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Ninian Comper
The Last of the Gothic revivalists
with Ian Lloyd-Oswell

Audience members at the latest Vale of Evesham Historical Society talk were treated to a visual feast on the evening of 25 January, when Ian Lloyd-Oswell spoke about the life and work of Sir Ninian Comper, the last of the Victorian Gothic Revivalists (who actually died in 1960 when in his nineties).

Ian’s slides of church interiors were a riot of colour – of painting, gilding and statuary on rood screens, reredoses, church walls; Sir Ninian certainly didn’t subscribe to the “less is more” school of thought when it came to church decoration!

Ninian Comper was born in Aberdeen in 1864, the fourth of 7 children of Ellen and John Comper: his father was a clergyman of the Church of Scotland.  He studied drawing for a time at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford, before becoming an assistant to Charles Kempe, a designer and manufacturer of stained glass. In 1888 he entered into partnership with William Bucknall with whom he restored many churches throughout Great Britain.  After this partnership was dissolved in 1904, he worked independently, designing 15 new churches and restoring many others over his lifetime. He did little in the way of secular work, but among that work is the Welsh National War Memorial in Cardiff.  He was knighted in 1950.

Much influenced by the Oxford Movement and by Pugin in particular, he was a great admirer of Northern European Gothic (in 1896 during an extended tour of the Rhineland he was particularly impressed by the church of St Lawrence at Nuremberg).  Later in his career he also drew on classical Greek influences.  Among his work are stained glass windows in Westminster Abbey, and gilded paintings in the Lady Chapel of All Saints’, Margaret Street, London.  (The latter, the work of architect William Butterfield, is the church which is said to have kick-started the Gothic revival in England.)

Sir Ninian’s ashes are interred in Westminster Abbey.

As ever, Ian’s talk was interspersed with personal anecdotes and reminiscences making for a very entertaining evening.

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