Church architecture in Hertfordshire and elsewhere, art, books, and whatever crosses my path

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Fun and games in stained glass, Shuttleworth Mansion, Old Warden, Beds

I've visited the Shuttleworth Collection of historic planes (and vehicles, though they interest me less), in Old Warden, Beds, numerous times over the years, but I've always hurried past Shuttleworth Mansion with hardly a second look. This is partly because I've been eager to get to the museum, but mostly because I've always disregarded the mansion as rather unattractive and probably containing little of note. But recently I deigned to go in, and discovered how wrong I'd been.

The mansion (as it's generally rather pompously known) was built in 1875-8 by Henry Clutton (1819-93) for Joseph Shuttleworth (1819-83). Shuttleworth, the son of a boat builder,  had made his money in engineering; he bought what had been the estate of the 3rd Baron Ongley in 1872, demolished the existing house and built himself a new one. He set about comprehensively turning himself into, if not quite an aristocrat, a member of the landed gentry. The house, despite its Jacobean-style exterior, is constructed around a steel frame, an excellent symbol of Victorian willingness to adopt social changes while pretending not to. 

It has most of the features necessary to maintain the family's new status, for example a large collection of paintings, typical of those found in late Victorian and Edwardian minor country houses, as well as fireplaces and other features of note. And on a landing between the first and second floors I was struck by this display of stained glass, presumably dating from the construction of the house.

The four panels at the top depict men in what I suppose are meant to be late medieval or Tudor costumes playing games: archery, in which a suavely moustached man is accompanied by a page; foot-ball, with, in the background, a goal consisting of two tall uprights linked by a rope from which banners are hung, and, in the foreground, a suspiciously modern-looking ball and two youths who appear to be doing a dance, first fingers poised as if in response to a particularly choice musical phrase; quarterstaff, with two stout bearded fellow squaring up to each other; and tennis, being played on impractically rough ground.

None of the figures seem to be having much fun, (their solemn demeanour and static poses make them seem terribly camp), but the intention of the panels is clearly to evoke Merrie Olde England, and to stake Shuttleworth's claim as an inheritor of sporting tradition. (I don't know for sure that he was a lover of sports, but why else would he have commissioned these panels?)

The outer main lights have square panels with birds (probably doves) and fruit, perhaps symbolising peace and abundance*, and the inner roundels with heraldry. The left roundel shows Shuttleworth's newly acquired coat of arms, a helmet with an arm brandishing a shuttle (obviously a rebus, i.e. a visual pun). The motto 'Isto velocior vita' (Here, the faster life) is a reference to his profession as a builder of agricultural machinery such as traction engines which could perform tasks much more quickly than could previously be accomplished. He evidently wanted to not only join the county set, but also to shake them up a bit. He couldn't have known how much faster life would soon get, with the invention first of motor cars and then aeroplanes in the decades after his death, nor that his grandson Richard Shuttleworth would become a racing driver. The right roundel shows his initials.

I think what I like most about the window are some of the incidental details. The use of bullseyes around the doves and heraldry, and the borders around the former, is effective, and the repeated patterns of stylised daisies and pomegranates is proto-Arts and Crafts and very graceful. Unfortunately, I can't currently tell you who designed or made the window - more research is needed - but whoever it was did a fine job.

* If abundance was intended, then this is ironic as the Great Agricultural Depression is usually reckoned to have started in 1873, just two years before the building of the house.