Gloucestershire while elsewhere I refer to its location as The Forest of Dean and it struck me how confusing this could be if you don’t know the area. The Forest of Dean is the little triangle of Gloucestershire contained within the course of the rivers Severn and Wye and extending north from their confluence in the south to a line running East-West from Gloucester to Ross-on-Wye. The land between the rivers rises to a high plateau cut by ridges of limestone and sandstone which create deep forested valleys and sudden breathtaking views. Mined for ore and with plentiful wood for charcoal it has been a place of iron working since prehistoric times. (Also some tin, from which heritage came the bequest which helped fund the furnishings discussed here.) Under the Saxons it became a royal hunting ground and many ancient rights and privileges come from its unique heritage as a Royal Hunting Forest. The forest itself, originally oak and beech, has played an important role in English history – from providing the timber for Sir Francis Drake’s fleet which battled with the Spanish Armada to doing the same for Admiral Nelson’s in the war against Napoleon. A friend who has recently restored an Arts and Crafts house just over the border in Monmouthshire knows the man who built the house in the early C20th found stunning oak timbers of 40′ for his garden pergola in the local timber yard, which I seem to remember didn’t happen when she needed to replace some of the same size 100 years later.  Today the forest is still a working forest, producing sustainable timber for the UK market.

All Saints Church Newland Gloucestershire: detail of altar frontal
patchwork designed by Sylvia Green under Beryl Dean and worked by their team of former students.

The people of the Forest have always regarded themselves as a race apart and even today the rights of the ‘free-miners’ are jealously guarded – there are thought to be about 150 of them today although only a handful of tiny, tiny collieries are still operating. Free sheep grazing rights over the Forest have also continued and drivers on the main roads have to be careful not only of rambling sheep and sprightly deer but also increasingly of  thundering wild boar. Only about 15 years ago when we lived in Monmouth a friend’s Volvo had a contretemps with a huge boar which ran out into the main road in front of the car. The boar died, the car was a write off, fortunately, the driver was shaken but otherwise untouched.

All Saints Church Newland Gloucestershire: Lady Chapel altar frontal designed by Sylvia Green under Beryl Dean and worked by their team of former students.

The church of All Saints, Newland was built in  a clearing in the Forest, ‘new land’, in the early C13th probably by the monks of Tintern in an attempt to civilise the somewhat wild and unruly area. Administratively, throughout history, the Forest has sometimes been included in England and sometimes in Wales. Even in terms of church affairs the situation is confusing. The area wasn’t parochialized at all until the late C19th and one of David’s task as vicar was to regularise parish boundaries as pockets of Newland parish remained all over the Forest, when vicars of the church ‘planted’ chapels-of-ease in tiny settlements all over the place. (A chapel-of-ease is a church building other than the parish church, built for the attendance of those who cannot reach the parish church conveniently.) It was into this unique setting – not too strong a description I think – that David and his first wife Joy came and straight away they found things far from easy. Tales abounded about predecessor vicars’ difficulties and wrongdoings which David found to be not entirely fictional but there was also an element of the outsider cleric not being welcomed by insular locals. Last night I went through the Beryl Dean file, read bits out to David and asked for clarification here and there. In the process, I struck some deep well of memories that he would have rather not remembered and which set him off on a night of unpleasant dreams.

All Saints Church Newland Gloucestershire: Phoenix kneeler designed by Sylvia Green under Beryl Dean and worked by their team of former students.

Unfortunately the furnishings for the Lady Chapel were one of those triggers that so distressed him. Joy had written to ask Beryl Dean  if it were possible that they could “interest you in such a venture”, primarily meaning vestments. As mentioned in my last post Beryl didn’t at first say  yes but then changed her mind. On visiting, Beryl had found herself ambushed by an overwhelming connection with the building – to the point of falling in love with it, and went away with her head already at work on designs. Within a surprisingly short time she and her team were well on their way with work on various furnishings – and this was before any formal commission had been made. By an unfortunate coincidence a member of her team met a member of the PCC (Parochial Church Council) while on holiday in Spain and there she had talked about the furnishings as being commissioned in that loose way one can do when you’re involved in, but not privy to, full details of a job of work. In his turn the PCC member made assumptions about things commissioned without the knowledge of the PCC and got very upset.  Misunderstanding compounded misunderstanding. Accusations of a very unpleasant nature flew about, unkind letters were sent. David was upset; Beryl expressed her distress but gathered herself together and set to thinking how to work through this situation in the most Christian way possible (though she declared herself not to be religious). Joy blamed herself but felt all would come well in the end. Thank Goodness – and thank God – things did come right and the Lady Chapel furnishings were able to find a home in the church for which they had been created and where they look wonderful.

All Saints Church Newland Gloucestershire: dove kneeler designed by Sylvia Green under Beryl Dean and worked by their team of former students.

Now to the furnishings themselves, patchwork altar frontal, appliquéd dossal behind the altar and two kneelers. These were designed by Beryl’s close colleague, Sylvia Green and undertaken as a project by their former students. Their colours echo the C19th glass in the window behind the altar and the predominance of  shades of blue is also suitable for a chapel decorated to the Virgin. The two red kneelers too pick up colours in the window glass, though this time the reds and golds, and the stylised birds with their angular forms work well with the patchwork. Now, coming up for 50 years old when we last saw them again a few years ago the furnishings looked in very good condition.

All Saints Church Newland Gloucestershire: Lady chapel furnishings designed by Sylvia Green under Beryl Dean and worked by their team of former students.

Last week we spent a long day in the National Gallery as David was meeting up with a senior curator at the gallery to hand over some more of his research papers. Having from 1pm until 6pm when the gallery closes, we were able to visit many more of the galleries than we would normally be able to do (with several breaks for coffee) and were impressed at the way the pictures were hung and grouped together. (Is this hanging recent or have I just not been very observant?) One gallery, hung with just a few full length portraits from different periods, was stunning and made the people painted feel more immediately human and not just paintings on a wall – I don’t know why but the feeling was visceral and quite jolting. Other galleries seemed similarly to have been well thought out and we even wondered whether in one paintings had been selected to hang together on the basis of wonderful clouds (with a jolly good landscape attached). Vistas enabled portrait to talk to portrait  –  turning from Rembrandt’s Portrait of Frederick Rihel on Horseback of 1663 it was amusing to find him in the sights of Anthony van Dyck’s Equestrian Charles I of 30 year’s earlier (1637-8). This sort of dialogue evoked by careful hanging of pictures encourages the viewer to check details like the dates which then helps you to remember that the two painters were painting at the same time. Surprisingly, van Dyck’s life only just extended into his 40s (1599-1641), whereas Rembrandt died in his 60s (1606-1669). So no self portraits of the ageing of van Dyck then, although with today’s perspective it’s difficult for some of us to view Rembrandt as old at 63! A fabulous afternoon that has given me ideas for the next visit with the grandchildren in tow!

 

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Beryl Dean’s textile work for All Saints Church, Newland, Gloucestershire: the beginning and the banners

All Saints, Newland, The Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. Also known as The Cathedral of the Forest. Photograph of the Lady Chapel resplendent with 4 glorious embroidered and appliquéd banners and patchwork altar frontal and hanging. All work was done by Beryl Dean and her team in the early 1980s.

Later this month I shall quietly celebrate 10 year’s almost broken blogging  (with a few blips due to moving houses or family commitments). I know many fewer people have time for blogs nowadays but that doesn’t bother me as I realise it has become important to me as an extended letter to my grandchildren to be read at some point a long time hence. (And in case the internet is made obsolete by some as yet unthought of means of ultra sophisticated communication, my husband has been so kind as to regularly concern himself with printing it out.) I could now no more stop blogging than I could stop cleaning my teeth – or perhaps as it’s a weekly thing – washing one’s bedlinen would be a better analogy.

All Saints, Newland Gloucestershire: Banner in lime green of the serpent in the apple tree. Designed by Sylvia Green and worked by Mary Brooks under the overall direction of Beryl Dean

It is therefore quite odd to realise that in 10 years I have failed to mention the biggest embroidery project with which my family has been involved. The next few posts will put that right. But first let me put things in a rather lengthy context.

All Saints, Newland, Gloucestershire: Banner with pomegranates in apricot, pinks and greens. Designed (and I think worked) by Beryl Dean. Behind is a banner in sea greeny-blue with ears of wheat, also produced under the direction of Beryl Dean

After nearly a decade as director of the museum and art gallery here in Cheltenham, while simultaneously being a Church of England curate at Bisley above Stroud, in 1981 Rev. David Addison, (my husband, from 2007) decided he had done as much as he could in curatorial and organisational terms for the museum and that it was time for someone else with different interests and skills to take over. His achievements included staging many varied exhibitions, instituting regular lunchtime talks about the collections and the setting up of what was then known as The Holst Birthplace Museum. The latter had the twofold benefit of not only being a visitor venue as a period property typical of Cheltenham’s C19th house building boom but was also the fitting home for Gustav Holst’s bequest to the people of Cheltenham ( a bequest which had languished homeless for many years in store in the museum). From full time director of the art gallery and museum, David moved to full time vicar of what the Bishop of Gloucester called “a couple of difficult parishes in thee Forest of Dean”. The two parishes embraced 3 churches  – All Saints, Newland (a splendid building also known as The Cathedral of the Forest, dating from the early C13th), St Saviour, Redbrook and St Peter Clearwell. Both the first two churches had been severely neglected, while fortunately St Peter, Clearwell, a C19th church by Middleton, was in good order.

All Saints, Newland, Gloucestershire: Banner with bunches of grapes and vine leaves in tones of purple and mauves. Designed by Hazel Sims under the overall direction of Beryl Dean

There was much to be done and David set about the practicalities of the job in much the same way as he had with the museum and art gallery –  that is he wrote a report. Neither church was weatherproof, windows were broken and the roofs had leaky areas  and outright holes. In Redbrook church, trees and brambles had pushed their branches through the holes and in their new environment, they seemed to be flourishing.  The main door opened just enough for visitors to squeeze through, so that the first funeral David took in the church involved the undertakers having to do a good deal of pushing and shoving to get the coffin in.  Meanwhile, the organist grappling with a decrepit organ sat over a big hole in the floor which she ignored at her peril.  Newland church, quite different from Redbrook, had a fine broad open layout with no fixed pews but its bare boned beauty was marred by the big chapel (dedicated to St John and St Nicholas) right next to the high altar whose badly broken stone floor had become a depository for piles of miscellaneous stone slabs, including 3 altar tops  and numerous memorial tablets of varying ages. The chapel’s very large east window of clear glass had great area with no glass at all (the original stained glass having disappeared long ago) while an almost unplayable organ inadequately covered by an untidy canopy of tarred felt sat directly beneath holes in the roof.  In the midst of this ruination,  precariously perched and insufficiently protected (and in front of the badly broken window) stood a beautiful but very dirty triptych of the Virgin and Child with Saints painted by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale. (Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, 1872-1945, one of the golden age female illustrators, was an important member of the Birmingham School and  considered to be the last survivor in the line of the Pre-Raphaelite tradition.) Few church furnishings had survived and there were no vestments apart from a few very run of the mill stoles.  David submitted his report with estimated costing to the relevant church bodies and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was approved. He later discovered this was because no one expected funding to materialise and in rubber stamping the report they could be seen to be doing something positive.

A closer look at the beautiful lime green banner with a clearly sly serpent in the apple tree. Designed by Sylvia Green and worked by Mary Brooks under the direction of Beryl Dean

Now, one of the many thought provoking things about David’s professional life is that when money was needed, it often turned up. A few weeks after submitting his report, he received a letter from a solicitor on behalf of the estate of a recently deceased woman, the last remaining member of the family who had owned the Redbrook Tinplate Works. Hospitalised for some years, David had never met her but her memory of Redbrook and Newland churches must have been strong for she left a large sum of money to be spent on the churches “at the Vicar’s discretion”! In fact the large sum of money was just about the amount that David had estimated for the repair of both churches. I shall not go into what happened next, but must skim over a difficult time during which the money quite simply disappeared into corrupt hands. That it came back – almost in its entirety, albeit in dribs and drabs – was nothing short of a triumph of quiet amateur sleuthing and patience, with possibly the touch of an angel’s wing to help it on its way…

All Saints, Newland, Gloucestershire: Black and white photograph of 3 of the banners in the lady Chapel (made by Beryl Dean and her team) Photographtaken from Embroidery magazine Spring 1984 (v.35, No 1)

Beside David through all these vicissitudes was his wife Joy who was his touchstone, rock and uplifter of spirits when  things seemed so very dark. Joy died more than 5 years before I ever met David and I find it quite difficult to get a real picture of someone whose path you never crossed. So, how wonderful is it that both of David’s wives shared a passion for embroidery. Joy had studied at Goldsmiths College, London where Beryl Dean (1911-2001) a, if not the, leading exponent of modernist design in church embroidery, had come as a guest lecturer. Many years later, as David and Joy were setting about restoring  the churches, Joy remembered Beryl Dean’s inspirational talk and decided to write to her to see if she was interested in designing and making something unique for Newland church. Very quickly a polite letter came back saying that she couldn’t help. Then, a week later, another very emotional letter landed on the vicarage’s doormat. Full of apologies, Beryl said Joy’s letter had touched a nerve, got under her skin and that she had hadn’t been able to sleep since she’d sent the first letter. On reflection, she felt sure she could help and would come to look at the church as soon as she could.  Her visit to the church increased her excitement and enthusiasm for the project. And so began a very fruitful relationship in which Beryl Dean and her team designed and made an astoundingly unique set of church furnishings and vestments (many at cost price) which I shall try to describe and illustrate here over the next few weeks.

All Saints, Newland, Gloucestershire: painting of the Virgin and Child and Saints in the St John and St Nicholas Chapel by Eleanor Fortescue- Brickdale

Hanging in the Lady Chapel are  the 4 beautiful appliquéd banners shown in this post. These were on no one’s list of essential items but are my particular favourites and, I think, a shot of genius in the way their colours catch the light coming through plain glass windows which makes them act like the absent stained glass itself. Just as lovely are the unexpected glimpses you get of these banners through the arches  from all sorts of different spots in the church. They are fiendishly difficult for the amateur to photograph to their advantage. How I should love to view them close up.

The chapel dedicated to St John and St Nicholas to the right of the high altar (after restoration but before the new stained glass)

Just as I was beginning to write this post my husband appeared with a box file full of papers documenting Beryl Dean’s involvement, including letters, a couple of small sketches for the chasuble and larger full scale sketches for the embroidered panels. Sadly, at first glance I could see nothing giving me any more detail about the banners but a quick skim through some of Beryl Dean’s letters revealed a warm person who understood and responded to the some of the many difficulties posed by the unique circumstances of the problematic return of the misappropriated money – including funding for labour and materials she had already paid for herself. The letters also reveal how she dealt head on and diplomatically with some parishioners who were having difficulties with the project. With a little frisson of surprise I noted her address – an Islington square my Uber often takes me past on my way to Paddington. There’s something wonderful about having so often passed so closely by the house where someone you’d loved to have met once lived. More lovely Beryl Dean work next week.

All Saints, Newland, Gloucestershire:The Lady Chapel, the left side with 2 banners (designed and worked by Beryl Dean and her team)

All Saints, Newland, Gloucestershire:the Lady Chapel, the right side, with 2 banners (designed and worked by Beryl Dean and her team)

 

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