Charles Eamer Kempe

All of the stained glass in All Saints’ Church is from the studios of Charles Eamer Kempe

Charles Eamer Kempe was born in 1837, in Ovingdean on the edge of Brighton, and Sussex remained central to his life. It was here that he met the architect George Frederick Bodley, with whom he began his career and with whom he collaborated on some of the churches that best exemplify the Tractarian spirit in Victorian architecture.

Kempe’s figures, whether angels, saints, biblical or historical characters, are always finely clothed. Their garments or robes are often embellished with jewel-like pieces of deeply coloured glass or decorated with pearls, each one carefully highlighted and etched before and after the glass had been fired. Two other distinctive features of Kempe windows are that his angels have peacock feather wings, and many of his windows are signed either with a single wheatsheaf or with a red shield emblazoned with three garbs. In All Saints’ church there seems to be no sign of the single wheatsheaf or red shield marks, but there is an abundance of peacock feather wings on the angels in the S. Michael Window.

The S. Michael Window (L) and detail of one of the angels showing the ‘Peacock Wings’

Kempe opened his studio in London in 1866 and his designs owed most to the tradition of English glass of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. He developed his style by making painstaking full-size drawings of windows in churches such as Fairford and Malvern Priory.

He was a rather shy person, who never married. He continued to live in Sussex most of his life and in 1875 he bought and renovated an Elizabethan house at Lindfield, near Haywards Heath in West Sussex. Kempe would entertain his clients and professional colleagues from his home enjoying the role of a country squire.

Kempe died suddenly on 28 April 1907 aged 69, at 28 Nottingham Place, London, refusing to get medical help after catching a cold that led to congestion of the lung. He is buried in the churchyard at St Wulfran’s Church, Ovingdean.

Kempe’s output was never limited to stained glass and until the closure of C E Kempe and Co in 1934, the firm’s designers continued designing reredoses, screens, war memorials and other furnishings.
Unfortunately, most of Kempe’s records were disposed of after the firm shut.

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