On Sunday 11 December I was delighted to visit Down Ampney, the village in which Ralph Vaughan Williams was born, to attend a service of dedication of a new stained-glass window at All Saints’ Church commemorating the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The service was held in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, and was led by the Bishop of Gloucester, The Right Reverend Rachel Treweek, and our host The Reverend Canon John Swanton, Vicar of Down Ampney and Rector of the South Cotswolds.
An already memorable occasion was even further enhanced by the presence of freshly fallen snow covering the nearby houses, lanes, fields and the church itself in a stunning blanket of white. Naturally, Vaughan Williams’s music featured in the service, not only in congregational hymns but also in lovely renditions of ‘O taste and see’ and ‘Valiant-for-Truth’ given by members of the Cantores Chamber Choir, conducted by Raymond Calcraft and accompanied by organist John Wright.
The choice of the latter work as the anthem was especially appropriate since John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and RVW’s experiences in the First World War were key inspirations for the outstanding stained-glass artist Tom Denny, who had been commissioned to create the window with generous contributions from Mrs Judith Ivison and Miss Ros Ivison in memory of Robin Ivison, a founder member of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society.
The window, situated in the sanctuary, is not immediately visible to the congregation, but at the conclusion of the service we were able to view it close up. I know that I was not the only one to be stunned by the detail, the narrative, and the rich array of colour; it truly felt as though we had witnessed music and art merging in a glorious transcendental display.
With thanks to the Vicar, officers of the church and parish council, and the congregation of All Saints’ Church for their warm hospitality.