The Benson Window
We have received the following from Allan Downend, Chairman of the E F Benson Society:
“The Friends of St. Mary’s embarked on a programme of restoring various parts of the church fabric some years ago and are at present overseeing the restoration of the organ, which is now away being repaired. The Friends are a secular organisation concerned with the fabric and well-being of this famous Rye landmark and community focal point: concerts and other non-religious activities do take place within St. Mary’s. However, just recently the stonework of the west window, has caused serious concern and the leading supporting the stained glass put in by E.F.Benson, is giving way and buckling. I am a member of the Friends and was allowed to go up the scaffolding to examine the stonework and the leaded window. It was very kind of one of their members, a former surveyor, to take me up. It looked far worse than I had imagined when I had viewed it from the ground and also the state of the leading. We both agreed that whilst the stonework was being attended to, before further damage to the glass, the leading should also be repaired so that the famous Benson window is set fair for another hundred years.
Terry Burke, Chair of the Friends writes: “The upper stonework holding the splendid Benson west window in place is badly decayed and urgently needs replacing. The tracery pre-dates Benson’s window and may be partly original medieval. It was heavily repaired by the Victorians, who used hard mortar shaped to look like the original stonework. The window also appears to have been further repaired more recently, possibly during the Benson era. Unfortunately space has opened by between the crumbling stone and the hard mortar allowing rainwater to penetrate the stone. There is really now no choice but to undo the ‘repairs’ and replace the rotting stone with good stone. The glass window itself is in a good condition, although there are signs of bowing and concertinaing, where the supporting stone has fallen away. There may also be problems with the window leading, which will require expert attention. It may prove necessary to remove the Benson glass, with extreme care, and return it once the window stonework has been made good. First indications are that the repairs are likely to cost in excess of £70,000.”
Members who have been on the Benson Walks or attended the Rye Day, will know the importance of this iconic Benson window. Fred Benson mentions it in Final Edition and says how he gained inspiration for the top part of the window, by looking through pear blossom in spring and seeing a seagull go behind. This created the swirling angels amidst the vivid blue sky , the “blue that reminded.... of the morning glory growing round my villa in Capri”. Fred Benson himself is in the bottom right hand corner clothed in the mayoral robes and the Benson coat of arms is in the opposite corner. The main part of the window is the Nativity Scene. Charlie Tomlin, Benson’s valet, is in the middle window as a kneeling shepherd and Taffy, the Lamb House black Welsh Collie, Charlie regarded Taffy as his dog, but Fred writes of him as his, is next to Charlie. The roundels on the outside mullions are various scenes from the Bible. The window is in memory of Fred’s father and mother, Archbishop Benson and Mary Benson and was dedicated by Archbishop Lang in 1937. Fred, as Mayor, led the procession from Lamb House, with the Archbishop, to the dedication service. Fred comments in Final Edition, that it was strange to have the Christmas carols sung in July.
The Society is very keen to help the Friends raise monies necessary to restore and secure the future of this window and at the next Executive Committee we shall be discussing how we can do this and what amount we can give, out of the Society’s limited funds, to the project. We are very keen to know how you, our members feel about this, and do let us know. We hope you will agree that we must, as Bensonites, we must work so ensure money is raised to do this vital work on the west window. There is a donation form for you to give to this Appeal. Any amount, no matter how small is valued: it all adds to the funds available. If you would like further information then do get in touch. It was felt best for the Society to collect all your donations and then write one cheque that would include monies from the Society’s funds, once the Executive have discussed the matter. We may well organise a Fund-raising event with the Friends, to raise further money, and do this as a Benson themed evening. If we do, and it is early days, you will all be informed of the date.
However, I know the Friends of St Mary’s appreciate our support and we wish to show just how much admirers of Benson wish to ensure that future generations can enjoy this wonderful window, which meant so much to him.”
The Friends of Tilling are very happy to support this cause. You can download the donation form here.