1885-86: Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead, England

Good Samaritan

The Prodigal Son

The Lost Piece of Silver

The Sower… and other drawings

While Montgomery completed his first independent commission at New Seaham after returning to Newcastle-on-Tyne from Munich, he also spent some time as a freelance designer for a little-known local firm, Messrs Sowerby & Co.  His earnings were undoubtedly helping to finance the preparations for his marriage in September 1886 and plans to emigrate to Australia shortly afterwards.

Unfortunately, there are no images of his drawings and no completed windows have been identified. The only evidence of his activities from this period are the small number of invoices and notes that survived and are now held in the Montgomery papers at the State Library of Victoria.  The invoices show that he designed a number of windows in 1885.  His account for £15 suggests there were several substantial designs and/or cartoons, but there is no record of the subjects or their locations.  However, in April the following year, he drew up the full-sized cartoon of the Good Samaritan, which included ‘ornamentation and figure’ for £6.[1]  In Melbourne, Montgomery certainly produced designs of the same subject, which appear among his sketches; they may give some indication of the earlier work.  Two single light windows, The Lost Piece of Silver and The Sower, were drawn up by Montgomery for the sum of £4.10.0, included on the same Sowerby account.

Sowerby account April 1886006

Copy of William Montgomery’s account for preparation of drawings for Messrs. Sowerby & Co. 1885-86.

The Sowerby company, founded by Joseph Sowerby in 1760, produced tableware and decorative items in glass.  In 1852 it moved to Ellison Street, Gateshead where the firm’s main production was pressed glass for domestic use.  It was not until 1889 that the Gateshead Stained Glass Company was formed as a subsidiary of the Sowerby firm.  The founders were James George Sowerby (1850-1914) and Thomas Ralph Spence (1845-1918), the latter becoming the principal designer.  Spence was described as a multi-talented Victorian, an architect and designer of metalwork as well as stained glass.  His most significant building is St. George’s Church, Jesmond (1885-1891) which he designed along Arts and Crafts precepts.[2]

Clearly, from Montgomery’s account for cartoons, the firm was involved in stained glass several years earlier than the formal establishment of Sowerby’s subsidiary company and other designs were prepared by TR Spence and Arthur Hardwick Marsh (1842-1909).  By the time St. George’s Church was under construction, Montgomery was establishing a thriving studio in Australia and TR Spence and John W Brown (1842-1928) were responsible for St. George’s windows. The connections with Melbourne continued though; JW Brown came to Melbourne in 1891 to become the senior glass artist at Brooks, Robinson & Co.

We can only hope that Montgomery’s windows may remain extant in church around Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead, and that in years to come they may be re-discovered by and enthusiastic historian.

[1] Account from Montgomery to Messrs. Sowerby & Co., 19 April 1886.  MS 15414 State Library of Victoria.

[2] Moat, Neil. A Theatre for the Soul: St George’s Church, Jesmond: The Building and Cultural Reception of a late-Victorian Church. Newcastle University: Doctoral thesis, 2011.  Dr Moat died suddenly in February 2017, aged 58.  His scholarship and dedication to stained glass history and conservation will be sadly missed.

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