Invoice gift is church relic

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A SMALL sheet of paper gifted to Helensburgh Heritage Trust in March 2012 turned out to be a fascinating relic from local church history.

Sue Brown, who lives in Wandsworth, London, donated an 1894 receipted invoice for a stained glass window for a Helensburgh church, but did not know which church.

Mrs Brown said: “The window depicts St Luke and St Paul, seated, writing their Epistles and Gospels. It was purchased by my many times great uncle, Dr John Cowan, in July 1894. There were quite a few Dr Cowans in the family, and my late mother was a Miss Cowan.”

The bill was issued by C.E.Kempe, of 28 Nottingham Place, London. It is for a two light window of stained glass, as per estimate, £50, and expenses of fitting the same in Helensburgh Church, man’s time, fares, packing and carriage of glass, £6 6 shillings.

It is signed as received on July 25 1894 by C.E.Kempe himself, writing across a one penny stamp.

Lindsay Watkins, who in 2006 wrote a book about the stained glass windows in St Michael and All Angels Church, provided the answer that the Cowan window is in St Michael’s, in the north wall at the west end of the church, facing south.

Mrs Watkins said: “Sadly the book, which was illustrated with beautiful photos taken by my husband, Dr Roger Watkins, has been out of print now for three years.

"The window the receipt refers to was given in 1894 in memory of Anne B.B.Cowan, who had died in 1893. She was the wife of Dr John Cowan of Shandon, who was prominent in St Michael's at that time.

“Church records show that a child was born to the couple in 1868, so Anne would probably have been in middle age when she died.

“There is an earlier Cowan window to the left of the one in question, also by C.E.Kempe. We believe this may commemorate a son of Dr Cowan as it is dedicated to Alexander Cowan, who died in 1888 aged 22.”

Mrs Watkins said that Kempe did much work in Scotland, the nearest to Helensburgh being his extensive scheme at Govan Parish Church, whose then minister, Dr MacLeod, very possibly visited St Michael's to inspect Kempe's work.

Charles Eamer Kempe was born on June 27 1837 at Ovingdean Hall, near Brighton, the youngest of seven children and fifth son of Nathaniel Kemp.

In the 1860s he trained with Clayton & Bell and Thomas Baillie & Co. and set up his own studio in 1866 in Beaumont Street, Cavendish Square. London. He added an ‘e’ to his name in adult life. In 1888 the studios and offices moved to 28 Nottingham Place in Central London, where he died suddenly on April 29 1907.

According to the Kempe Society, which was set up to promote interest in the work of the Master of Glass and that of his firm, which specialised in stained glass design and production, Kempe was a shy retiring person except when with a few of his close friends.

He had a speech impediment and never married. He was very wealthy and the fact that he started his studio and did a very full week’s work was very unusual for a man of such means.

His stained glass was very highly valued in his lifetime and despite a lack of appreciation in past years it is now being very much more appreciated by many more people as a very distinctive and highly spiritual style.

The work of Kempe's Studio can still be seen in many Cathedrals and Parish Churches in the British Isles and certain overseas countries as well, particularly in North America.

An expert on Kempe, Stephen Dykes Bower, wrote: “He was constantly enlarging his mind and creative powers by reproduction of the good tested ideas and constantly striving with new ones. Kempe combined independence of judgment with strong conviction, both religious and artistic."


The Cowan family also donated a stained glass window to Lauder's Crypt in Glasgow Cathedral in 1861. The subject is St Luke the Evangelist, and the artist was Pompeo Bertini of Milan. It was given in memory of Robert Cowan, a surgeon, by Miss Helen McCaul, Robert Cowan MD, and Messrs M.B. and M.A.Cowan.