Portrait Window Memorials

Capt A Ridgway portrait window (IWM 42896, 2000)by Ashley Garber, Project Assistant

By Ashley Garber, Project Assistant.

We recently received an inquiry asking us how rare it is for the portrait of an individual casualty to be memorialised in a stained glass window. Whilst the names of the fallen usually serve as the focus for commemoration on memorials, some memorials do include a portrait of the dead, and stained glass windows are particularly expressive examples of this.

Portrait windows would have been very expensive, and only a few families would have been able to afford the cost of such a memorial. Even so, we have recorded 11 definite examples.

These include a window in St Peters Church, Oughtrington, Cheshire, which depicts Captain Althorp Ridgway, who died 12th May 1915. Ridgway is dressed in the armour of a medieval knight and his portrait actually appears twice in the window: as the face of the more prominent standing knight, and also in profile as the kneeling knight below. Local lore claims that the artist, Archibald K Nicholson, not having met Ridgway, relied on a photograph of him in order to complete these portraits.

Wilson brothers window (©IWM)

The Wilson brothers memorial window in St Andrews Church, Chippenham, Wiltshire is a poignant family portrait.

All three brothers – Herbert Raymond, Evelyn Seppings, and Geoffrey Mervyn Underhill – were killed in the First World War. They appear in uniform in the window, yet they do not constitute the focus, which is dominated by Archangels and scenes of war, regimental devices and references to Flanders.

Instead, the portraits appear in the background in the far left light, behind the figure of a grieving woman, which may be their mother.

The medium of portrait windows allows an opportunity to define relationships visually in a way that other memorial types cannot.

East window, Church Norton, Chichester (©The Friends of St Wilfrids Church Norton, 2006)

An example of this is the East window in St Wilfrids Chapel in Church Norton, Chichester. This window was commissioned by Captain Maurice Wingfield, owner of the nearby Norton Priory, and commemorates, in portraiture, his wife Stephanie Agnes, who died in 1918; his brother Captain John Wingfield, who died of wounds 29th April 1915; and his close friend, Captain the Honourable Thomas Agar-Roberts MP, who died on 30th September 1915, also of wounds.

Both men appear dressed in armour in the window and Stephanie Agnes is depicted as the Agnes Dei.

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2 comments
  1. How about the parish church of St Mary, Kettlewell (North Yorkshire) which includes windows depicting members of the Holdsworth family (owners of nearby Scargill House) who were killed in WW1.

    • ukniwm2 said:

      The memorial windows to the Holdsworth family have been recorded under the reference numbers IWM War Memorials Archive 29633 and 29634 and they depict Major John Holdsworth MC (killed 1945) and Sub-Lt Michael Holdsworth (killed 1942). The East window of St Mary’s Church commemorates Lt Charles Hyne (killed 1916), and this window shows a sentry in battledress which is thought to be a portrait of Lt Hyne (See our record reference 29632).

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