▪Memories of Suffolk

One very interesting thread on Twitter led by Kirsty Hartsiotis* has appeared in the last month: a profile of Leiston Church in Suffolk. (Kirsty is well-known as an expert in the history of the Arts & Crafts Movement).

Tor’s windows at Leiston (pic Hartsiosis)

In the windows at Leiston, Kirsty discovered a depiction of one of the very homes lived in by the Suffolk branch of the Ropes, one where Marga herself probably would have spent holidays.

Shrewsbury-Suffolk

The Ropes were a well-established farming family in Suffolk at the end of the nineteenth century, farming at Blaxhall. Of the nine children, Henry trained as a doctor, going off to live and settle in Shrewsbury – and our Margaret/Marga was his first daughter. Meanwhile, Henry’s brother Arthur Mingay stayed in Suffolk to farm at Leiston – his fourth daughter was also a Margaret, nicknamed Tor.
(By odd coincidence, both Henry and Arthur Mingay married women called Agnes Maud).
On the main Two Margarets website, one can see the family tree, which illustrates the connections.

Although Tor was nine years younger than Marga, the two cousins were to become close for the rest of their lives. Both became stained-glass artists (though by different routes), moved in the same London circles, and – it seems – consulted each other on professional matters.

Did Tor remember the youthful days on the farm spent with her cousin when she designed the Leiston windows?

Lower Abbey Farm

In the late 1950s, Tor made two windows for Leiston Church. It was the church where her father had been church warden, and where she herself had been baptised (in August 1891). In the opinion of church expert Simon Knott, these windows are her finest work.
In her St Matthew Window, dedicated to her parents, one can easily see two scenes, right at the bottom of the glass, relating to her family’s farming life.

The farmhouse in them has now been identified by Arthur Rope (the biographer of both Tor and Marga) as the family home, Lower Abbey Farm. (Some generations later, Arthur himself grew up there). This house is on the edge of Minsmere marshes just north of Leiston.

Pic: Arthur Rope. Double-click on the image to see a larger version

The companion panel (see pic right) shows a man ploughing a field, identified by Arthur Rope as the ‘Sandy Pightle’ field! The kiln-like structure turns out to be the medieval, now-ruined chapel on the marshes. (Recently, some new stained glass was placed into the ruins). In the background, one can see the sea, which was not far away.

Interestingly, though Tor left Suffolk quite young to go to London to pursue her career, she did return to live at the farm at the age of 87. (See Tor’s Wikipedia entry)

Blaxhall

Although Marga must have surely visited Lower Abbey Farm when her family came to Suffolk for holidays, in fact she probably spent most of the holiday at her grandfather’s farm in nearby Blaxhall.
Later, in 1913, Marga was to pay tribute to those joyful moments when she created the East Window at Blaxhall Church, a wonderful piece which also shows local family-inspired ploughing scenes.
So… did Tor deliberately echo these depictions when she came to make the St Matthew Window some fifty years later?

Nature

It is fascinating to be reminded that, though both Tor and Marga both became largely cut off from Nature as they pursued their vocations in their adulthood, aspects of the natural landscape remained important in their work all their lives.

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*Kirsty Hartsiotis is the Curator of Decorative & Fine Art at The Wilson Art Gallery in Gloucestershire, an institution which specialises in the Arts & Crafts Movement. Thanks to her for the photos.
For International Women’s Day 2022 in March, Kirsty is giving a talk on May Morris. (May Morris was an important designer, maker and teacher in the Arts and Crafts movement, as well as the editor of her father William Morris’s works).

Leiston Church is well worth a visit. Both the structure, rebuilt in 1853, and the monuments make for a fascinating experience. The features include more works by a Rope: Dorothy (Tor’s sculptor sister) designed the melancholy Art-Nouveau memorial inside the church as well as the starkly painful war memorial crucifixion figure, which stands in the churchyard.