Henry Holiday

Henry Holiday was born in London in June 1839. His artistic talent must have been evident from an early age for at the age of just fifteen he joined the Royal Academy. Here he was introduced to Dante Gabriel Rosetti, a co-founder of the artistic and political movement known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, as well as to Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.

In 1861 Holiday joined the long established firm of James Powell & Sons, which was experiencing a boom in demand for stained glass windows due to the fashion for Gothic Revival architecture and the sheer number of churches being built. As Designer he replaced Edward Burne-Jones who had left to work for William Morris.

Henry Holiday became known as a brilliant technical artist with a “superb command of anatomy and a perfect understanding of the medium of glass”21. His attention to detail was legendary. As well as designing stained glass windows, Holiday was a painter of the highest order and a sought-after illustrator.

In 1864 Holiday married the embroiderer Catherine Raven. They had one daughter, Winifred, in 1866. The whole family were active Socialists and became heavily involved in the Suffragist Movement which campaigned for (and ultimately won) voting rights for women.

After thirty years working for Powell, Holiday set up his own studio in Hampstead where he concentrated on producing stained glass, mosaics and religious objects. He had a lifelong love of the Lake District and built a home there in 1907. Henry Holiday died in London on April 15th, 1927, aged 87.

Stained Glass

Perhaps the best-known of Henry Holiday’s windows are in London. These include the three east windows at St. Mary Magdalene, Paddington (1869), and the glorious west window depicting the Creation at Southwark Cathedral (1903) showing his transition in style from the Pre-Raphaelites towards the Arts and Crafts Movement.

In Merseyside four other churches have Holiday glass, although these are individual windows rather than a full set as at St. Chad’s. The east window, of three lights, at St. Thomas’ Church in Melling about 4km away, depicts the story of Jesus welcoming the little children. It dates from 1908 and shows distinct Arts & Crafts elements such as realistic and identifiable flora and fauna.

At St. Nicholas’ Church in the former coal mining community of Sutton, St. Helens, the east window of c. 1880 depicts the Three Virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity. This window is very much in the Pre-Raphaelite style but has suffered from pigment breakdown over time.

Further Merseyside windows are at St. Michael’s in Huyton (two south aisle windows) and St. James in Toxteth (the east window). Windows by both Holiday and Burne-Jones were destroyed in 1940 when St. Matthew and St. James, Mossley Hill, became the first church in the country to take a direct hit from a Luftwaffe bomb.

There are several examples of Holiday’s work in his beloved Lake District. In total, eighteen churches in Cumbria have Holiday windows and perhaps the best is the east window at St. John’s, Keswick. This is a 1907 work, although in an opulent 19th Century style. Its central light shows Jesus, the Light of the World, clearly influenced by the work of the same name by Holiday’s friend and fellow Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt.

Other Work

Dante and Beatrice (1883) is widely regarded as Holiday’s best painting. It can be seen at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and depicts the poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) meeting his beloved Beatrice beside the River Arno in Florence. Holiday was so keen to get the details right that he travelled to Florence to research the location. Having learnt that the Ponte Vecchio bridge in the background was rebuilt between 1285 and 1290, Holiday shows it with scaffolding in place.

Holiday’s 11 metre mural Magna Carta at Rochdale’s Grade I Listed Town Hall shows the events leading up to the signing of the document by King John in 1215. A £16 million programme of repair and conservation work means that Rochdale Town Hall is currently closed, but the mural will be on view to the public again when the work is complete in 2023. Interestingly, the Town Hall was opened just a week before the consecration of St. Chad’s, on 27th September 1871.

Another monumental work by Holiday is the painted apse (the semi- circular east end) of St. Benedict’s church at Bordesley in Birmingham, executed between 1912 and 1919. In a Byzantine style, it shows Christ in glory at the top with angels beneath.

An example of Henry Holiday’s illustrations for the first edition of “The Hunting of the Snark” (Public Domain image)

Perhaps the best example of Holiday’s work as an illustrator is Lewis Carroll’s epic nonsense poem The Hunting Of The Snark (1874). The illustrations were printed using electrotyping which was then the most accurate way of creating mass reproductions of these finely detailed drawings.