We should begin with three definitions:
- Window light – a pane of glass which has been installed in a window frame
- stained glass – ‘the colored [sic] glass used for making decorative windows and other objects through which light passes’ https://www.britannica.com/art/stained-glass
- 3. numbers – arithmetical values representing a particular quantity and used in counting and making calculations.
Bear with (as the modern phrasing has it) – this may all become clearer. Or may not.
As the School approached its first one hundred years, consideration was given as to how this could be commemorated. It was decided that, as accommodation was tight because of growing school roll, more building was required and this could be combined with the Centenary. Amongst other buildings that came to fruition about this time was a Hall, at first called the Centenary Hall, later the Alexandra Hall. Once the principle was established and following a very successful centenary festival, it was decided that this hall should have stained glass window décor. Edward Frampton was commissioned to design and create the windows and
This was more formally given as:
Then started a flurry of activity that continued for some years as decisions were made by lodges about this, funds were received, artwork commissioned and so on. But how many windows and where in the Hall they were has been something of a conundrum, particularly while Lockdown is preventing access to the Minutes which might provide a definitive answer.
The Freemason, January 25 1890 tells us:
Those of you with enough fingers and toes and an ability to do multiplication may at this point be saying “But …” because six times nine is not 144. It wasn’t in 1890 and it isn’t now.
In October 1890, the number 144 is used again (The Freemason Vol XXV)
On this occasion there is no reference to the six windows with the 9 compartments so the total of 144, whilst unsubstantiated in this article, may be perfectly accurate with the evidence not recorded here as being unnecessary for the purpose.
Let’s deal with six windows issue first.
An image of the completed Hall shows three large windows. For there to have been six windows, it would require another three windows at the eastern end of the Hall to make 6 x 9. But it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to see that only two of the windows have nine compartments, the other having considerably more. Even then, the two lateral windows have nine larger panels but a further six smaller lights which may, or may not, have had designs incorporated, so a possible total of 15 lights in both left and right windows. For the record, the central window has 37-39 lights in it (depending whether you count the very small ones formed by the tracery). If this were replicated at t’other end, we would have 134-138 panes which is close to the mysterious 144 but not exact. An image of the Hall in use in 1931 gives us an indication of the light source from the windows and implies (but does not confirm) that there were windows only at one end of the Hall.
However, when it comes to adding up the numbers of windows, there were also two banks of 7 windows on either side of the Hall which, to judge from a magnified image, all had six panes with the possibility of three smaller ones at the top.
Multiply this by 14 – hang on, where’s the calculator – and we have between 84 and 124 lights down the sides of the hall. And this then needs adding to the previous totals so we are bandying about numbers ranging from 151-262. At this point it is becoming like the folklore of stone circles – that anyone attempting to count the number of stones will be unable to do so.
In The Freemason 1891, we have a detailed description of the Hall which includes
Somebody ran out of fingers and toes when counting these! It does, however, imply that the windows were only at one end of the Hall.
It goes on to describe the contents of the larger panels
As these four designs are non-Masonic as it were, we might imagine that they were the ones forming a cross-shape in the larger window. This is by no means a certainty just some educated guesswork in the absence of any other confirmation.
Before we move on, there is another little mystery here. Faith, Hope and Charity are referred to as the theological virtues used by Paul in his letters to the Corinthians of which “the greatest of these is love.” But the four acts of Charity are trickier to define. There are four Cardinal Virtues (Prudence, Courage, Temperance and Justice) and there are also the works of mercy, divided into corporal and spiritual, but usually grouped in six or seven. Precisely what was meant here by the four acts of Charity is unclear. The first four of the corporal acts of mercy seem appropriate to the School, relating as they do to the objects of the masonic charity: providing food, water, clothing and shelter. Visiting the sick or the imprisoned and burying the dead was rather to be hoped didn’t happen much in the School’s history although, sadly, the first and last of these did from time to time.
If these windows did indeed contain portraits as we understand the word, they have not survived. Neither have the acts of Charity and the Faith, Hope etc. Unless a window in School today but not in the Great Hall is one of these.
This window is believed to be the work of Arthur Anselm Orr, who worked with Frampton as well as others, but there is no date for it nor any certainty that it represents anything specific nor that it was ever anywhere but in the present School.
In two other panels at Clapham were the arms of Grand Lodge and the Prince of Wales.
The first of these has definitely survived: it is pictured above left as found in the Great Hall today. As coats of arms belong to an individual, the arms of the Prince of Wales are adapted to each prince and alter as he succeeds to the throne.
However, and it probably doesn’t need pointing out, all of these total 11 in a 15-pane arrangement so we are four adrift.
Finally we get to the ‘144’ windows! But just when you thought it safe to go back in the water as far as numbers were concerned, we must fast forward through the School’s history. When, in due course, RMIG outgrew the Clapham site and it was decided to move the whole shebang to Hertfordshire, the windows came too. Or more exactly, the windows went ahead of the School as a pupil in Machio 1932 noted in ‘A Masonic Alphabet’ of which:
All of the sections were re-assembled in the Great Hall with new interconnecting pieces and descriptive calligraphy by Louis Ginnett ROI and Elizabeth Tatchell.
But wait a minute! This glass panel refers to the number of armorial shields transferred. 97?? What happened to the 144? Were some dropped along the way in a vitreous oops butterfingers moment? Let’s count the armorial shields in the Great Hall today.
So neither 144 nor 97 but an entirely different number. Definitely all armorial bearings of which 48 represent Masonic Provinces, 71 are individual lodges and 15 are found in what is known as the Royal Window reserved for the important bods. But nowhere do we see 97 or 144. And if 97 shields were transported from Clapham but there are 134 in the Great Hall today, which are the 37 that appear to be unique to Rickmansworth? There are possibly 8 in the royal window but that still leaves 29 to find.
The quest is on. Or as Sherlock Holmes might say – the game’s afoot! (But Shakespeare used it first.)
(With grateful thanks to Phillip for providing many additional resources.)