Hidden story in stained glass
Church memorials take many forms, from inscriptions written on tomb stones, plaques on their walls and some written into stained-glass windows. Quite often these memorials are simply that, a reminder of a life now departed, their memory recorded for all to read, often surviving for many centuries.
Researching these people can lead to some interesting discoveries about their life and achievements, revealing a little of the social history within the place they lived. Others, simply record the life of a popular and much-loved person, who made their mark upon society, remembered in death by their friends and family. On occasions, what starts out as some general research, quickly develops into a story which is quite unique and fascinating. One such story is connected to a stained-glass window located at the former church of St. Mary’s at the Walls, now used as Colchester’s Arts Centre. The window itself was designed by William Morris & Co. of Westminster in 1929 and depicts Saint Peter and Saint Helena. Sadly, this window is no longer visible as it’s been boarded up, but there is another window by the same designer still visible on the north side of this former church, which is also quite splendid to look at.
The inscription at the bottom of the window reads:
To the Glory of God and in loving memory of William Robert Candler born in this parish 1832 and of Eleanor Sophia his wife born in the United States of America 13th April 1834. Also as a token of friendship between the peoples of the United States of America and Great Britain. This window is erected by their son Henry E. Candler of Detroit Michigan U.S.A 1929.
Reading this inscription revealed so much information, outlining a story which had to be researched. This window’s story actually began with the birth of William Robert Candler on the 9th April 1832 at a house in Black Boy Lane, now known as Vineyard Street in Colchester. William’s Colchester ancestors can be traced back to John Candler in the early 17th century, who was working in the town during the Siege of 1648. Over the next two hundred years, the Candler family, had attended regular services in several of this town’s churches including St. Nicholas and St. Runwald, neither of which remain today. They were a family who achieved a great deal within the town, working hard, raising their families, prospering and contributing to the town’s commerce.
In the 1830’s, William’s father, William Horatio Candler, owned a coach building company located in Butt Road. Business had been good, but by 1840 this industry had begun to decline due to the growing popularity of the railways. William knew that if he was going to support his family, then he would have to close his business and look for paid employment. The family moved to London, where there was still a need for skilled labour and although opportunities did exist, employment prospects for his son were not as good as they once were. By 1849, the future for the young William, now aged 17, wasn’t looking as promising as once it was, so encouraged by family living in Canada, he emigrated to Detroit in America where there was work and opportunities within an expanding town.
So, what about the window itself? This is where the story gets interesting. William’s son, Henry, came to Colchester in 1929 to retrace his father’s footsteps and to see the town he grew up in. The Church of St. Mary’s at the Walls was one of the churches used by his ancestors and where his father, and other family members had been baptised. Henry visited the church on several occasions, each time talking at length to the rector, the Rev. Greville Brunwin Hales. Out of their discussion came this window, installed as a memorial from a grateful family to the town of Colchester as a permanent reminder to the Candler family’s heritage.
To read more on this story, and to discover what happened to William in Detroit, the book entitled: Centuries of Change by Alice Goss will reveal the full story, along with the stories behind some of this former church’s other windows. The book is available from Red Lion Bookshop, Waterstones (both in Colchester) and online through Amazon. Kindle and E-books versions areavailable.