Monday, 4 August 2008

Percy Dearmer and the the Warham Guild


A lot of people know that one of my great heroes is the priest, poet, liturgist and artist Percy Dearmer. To my mind Dearmer was one of the greatest figures in the early twentieth century church. For a short time at least he succeeded to educate the Church of England that the externals of worship were not just a subordinate matter, but had primary value. In his theology they had primary value in that they were good and reflected and manifested the creative force of God the Father. One of Dearmer's greatest achievements was the formation of the Warham Guild. The Guild was established in 1912 to produce vestments and church ornaments according to the aesthetic principles of Dearmer's magnum opus the Parson's Handbook. The Guild replaced an earlier enterprise, the Society of St Dunstan, which Dearmer had founded in 1901 in his new parish of St Mary's Primrose Hill.

Dearmer was a Christian Socialist who abhorred what he termed the tyranny of the sweat shop. Consequently the Warham Guild, like the Society of St Dunstan that preceded it, was run on Arts and Crafts principles. Nothing was mass produced, everything was 'fair trade' manufactured in fair conditions.

Stylistically the aesthetic of the early Warham Guild work was medieval. As time went on the Gothic influence became more derivative. In terms of vestments, the Guild used good quality materials that in general terms have stood aesthetic as well as physical test of time. Below are some examples:

North Cerney, Gloucestershire - vestments

North Cerney, Gloucestershire - vestments

Warham Guild frontal and vestments:
St Mary's Primrose Hill, Hampstead

8 comments:

Anthony Symondson SJ said...

Are you sure that at North Cerney the vestments are by the Warham Guild? Surely they are by F. C. Eden who exquisitely restored the church for W. I. Croome from the early years of the c20 onwards? I knew Croome and visited him in Cirencester often. He told me that the mensa of the altar was designed by Comper in order the get the right scale, the remaining work in its entirety (including the choice of original late-mediaeval furniture) was by Eden, with the exception of maintenance work and a monument or two by Dykes-Bower. Croome, Eden and Walter Tapper used to go on annual holidays together in Italy and bought old church furniture from an antiques dealer in Florence. That is where the statues in the chapel in the south transept came from. It is true that, under Croome's chairmanship of the Gloucester DAC, the Warham Guild was used in many Gloucestershire churches but that was largely due to economy. He did not need to use it in his own church at North Cerney.

Allan Barton said...
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Allan Barton said...

Yes I am certain. Both the low mass sets from North Cerney illustrated in this post have Warham Guild labels sewn into them. There is also a blue set and a black cope made by the Guild. The one low mass set that isn't Warham Guild is the festal set, which was made specifically for the church from fabric woven in Lyons. Presumably that was the work of F. C. Eden. I imagine that the rather lovely stencilled lenten array on the high altar and transept altars is his work also? North Cerney is a glorious church isn't it, in my view the perfect blend of medieval and modern work.

Anthony Symondson SJ said...

Thanks for clearing that up. The best vestments would have been by Eden and the Lenten array. Croome used to act as sacristan as well as patron and squire and he took particular pleasure in putting up the array. Effectively North Cerney church became his private chapel and he was also responsible for appointing the incumbent, although I am not sure if he was actually the patron. Whoever that was had to walk to the beat of his drum.

Croome discovered medievalism as a youth at St Barnabas, Pimlico, and he attended the consecration of St Cyprian's, Clarence Gate, where, he said, a vision of English medieval liturgical worship was opened to him in a way then unknown. Comper's Lady Chapel at St Barnabas also came as a revelation to him.

Yes, I entirely agree that North Cerney is one of the most perfect churches of its kind in the country, not least because of its eclecticism. The combination of new work and old gives it rare distinction. But Eden enjoyed using old church furniture as you see at Blisland and elsewhere. He was a man of educated taste. Apart from painted glass (as at Wimborne St Giles)Comper did not encourage the inclusion of old work in his churches and restorations, although he would tolerate good old vestments. Two restorations by him contain old work, however. Wimborne St Giles for the Shaftesbury monuments and West Bagborough in Somerset. Sometimes his work looks best in medieval churches that contain work by other hands, new and old, such as Hickleton in Yorkshire. But everything depends on the taste of the patron.

I don't believe that the Warham Guild ever reached the standards of Comper and Eden. F. E.Howard was slavishly dependent on Comper's work and once innocently said to him that he did not need to look at old work because he had his to copy. That, of course, infuriated Comper, not least because his work had been informed by close study of late-medieval precedent. Doubtless you know Dearmer's boast that he wanted to pour everything Comper knew into real artists to enable them to work on the right lines. This hint was applied by F. C. Eeles with iron force.

By the way, I think your website is marvellous. You have the mentality of those beacons of Edwardian antiquarianism, the Antiquary Books. I was brought up on them.

Allan Barton said...

Many thanks for your kind words about the blog, I'm very much enjoying the discussions that are emerging from it.

I agree with what you are saying about the Warham Guild to an extent, but I do wonder if you are perhaps a little harsh on Dearmr and his work. I don't think it was ever Dearmer's general intention for the Guild to reach the standards of quality or finish that Comper was achieving. I don't need to tell you that Dearmer's work was undergirded by a very specific socio-political theory that differed wholly from that of Comper. Consequently the work of the Guild was directed towards lifting standards in the average parish church, where there were limited funds. Churches that would never be able to afford Comper's work. I'm sure you would agree that the work of the Guild was a marked improvement compared to the quality of catalogue ecclesiastical work of the time.

Some of his associates, such as F E Howard were plagiarists as you say. I don't believe Dearmer was. He was a self-confessed journalist and populariser, but was careful to reference the sources of the ideas he popularised. Take for example the 'English altar'. In the Alcuin Club Collection 'Pictures of Fifty Gothic Altars' he refers back to Comper as the source of this innovation. I think dismissing the work of the Warham Guild in comparison to Comper's work is rather unfair. The work was ungirded by an entirely different artistic ethic and they served a different market. It is rather like comparing caviar and fish and chips.

I find it fascinating that Comper was so put out that other people copied his work, particularly in commissions that he would never have got. Was he only interested in making his own mark rather than the general reimagination of ecclesiastical art and architecture? A lot of people would be flattered that their ideas received such wide credence.

Canon Tallis said...

The vestments are lovely but not quite medieval. I believe the true English medieval chasuble to have been conical to the end of the sixteenth century. The chasuble from Elizabeth I's chapel given by James I to the French ambassador who arranged Prince Charles's wedding shows every sign of being so before being cut down to the later Roman model.

However they do look like those one sees in the brasses.

Anonymous said...

I doubt very much if Fr. Dearmer would ever have approved of the altar being turned into the priest's personal power desk, a la modern Roman Catholicism. He had very little patience with those Anglicans who aped Rome during his lifetime.

Canon Tallis said...

The real reason that he would not have approved of it is that it did not represent obedience to the rubrics or the canons and had absolutely nothing to do with the worship of either the primitive or medieval church. The Roman use of his own time was invented in the very century of the Reformation just as the modern Roman usage is based upon mistranslated documents in the 1930's having nothing to do with the traditions of the Church.