Monday, 4 May 2009
Nantwich is one of the loveliest Cheshire towns, and is genuinely old black and white timbered buildings since it suffered a major fire and was rebuilt largely through the generosity of Queen Elisabeth 1st. Its black and white buildings are worth going to see for themselves alone, especially the bookshop which has settled in towards its middle so severely it looks like it has a bad case of rickets. Knock-kneed and yet very beautiful! There are many things worth seeing in Nantwich but I go there for two things particularly: one is this wonderful furniture shop that looks like an amazing ship that has sailed up the River Weaver by mistake and been stranded in the town.
The other is the very special Harry Clarke window in the church. The Clarke family were a Dublin firm of stained glass makers; much of their work is in churches and convents in Ireland but this window was done for a family that Harry knew very well and it is as if he pulled out all the stops when making it: the colours in it are the richest example of art nouveau stained glass I have ever seen and if you can get to Nantwich in late February or March, around midday so that you might be lucky enough to get the low winter sun pouring in behind the window, you will be dazzled by the intensity and sheer beauty of colour. I have tried to photograph it, but you would need special lighting to convey the stunning colours in it, and the postcard sold by the church shop sadly comes nowhere near the mark.
I was once fortunate to see it in perfect light conditions; I was with a friend and just as we arrived in Nantwich the sun came out. We looked at each other and said "Quick, let's go and see the Harry Clarke window!" and we got there at the precise moment that the sun lit it up fully: glowing greens, purples and blues as in peacock feathers, a thrilling brilliant rose pink and the bright willow green of new leaves in spring, and golds and yellows and fierce oranges. Harry used a great many metals in obtaining his rich colours and so it is no surprise perhaps to learn that he died quite young, at 42, of lung problems. This is the only window in this country as far as I know that he personally supervised the installation of.