THE HOARWITHY CHURCH MOSAIC
Ross-on-Wye & District Civic Society newsletter Winter 2002 (number 79)
Research published recently in the Journal of Stained Glass throws some more light on 'the beautification of Hoarwithy Church' the subject of one of the Society's Pink Publications.
Perhaps the highlight of the church's interior is the golden mosaic of Christ as ruler of the world in the half-dome over the altar. It had not been known who had designed the mosaic. Because of references to 'Italian workmen', it had been speculated that the Italian firm of Salviati and Co., whose work can be seen in some other Herefordshire churches, were responsible.
However, the new research into the archives of James Powell and Sons shows that they did the work. This London based firm were prolific producers of both stained glass and mosaic work towards the end of the nineteenth century.
What is perhaps more surprising is that the designer was a woman, by the name of Ada Currey. The firm's ledger includes a payment to her for 193 hours @ 1/8 for her work in designing the mosaic.
Ada Currey was born in 1852. She never married and spent most of her life in the family home at Weybridge in Surrey. Nothing is known of her artistic training, but about 120 windows and mosaics are attributed to her in the Powell archives, and she appears to have been an employee
there from 1890 to 1901.
The Hoarwithy mosaic showing a stern, Byzantine-style Christ seems to be not at all typical of her work, which is generally in a rather more sentimental vein and is inspired by Italian Renaissance paintings. A local example can be seen in her Resurrection stained glass window in the north aisle of the church by the river at Whitchurch. Presumably the Vicar of Hentland with Hoarwithy, William Poole, had a large say in the design of the mosaic.
It is interesting that the Hoarwithy design is dated 1893, some 13 years after the church was transformed into the Italianate building we see today. This confirms that the decoration of the interior was a protracted business, no doubt dependent on the funds that Poole had available for the work.
But what inspired Poole to commission the mosaic? One answer may be that there is a mosaic of Christ with his hand raised in blessing (as at Hoarwithy) above the altar of the chapel at Rugby School where Poole was a pupil. It was installed in 1882, long after Poole was at school, but just after Hoarwithy Church was transformed. True, it depicts a more conventionally Victorian figure of Christ without Hoarwithy's Byzantine overtones but, as an Old Rugbeian, Poole must have know about it and perhaps it planted a seed in his mind.