Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Esmond Hunt's Window by Frank Brangwyn in Manaton Parish Church

At the edge of Dartmoor is a small hamlet with a name that makes it sound like an angel from an obscure and apocryphal book of the Bible: Manaton. In fact it does have a rather pleasant church, most noted for it's rood screen, a delicate and extensive piece of Medieval carving and painting on which the vandals of the reformation did their work by gouging out the faces of every last saint depicted on it.

It was the rood screen, mentioned in the visitors book of the cottage I was staying in recently that first prompted my friend Mark and I to take a stroll up the hill to visit. The rood screen was certainly impressive enough but I was rather taken by a window in the Southwestern corner. It had deep, rich colours and almost pre-Raphaelite figures. It looked something special and since Mark wanted to take some photos of the rood screen and hadn't brought his camera, we resolved to return later in our week's stay. Like any good holiday cottage, the place we were staying was well stocked with local guide books and I confess a little pride to discover that my eye had been good, the window was something special: design by renowned muralist and book illustrator Frank Brangwyn.

We returned later in the week and I discovered in the gloom of the unlit church what I had missed the first time, that the window had a notice beneath it telling the visitor who had designed it. But this time I was able to take in the details of the text at the bottom of the window. It is a memorial to Esmond Moore Hunt, son of Cecil Arthur and Phyllis Clara Hunt. He died on 7th February 1927 at the age of nineteen. This, in itself seemed worth some thought: such a large and impressive window by such a well-known artist for one so young, that seemed unusual. Also, had the window been dated 1917 or 1940, it might have been easily assumed that the young man was a victim of war.


In fact, Esmond had Down Syndrome. His death was reported as by septic pneumonia at his school in Hastings. He came to be memorialised by one of the greatest muralists of the age because of his father, a lawyer turned artist and good friend of Brangwyn. It seemed sad to me that this glorious window is now more noticed for its artist and even it's crafter than it is for the young man to whom it was dedicated. There is nothing in the church, nor in any of the books about the area that mention the window which gives any more information than there is in the window itself. This includes Pevsner, who is wonderfully sniffy as always describing the choirboys in the window as "disturbing", and I suppose he had a point, but they did reflect a young man's fascination with music. It is said that the central boy is a portrait of Esmond and the cloaked figure behind is a protective St Cecilia, patron saint of music. I am delighted to say, however, that Esmond's story is now properly told as part of a catalogue raisonne of Brangwyn's stained glass on DVD by Libby Horner, and the section on this window is the one that was chosen as an online preview and is available here through Vimeo. It is well worth ten minutes of your time to remember a sweet young man who was obviously much loved.

Frank Brangwyn Stained Glass - Manaton from Libby Horner on Vimeo.

I was very grateful in my digging around on this subject for the use of Mark's photographs and for the excellent lateral thinking skill of my friend Sue.

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