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The Stained Glass of the Chapel of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital

Dear Friends,

Exeter’s excellent Darren Marsh and I have been chatting about his latest research – and a possible project at the priory. More shall be revealed soon but, for now, Darren has agreed to be our first contributor to our blog.

Enjoy and be safe,

In 1868, Exeter’s much-loved surgeon Arthur Kempe (1812-1871) offered to donate a chapel to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, to obviate the need for holding services on each ward every Sunday. John Hayward (1807-1891), Devon’s leading architect at that time, was retained and by 1st September 1869 the chapel was ready for use.

Over time the chapel was enhanced with stained glass memorials to persons of note, including Kempe who sadly passed away just two years after the completion of the building that he inspired. At least some of this glass was provided by the internationally-renowned local firm of F. Drake and Sons.

Regrettably the chapel was needlessly demolished in 1975 but the stained glass was salvaged and today awaits restoration before being permanently displayed; backlit and shown en masse it would make a stunning museum exhibit. Alternatively it may be possible to insert it architecturally into a church.

Among the Drake glass there are three windows of rose form showing, respectively, The Nativity, The Crucifixion and The Ascension of Our Lord. Nearly 200 subscribers jointly contributed the necessary £50. Another extant set of panels, approximately 6-7ft. in height and 2ft wide, depict Christ Healing the Sick, The Good Samaritan and St. Luke. The biblical scenes are framed within architectural devices, and are all set against a background which features the initials ‘AK’, for Arthur Kempe.

These panels, vibrant yet dignified, are deserving of a wide audience. There is considerable artistry on display in these precious fragments of the past; given their provenance and importance to Exeter it really should be possible to study and enjoy them. Perhaps one day the names of Kempe, Hayward and Drake will be synonymous with the beautiful stained glass of the hospital chapel.

Copyright of Darren Marsh 2020

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