One of the issues in researching the works of any artist is the tantalising knowledge that other unknown or unseen works by them are still out there, yet to be revealed.
Sometimes we know of these ‘missing’ works only through a teasing phrase in an old document. Some, we know did exist at some point, but have mysteriously disappeared from the record. And some ‘finds’ simply turn out to be red herrings.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at some missing windows – the mysteries of Lambeth Hospital, Birkenhead Our Lady Church, Erdington Abbey, Likoma Cathedral, Altrincham Convent, Lanark Chapel and Upholland Seminary.
The most intriguing missing works are the windows taken out of the former Lambeth Hospital in London.
They must be somewhere one supposes, as it’s known that they passed into storage (around 1939/1940, to avoid being damaged in the Blitz…), ending up in the repository at the famous glass firm of Goddard & Gibbs.
However, G&G’s inventory descriptions are vague, and, when the company was wound up in 2006, its assets were then sold on.
So, the windows may be languishing in some warehouse, or they may have been sold to a collector (as part of a job lot possibly). It’s frustrating not to know!
The rightful owners, the nuns of the Sisters of Our Lady of Consolation, seem, curiously, to have forgotten all about the windows after the war, despite their importance – and now the order itself is no more, having wound up in the 1990s.
Only from the ‘cartoons’ (see St Raphael cartoon, right) can we can imagine how lovely these windows must have been.
These were probably Margaret’s last major work, and were dedicated to a favourite aunt, so one can think she put her heart & soul into them (see story of Constance & the Lambeth Hospital).
It would truly be a major event if they were to be found.
Now and again one also comes across apparently authoritative citations, which then (frustratingly) lead up blind alleys.
Margaret’s brother, Harry, spent some time with the Benedictine monks at Erdington Abbey in Birmingham; and apparently used his influence to get his sister a commission. The evidence for this is that he refers in a letter, quite specifically, to “some of her best glass” being there.
However…, there is certainly no glass by her these days in Erdington Abbey Church (see pic below), and the current authorities at the old abbey building itself (now Highclare School) have been unable to identify what Harry might have been referring to.
Was Harry just over-enthusiastically jumping the gun – referring to a commission that, in fact, never came off? Or, possibly, were the windows removed from the abbey when it was turned into a school?
Certainly, more research is needed.
Art-historian Roger Hall did manage to find a more substantial reference to some possible windows by Margaret, this time ones in central Africa – at St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral in Malawi.
This actually is not as unlikely as it sounds. Malawi was, at the time, part of the British Empire, and the English-born clerics still sent back to the ‘old country’ for fixtures & fittings. There is also proof that Marga was considered for another African cathedral, but that was a commission that she turned down.
Mr Hall had found a line in a copy of ‘The Connoisseur’ magazine dated 1915, reviewing an exhibition, in which the reviewer said: “Miss M.A. Rope’s designs for windows in the Cathedral of Lykoma (sic) …. are dignified in conception and well arranged.”
Surely this was a definite lead, being not as nebulous as other examples…?
But no; it turns out that there is nothing by her in Likoma. So, if Margaret did do the designs, they were not carried out.
Another red herring is a reference in the original ‘Pevsner Guides’, which said that Altrincham Convent, now a school, had a Rope window. However, a member of the Rope Family Archives Group has been to examine the supposed window, and says it is not a Rope. Oh well.
There’s no doubt that Margaret Rope windows depicting the Annunciation and Expulsion From The Garden (see pic right, of the cartoon version) were in Birkenhead Our Lady Church. Birkenhead is within the Shrewsbury Catholic Diocese, so it is quite possible that this is another commission gained for her by her mentor Bishop Moriarty.
The handed-down story is that the windows were destroyed in an enemy bombing raid during World War 2.
But were they? No newspaper report or diocesan-records document has yet turned up to under-write the story.
Also, important stained-glass windows were often taken out for safe-keeping during the war (though, admittedly, Birkenhead was not a wealthy parish in the 1940s and may not have been able to afford the cost), so the windows may still be in store somewhere. And it is also true that bits of stained-glass broken during air-raids were often collected up, for (hopefully) post-war restoration – did this happen, but was unrecorded?
The best hope is for the missing Lanark Hospital window. (See full story of Lanark Hospital Chapel).
When the small Catholic hospital in the town was closed, and then gutted to create council offices in the 1970s, the window was removed. But to where? Lanark Museum has not heard of it, nor the authorities at the nearby Catholic church.
It is unlikely to have been broken up – so, what happened to it?
The stained-glass west-window arrangement at Upholland Seminary Chapel is likely one of Margaret’s finest pieces. Consisting of over thirty separate lights, the design, dating to 1933, is both beautiful and thoughtful, being an investigation of sacramental theology.
But no-one has been allowed to see it for twenty-five years, and (strangely) no specific photographs of it exist.
It is ‘missing’ in the sense that it is unreachable – in a decaying building that has been fenced off by its developer-owners. What a tragedy!
The future of this magnum-opus (and some other glass by Hardman on the same site) is extremely uncertain. Permission is currently being sought from the Albert Gubay Charitable Foundation to allow a professional photographer in to take pictures. We’ll let you know how that application turns out.
More to come?
It is completely possible that other missing works by Marga are out there – not just in stained-glass, but also in paintings and painted plaster-work, both of which she was known to be proficient in. It seems odd, for example, that a plaster-work portrait of her grandfather, the eminent Dr Burd, is still missing.
And the archivists at the new Rope Family Archive keep turning up intriguing sketches and designs and cartoons, which may perhaps be studies of missing windows.
Unfortunately, there is almost no help in the documents that Margaret left on her death: she didn’t keep files, it seems. However, by cross-referencing the drawings at the Archive with records kept at The Glass House works (where her windows were fired), a few clues may yet come to light.
With patience, discoveries are there to be made…
Can you help? We’d be very glad of information, no matter how tenuous or vague – all is grist to the mill! Please email us
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