Saint George

 Adorning St George's, Headstone

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NEW FONT COVER ENHANCES SIGNIFICANT MARTIN TRAVERS/ FAITH-CRAFT INTERIOR

(The substance of this page, by Stephen Keeble, was first published in 'Church Building', issues 87 & 88 2004. Further information on Martin Travers and stained glass windows at the church may be found at Martin TraversThe Great East Window and Other Stained Glass.)


 John Crawford's 1948 font cover design
John Crawford's 1948 font cover design
The design for the new font cover at St George’s, Headstone, Pinner View, Harrow came to the church as long ago as 1948, prepared by John Crawford. For many years Crawford (1897-1982) worked with leading ecclesiastical artist Martin Travers (1886-1948) as his chief technical assistant. He is probably best known for his carving, yet for some thirty years or more until 1955 Crawford, like Travers, was a member of staff at the Royal College of Art in the School of Stained Glass. Francis Stephens (1921-2002) who as a student at the Royal College of Art studied under and worked with Travers and later went on to run Faith-Craft, acknowledged that as well as a craftsman Crawford was ‘himself no mean artist’.

Te Deum window by Martin Travers
Te Deum window by Martin Travers
Crawford’s first connection with St George’s, Headstone was his substantial involvement in the production of the great Te Deum east window, installed in 1937, one of the largest and finest examples of Travers’s stained glass. When in 1947 the Parochial Church Council wished to commission a high altar reredos, the London Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches recommended that ‘in view especially of the importance and beauty of the church generally and in particular of the existence above the altar of the window by Mr Travers … by far the best course would be to seek the advice and, if possible, the services of Mr Travers’. Travers, however, was overwhelmed with work so, in turn, Crawford was asked to produce a design for Faith-Craft, the Society of the Faith’s high quality church furnishing subsidiary with which Travers had begun to work closely.

Pulpit by Martin Travers
Pulpit by Martin Travers
Apart from the east window, the only significant new features since the church’s consecration in 1911 had been the 1915 three-manual organ and case by Frederick Rothwell, a stained glass window of 1921 in the Lady Chapel by William Aikman, another of 1934 in the north aisle by Maile & Son, and an oak neo-Jacobean pulpit by Martin Travers, fitted in 1942.

Lady Chapel screen by John Crawford
Lady Chapel screen by John Crawford

There was a strong desire, in so far as possible, to complete the church’s interior and the projected work for Crawford and Faith-Craft grew to include new screens for the Lady Chapel and the font cover. All the new designs, for production in oak, were distinctly School of Travers, with the work actually carried out in 1949 also displaying marked Arts & Crafts characteristics.


Lady Chapel screen around organ console by John Crawford
Lady Chapel screen around organ console by John Crawford
The carved reredos, a triptych with the theme of the Annunciation on the outer panels and the Epiphany in the centre, flanked by a plaque of St George and a stone memorial tablet, was a Second World War memorial funded largely by subscription. The Lady Chapel screens were a gift in memory of a former churchwarden, and the Vicar George Appleton (later Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem) entertained hopes that the font cover might also be offered by a donor. This was not to be. Crawford’s drawing dated 12 February 1948 (shortly before Martin Travers’s untimely death) was placed among church papers and, with the passage of time, forgotten.

Central panel of reredos by John Crawford
Central panel of reredos by John Crawford

Left side panel
Left side panel

Right side panel
Right side panel

High altar and reredos
High altar and reredos

St George by John Crawford
St George by John Crawford

Memorial tablet by John Crawford
Memorial tablet by John Crawford
The connection with Faith-Craft, however, continued for a few more years. 1954 saw the installation of an altar and memorial plaque in the north aisle and oak screens in the north aisle and on the north side of the choir. The designer of much, if not all, of this new work was Francis Stephens.

North aisle screens, frieze and balustrade by Francis Stephens for Faith-Craft. Organ screen by Patrick Smith
North aisle screens, frieze and balustrade by Francis Stephens for Faith-Craft. Organ screen by Patrick Smith

Nearby Whitefriars produced two quatrefoil windows by E Liddall Armitage for the new west end in 1964, and in the following year a Good Shepherd window for the south aisle by Alfred Fisher. Owing to budget limitations the new glass was restricted to three lights and not extended into the tracery. This window (completed in 2003 by Chapel Studio to a new design by Alfred Fisher) represented the last artistic addition to the church’s interior for thirty years, a period during which appreciation of the quality and significance of the building and its art faded.


Memorial plaque by Francis Stephens for Faith-Craft
Memorial plaque by Francis Stephens for Faith-Craft
A renewal of interest began with the work and encouragement of Patrick Smith (1930-2011). Patrick trained with Hurst, Franklin, ecclesiastical and architectural metal workers who were responsible for much of the high quality metalwork produced for Faith-Craft. When the firm moved from London to Kent he left to work freelance and also, following the demise of Faith-Craft in 1969, in association with Francis Stephens. From 1995 Patrick’s contribution to the church included new candlesticks, an incense boat, an aumbry lamp for the Lady Chapel, an organ screen at the east end of the north aisle and an oak and gilded paschal candlestick.

Archbishop John Stratford by Francis Stephens
Archbishop John Stratford by Francis Stephens

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer by Francis Stephens
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer by Francis Stephens

Through the influence of Patrick Smith, Francis Stephens, although retired, agreed to design two statues for the empty niches on the east wall either side of the large Travers window. Dedicated in 2001, they represent Archbishops John Stratford and Thomas Cranmer, the first and last Archbishop of Canterbury to own nearby Headstone Manor. Stratford, with his archiepiscopal crucifix, is depicted in mitre, pallium, and eucharistic vestments; he also carries his 'passport', signifying his sometime office as Ambassador to France. Cranmer, dressed in choir habit, commends the Bible translated into English, ordered in the Injunction of 1538 to be set up in parish churches.


Lady Chapel reredos by Martin Travers
The altar, incorporating Arts & Crafts repousse copper panels, was formerly in St Alban's, Acton Green
Lady Chapel reredos by Martin Travers The altar, incorporating Arts & Crafts repousse copper panels, was formerly in St Alban's, Acton Green
Correspondence arising from the publication of Peter Blagdon-Gameln’s Ecclesiological Society booklet on Martin Travers led to the acquisition by St George’s of several Travers pieces in 1999. These had been salvaged from redundant churches in the 1970s by W Peter Anelay, then Chairman of the York Diocesan Advisory Committee, and comprised a large 1939 reredos in linoleum and gilded wood formerly in St James’s Watford, together with a gilded and painted reredos simulating drapery and a font cover, circa 1940, originally in St Stephen’s, Battersea. 

West wall Holy Dove and ornamental pieces by Martin Travers
West wall Holy Dove and ornamental pieces by Martin Travers
The supporting tablet for the altar cross at the base of the reredos from St James’s Watford was fitted at St George’s in the corresponding position. Other parts of the Watford reredos were eventually fixed on the west wall and, with an Alpha and Omega by Patrick Smith, behind the doors of Crawford’s high altar reredos (closed during Advent and Lent). The Battersea reredos was placed in the Lady Chapel where it looks very well with Crawford’s screens and an Arts & Crafts altar acquired in 2007 from St Alban's Acton Green, but the font cover was found to be too small for the St George’s font.

High altar reredos (closed). Carved and gilded pieces by Martin Travers and Patrick Smith
High altar reredos (closed). Carved and gilded pieces by Martin Travers and Patrick Smith
Crawford’s font cover design again came to light at a time when its implementation appeared prohibitively ambitious. Then St George’s received a legacy from a former parishioner who had followed the developing adornment of the church with interest and approval. Without expecting to be able to put the work in hand, it was thought it could be of future benefit to find out what such an endeavour might entail and whether preparatory work might be undertaken meanwhile. This advice was sought from Siegfried Pietzsch whom we had come to know when, although officially retired, he had carved and decorated the statues of Stratford and Cranmer, designed by Francis Stephens.

Looking east from the nave
Looking east from the nave
Siegfried Pietzsch was born and grew up in Stollberg in the Erzgebierge region of Germany, an area with a strong tradition of wood-carving. His apprenticeship as a carver was cut short by the Second World War, towards the end of which he found himself a prisoner of war in America and later in Wales. Released in 1947, and deciding to stay on rather than return to Germany, he was obliged to spend four years in agricultural work before being able to seek employment in any other capacity. As a result of some carving carried out at St Katherine’s, Milford Haven he was brought to the attention of Faith-Craft and, still working on a farm in Haverfordwest, offered a position as soon as he was able to take it up.
Siegfried worked at the Faith-Craft Studios, St Albans from 1952 until its closure in 1969 when he carried on freelance and, like Patrick Smith, in association with Francis Stephens. He is well acquainted with the Travers School of ecclesiastical art having worked closely at Faith-Craft with Travers’s decorator Alf Noe, and Francis Stephens, and later undertaken restoration of Travers’s work in Tonbridge School Chapel (subsequently destroyed by fire in 1988). From his early days at Faith-Craft Siegfried remembers John Crawford who, in a consultancy capacity, would visit the Abbey Mill workshop.

Looking west from the choir
Looking west from the choir
Siegfried readily offered to produce a set of full size drawings from Crawford’s ¾ in = 1ft design. Then after speaking with John Warner, the similarly retired joiner with whom he has worked since leaving Faith-Craft, Siegfried, in his late seventies, offered to produce the cover if the Church would be able to proceed sooner rather than later. St George’s Parochial Church Council decided this was an offer it could not afford to neglect and having obtained the necessary permission launched an appeal to help cover the cost.

When George Baden-Beadle, Director of Faith-Craft, wrote to Rev George Appleton on 22 June 1949, he commented on the difficulty of estimating the precise cost of the font cover as ‘I never quite know what larks John Crawford will get up to when he does the full sizes’. In translating Crawford’s drawing into a viable piece of joinery, Siegfried Pietzsch and John Warner found it necessary to amend the original idea of access via ‘gates’ opening on pivoted spindles, which left only four of the eight spindles bearing weight. Instead, six fixed spindles give the structure sufficient stability with two being completely removable.


View showing position of the font at the west end of the church
View showing position of the font at the west end of the church
The current position of the font – free standing at the west end of the nave – necessitated a longer incised text than when it was envisaged standing in a west wall recess where the rear of the cover would not be seen. Thus, following Travers and Crawford elsewhere in the building, and in keeping with the use of the Book of Common Prayer and King James version of the Bible for regular services, the cover bears the words to Nicodemus: ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’.
Siegfried Pietzsch’s colour scheme adds a further dimension to Crawford’s plan with a judicious use of gold leaf. The main areas have been finished not in brown, but grey/green, blending very well with the font itself and the church’s stone pillars and arches. Finally, it was decided to incorporate the striking Travers soffit from the Battersea cover, depicting the descent of the Holy Dove.

View of the font cover showing the soffit by Martin Travers
View of the font cover showing the soffit by Martin Travers
The new font cover was dedicated on 21 December 2003. St George’s was fortunate indeed in having the opportunity of bringing to fruition John Crawford’s design after fifty-five years, and being able to entrust the work to craftsmen capable of rising to the technical and artistic challenge. In accord with the general consensus the church’s architect Ian Angus of Carden & Godfrey described the new acquisition as ‘a brilliant piece of work, both of design and really skilful and ingenious craftsmanship’ and added ‘it looks just right’.

Font cover by John Crawford
Font cover by John Crawford

The interior of St George’s, Headstone owes much of its coherence and beauty to the harmonious interplay of Alder’s elegant architecture with the fine ensemble of work in the Travers-Faith-Craft tradition. Michael Yelton’s observation concerning the church is even more apt today than when his 'Martin Travers 1886-1948: An Appreciation' was published in 2003: ‘The total restrained effect is very pleasing.’

 

headstone, harrow