The Staircase Window

Staircase window. Yellow glass used following bomb damage.

This was a large four light window illuminating the main staircase in the house and from the beginning it contained stained glass. The glass was mediaeval but the knowledge of how and from where it was obtained remained a mystery following Theodosia’s and her sister’s death’s. It appeared to be fine quality Flemish glass of the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century and displayed several figures; female heads; coats of arms and other details. Tragically a stray German bomb fell on the other side of Wood Road in the 1940’s blowing out more than half of the glass and unfortunately there appear to be no records of the missing panels.

When the Hickman’s bought the house in 1912, they tried to research the history of the glass and a friend of Mrs Hickman introduced someone to the family whom she thought might be able to help them. He believed that he recognised the coat of arms on the donor’s tabard as belonging to the De Croy family but further than that he couldn’t go. The De Croy’s were a large and important continental family with many branches spread over several countries so it seemed it would not be possible to identify this particular kneeling figure or his ancestry.

This situation changed dramatically following the demolition of the house. At the demolition sale the glass was bought by the late Miss Gregains (formerly owner of the Rendezvous Restaurant in Berry Street, Wolverhampton) for the purpose of having it placed in St.Peter’s Collegiate Church. Immediately after the sale it was transferred to Whitefriars stained glass studio in London awaiting a decision on its future. It was four years before the church decided it did not want the glass, already having found space for similar glass from St. Mary’s church in Stafford Street (built by Miss Hinckes) when the latter was demolished: it was also felt the Wood House glass was not suitable, being too secular in character.

When Whitefriars were again approached they admitted that they had meanwhile closed their stained glass studio and disposed of all the glass! After contacting their original chief glazier one piece of the glass was located, the kneeling knight wearing his tabard: the rest had all been ‘lost’ by this supposedly reputable glass company. A close inspection of the knight’s tabard revealed a very small detail that could not have been easily seen when the glass was in the window: this was a small coat of arms on the sleeve of the tabard. Such coats of arms are known as ‘escutcheons of pretence’ and are only applied when the wearer has married an heiress: he then wears her coat of arms superimposed on his sleeve. In addition he is also shown wearing the distinguished Order of the Golden Fleece.

Escutcheon of Pretence showing quartered coat of arms for Jacqueline de Luxembourg, comprising her father’s and mother’s arms: lions with split tails and barbels (pike).
Further research identified this escutcheon as the arms of Luxembourg and an examination of the complex De Croy family tree in The Victoria and Albert Museum library revealed the following information: in 1455 Phillipe de Croy, Lord of Aerschot (Belgium); Prince of Chimay; etc. married Jacqueline de Luxembourg: their eldest son became Duke of Aerschot.

At last the kneeling knight had been identified as a member of the Aerscot branch of the family and the style of his tabard suggests a date of around 1480 for the stained glass panel.

Once Jacqueline had been identified another visually prominent clue in the window falls into place. The shield at the base of the window (now missing) shows a lion rampant but lions rampant are common in the higher echelons of heraldry and need to be personalised in some way: this one has a bifurcated tail (split into two at the end) – the Luxembourg lion.

The Aerschot branch of the De Croy family owned large estates in Belgium and lived at Het Kasteel (Castle) van Heverlee near Leuven, an important glass making centre. The small city of Aerschot with its cathedral came within the lands owned by the de Croy family and it would have been natural for them to pay for the installation of stained glass in the cathedral that would have been made in the Lueven workshops.

In 1792 invading French troops desecrated the cathedral breaking much of the stained glass in the chancel and transepts. Not having the money or inclination to repair it, the cathedral authorities, in 1828 (?), sold the broken windows to pay for plain glass replacements. Research suggests that an Englishman, believed to be named Pratt, brought it to England and ‘sold it piecemeal all about’. Some went to Rugby School Chapel (acquired in 1834), some eventually to the Victoria and Albert Museum ( Duke Guillame de Croy, youngest son of Phillipe de Croy) and some to Lord Walsingham at Merton Hall in Suffolk’: this was all de Croy glass closely related to that in the Wood House window, suggesting that Theodosia acquired hers from the same source. It is significant that the Wood House had considerably more of the Aarschot glass than The V and A or Lord Walsingham but having suffered three assaults, first by French troops then by a German bomb and finally by Whitefriars Glass, there is virtually nothing left.

The magnificent large full length figure wearing a crown and holding a sceptre, that was in the centre of the window, has never been identified. At the top of the window was a panel showing St. Peter holding the key to Heaven.

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