1885: New Seaham, England, Christ Church

The Five Talents

Three-light window with six-lobed tracery

Seaham Christ Church 5 Talents 1885 copy

William Montgomery’s first independent commission in stained glass, was a memorial to the Fifth Marquess of Londonderry installed at the east end of the south aisle of Christ Church, New Seaham, England.

Although it was the ‘first’ stained glass, Montgomery was well-experienced in the art, having previously designed for Clayton & Bell in London (c1873-6) and Franz Mayer & Co., Munich, Germany (1876-84).  He returned to Newcastle upon Tyne in 1884 where he became a freelance designer and cartoon-draughtsman for the Gateshead Glass Company (1885-86) while making arrangements to emigrate to Australia.

When Thomas Brough, Secretary of Seaham Colliery, Sunderland approached him to design the memorial window, Montgomery felt the opportunity was too important to pass up.  The commission delayed his departure, but that was outweighed by the excellent publicity such an installation would (and did) generate when he set up his Melbourne enterprise.

Montgomery prepared the sketch design for New Seaham in the first months of 1885 and forwarded it to Mr. Brough for consideration by the Members of the Marquess of Londonderry Memorial Committee, who were acting on behalf of the Colliery’s many subscribers.  A covering letter explained in great detail the arrangement of the three lights telling the Biblical story of the lord who distributed five talents to each of three servants, and the results of his endowment; the angel in the tracery piece ‘repeats the welcome words which have greeted the ears of the faithful servant & bids him “enter into the joy of the Lord”’.[1]  The arms of the Londonderry family filled the central base panel, and the whole design was surrounded by Early English architectural canopy and base ornamentation.  The detailed ornamentation design below contains the Marquess of Londonerry motto, ‘Metuenda Corolla Dragonis’ however, a different coat of arms was inserted in the final window.

Seaham Early Englishwindow border 1885

New Seaham Christ Church detail018

Montgomery undertook to fulfil the commission ‘according to design, fixed complete, with galvanised wire guards & the necessary bars for the sum of £53.0.0 (fifty-three pounds).  I further promise that the work will be undertaken at once & completed as speedily as possible consistent with good work.’[2]

After further discussion regarding minor details in the design, Thomas Brough gave the go-ahead in a letter dated 10 April 1885, and enclosed the inscription that was to be engraved on a brass plaque set on a sloping stone below the base reveal of the window:[3]

To the Glory of God, and in affectionate Remembrance of George Henry Robert Charles William, Fifth Marquess of Londonderry. K.P.G.C., St. Alexander Newski of Russia.  This window is erected by the Officers and Workmen of Seaham Colliery And Other Friends. A.D. 1885.[4]

Work started on the window before 30 May when Montgomery paid the glass cutter 10 shillings, (8 pence per hour) for his services.  Progress continued according to plan and  Montgomery was paid in full on 4 September 1885.  The cheque for £62.10.0 (window, wire guards, installation and brass plaque) was accompanied with the grateful thanks of the Members of the Memorial Committee, wishing ‘to express to you, their high appreciation for the manner in which you have executed the work entrusted to you, viz, the Stained glass Window in Christ Church New Seaham, and the great satisfaction it has given her Ladyship, the Dowager Marchioness of Londonderry, and to everyone who has had the pleasure of seeing it.’[5]

New Seaham Christ Church detail019

Montgomery took great care to document his costs and to preserve drawings and letters associated with the commission.  The cartoons were lost or forgotten over time, however the cartoon for the central light was re-discovered a few years ago – in poor shape, eaten by silverfish and fragile – while cleaning out a Montgomery family home.  The carefully annotated drawing shows how Montgomery precisely understood his art and meticulously planned this important commission.   The cartoon is held at the State Library of Victoria, awaiting conservation.

Seaham England 1885 Christ Church Anglican Cartoon central light

The only surviving cartoon, central light, The Five Talents, Christ Church, New Seaham, England

Montgomery signed this window, a practice that he continued throughout his working life.  It is difficult to see as it is covered in part by lead, but the ‘M’ of Montgomery may be seen immediately above the text in the right hand light.

George Henry Robert Charles William Vane-Tempest (1821-1884) inherited the title of 5th Marquess of Londonderry from his childless half-brother, Frederick Stewart.  His business interests included slate quarries and railway at Corris, the Cambrian railway, as well as the Seaham Colliery.  He had a career in politics as a Conservative Member of Parliament for Durham North 1847-1854, at which time he took succeeded his father and took his seat in the House of Lords as Earl Vane.   In 1880 he became the Lord-Lieutenant of County Durham, a post he held until his death in November 1884.

New Seaham 5th Marquess of Londonderry

George Henry Robert Charles William Vane Tempest (1821-1884) Fifth Marquess of Londonderry

The Russian title on the brass plaque stems from a special mission the Marquess undertook to Russia in order to invest the Emperor Alexander II with the British Order of the Garter.

New Seaham Christ Church image Michael Harringon

Christ Church, New Seaham.  The Five Talents window is the three-light on the left of the image.  Photographer: Michael Harrington

The Parish of Christ Church, New Seaham is a Grade II listed building.[6] The original section of the church was built in 1857 to provide a centre of Anglican worship for the employees of the Seaham Colliery, largely funded by Frances Ann, Marchioness of Londonderry.   A Garden of Rest lies just east of the building, which remembers 164 men and boys who lost their lives in a huge explosion at the Colliery in 1880.  Not all were killed outright and a survivor chalked messages on a beam, now housed inside the church – a stark reminder of the terrible conditions and hazards that existed in coalmines throughout the country.[7]

Seaham England 1885 Christ Church Anglican Cartoon central light detail 4

New Seaham Christ Church detail021

Detail of cartoon and finished section of The Five Talents central light, Christ Church, New Seaham, England

[1] Draft letter ‘Seaham Colliery Window 1885’, MS 15414 Box 2/1, State Library of Victoria (SLV).

[2] ibid.

[3] Letter from Thos. Brough accepting Montgomery’s quote of 12.10.0 for an engraved brass plaque, installed by a Mason under Montgomery’s supervision. 28 May 1885, MS 15414 Box 2/1, SLV.

[4] Letter from Thos. Brough to Montgomery. 10 April 1885, MS 15414 Box 2/1, SLV.

[5] Letter signed by Thos. Brough to Montgomery. 4 September 1885, MS 15414 Box 2/1. SLV.

[6] https://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101232272-christ-church-seaham

[7] Sighted by the author.  See Durham Records Online https://durhamrecordsonline.com/library/seaham-colliery-disaster-of-1880/