1884: Batheaston, St. John the Baptist Church

Moses  Elias  St. John the Baptist  St. Paul

Batheaston Moses Elias 2       Batheaston John Baptist Paul

Montgomery’s first documented commission as an independent artist was for a series of four reredos panels for St. John the Baptist’s Church at Batheaston, three miles east of Bath, England.  The panels were commissioned by Michael Foster Ward to complete the reredos that Ward had donated five years earlier as a thank offering for his daughter’s rescue from drowning.

Batheaston marble reredos copy

Reredos as it was in 2005.  Note curtains at either side which cover the reredos figure panels.  Photographer: Jeremy Paterson-Fox.

The reredos was installed at the east end of the chancel, in front of the three-light window of the Ascension, and with the communion table in front. A carving of the Crucifixion was placed centrally, with the Women at the Tomb (before and after the Crucifixion) at either side. The four panels were inserted into the blind arcading at either side of the reredos.

Although not executed in glass, the figures reflect Montgomery’s emerging stained-glass style.  Even at this relatively early stage of his career, several of Montgomery’s stylistic characteristics are manifested in the long-toed bony feet, large wide set eyes and particular gestures.  His skill in rendering drapery and embroidery (note the arras behind the figures) is also evident.

Revd Rogers JPEG (flipped to match altarpiece)

Image courtesy of the Reverend Alison Fry, Batheaston. Photographer and date  unknown

The Reverend Thomas Percival Rogers MA, (b.1821) Batheaston’s incumbent, was responsible for the restoration of the chancel, which was thought to be in ‘good taste’ a century later.[1] Plans and elevations were drawn up for extensive marble and stonework by R.L. Boulton, Architectural and Monumental Sculptor, Bath Road, Cheltenham, submitted to the Diocese on behalf of St. John’s Churchwardens, and a Faculty for reredos and chancel screen was granted by the Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells on 12 February 1878.[2]  Presumably the work proceeded from some time after that date.[3]

Reredos evelation drawing013

Section of drawing by RL Boulton, Cheltenham showing reredos carving and blind arcading.  Faculty D/D/CF/1878/3 Somerset Record Office.

Michael Foster Ward (1826-1915) was educated at Eton College and subsequently held a commission in the 90th regiment of Light Infantry, serving at Whitehall for a period. After leaving the army he ‘entered fully into the duties and life of a country squire, raising the North Wiltshire Volunteers, which he commanded as Lieutenant-Colonel until 1881.[4]

Michael Foster Ward 1826-1915

Dividing his time between England and Europe, he purchased a residence in Partenkirchen, Bavaria spending part of every year there with his wife and family of seven children.  More importantly, he built a small English church in its grounds and probably selected stained glass in the same English style for the building.  In the 1870s and 1880s William Montgomery was employed at the firm of Franz Mayer & Co., Munich, specifically to introduce the English style of glass-painting to the artisans of the studio; it is clear from the correspondence between the two men that Ward saw Montgomery’s work while visiting Mayer & Co.[5]

For several years after the stonework of the reredos was completed around 1878-9, Ward had wanted to add figure panels between the serpentine marble pillars.  He commissioned Montgomery to paint the four figures on zinc plates, with the agreement of the Rev. Rogers.[6] Initially the idea was not universally well-received, however, by October 1884, Ward was able to write to Montgomery with good news that the Vicar ‘seems to have overcome all opposition and is looking forward anxiously for the arrival of the figures’ and urged they be dispatched at once.[7]

The crates arrived safely on 10 November and Rogers wrote the same day to Montgomery.

‘I have only unpacked two, & I think to leave the others as they are for greater safety till I secure a good workman to put them in place.  The two – S. John the Baptist & S. Paul are standing up before me.  The attitudes strike me as easy & dignified, the colours very soft & harmonious & I think they will add greatly to the general effect of our Reredos…’[8] The figures of the Saints were imposing as each panel stood approximately 5’6” high and stood above the floor of the chancel a further 18 inches.

Ward in Partenkirchen had not seen the panels, but his daughter at Batheaston wrote to tell him that they were ‘beautifully done & everyone is pleased’ and that  it was ‘just what the reredos wanted to set off the stone work… it is wonderful the impression they give you at a little distance of standing out in colour relief’.[9]

After the panels were installed, Montgomery gave the original watercolour sketches to Ward who was delighted and had the ‘little sketches’…mounted in a suitable carved frame’ to hang in his room.[10]  He wrote: ‘Next let me discharge my debt to you- you named £20 as the amount.  Having been sent a lot of English bank notes useless to me here [in Bavaria] I send you two £10, which I dare say will answer your purpose as well as a cheque.[11]  I have taken the precaution of cutting them in half.  For safety the other halves shall follow by next post’.  It was an interesting method of paying the bill!

In 2005 the panels remained in place but were covered by curtains as they were considered not to be in accordance with current artistic taste.  Damage to several columns and some minor damage to the painted panels, which is clearly visible in the images at the top of this page, may also have contributed to the decision to cover them over.  The figure of St Paul is also out of proper alignment.[12]

Boys from Batheaston 001

Moses, Elijah (an alternative to Elias, which appears on the finished panels), St John the Baptist and St Paul.  [Note the likeness of St Paul to the Reverend Rogers, a coincidence that Ward remarked upon at the time.]

The pen and wash drawings on butter paper above were copies of the original thumbnails (scale drawings) and are extremely fragile.  Montgomery often made notes in the margins, which give a clearer sense of his intentions for the final work.  Notes on tonal values and the placement of silver stain to create a gold lustre in the backgrounds can be seen on the butter paper images.

They only survived by being folded in one of Montgomery’s large scrap books and are now held in the William Montgomery drawings at the State Library of Victoria.

Batheaston postcard n.d.

Postcard of Batheaston Church. Photographer and date unknown.

Preparation of this entry would not have been possible without the support and assistance of Jennifer Beazley, parishioner and NADFAS researcher, who kindly introduced me to the Diocesan archives and Gill Hawkings and made many other valuable suggestions for further research; the Reverend Alison Fry, Vicar at St. John the Baptist Church, Batheaston; and Jeremy Paterson-Fox, NADFAS photographer for permission to reproduce his images of the four panels.


[1] BM Willmott Dobbie, An English Rural Community: Batheaston with S. Catherine, Bath University Press, 1969.

[2] Faculty D/D/CF/1878/3, Somerset Record Office, UK.

[3] Information from Gill Hawkings, Harris & Harris Solicitors, Wells UK, custodians of the Somerset Diocesan Archives.

[4] Details of Michael Foster Ward’s interesting life (meteorologist, astronomer, prisoner of war, etc.)  appeared in his obituary, Royal Astronomical Society Report to the Council of the Ninety-Sixth Annual General Meeting, [1916], pp. 276-77.

[5] Correspondence from Ward to Montgomery, 23 March 1885, SLV.

[6] There does not appear to have been a separate Faculty granted for this work. Gill Hawkings reports that this was a not uncommon occurrence as ‘the Victorians took a rather cavalier attitude to the faculty system’.  Personal communication with Gill Hawkins, via email 8 July 2005.

[7] Correspondence from Michael Foster Ward to Montgomery, 24 October 1884, SLV.

[8] Correspondence from Rev. TP Rogers to Montgomery, 10 November 1884, SLV.

[9] Quoted in correspondence from Ward to Montgomery, 12 April 1885, SLV.

[10] Correspondence Ward to Montgomery, 5 December 1884, SLV.

[11] Correspondence Ward to Montgomery, 5 December 1884, SLV.

[12] Personal communication from Jennifer Beazley, via email 5 July 2005.