Family members in yellow in my rudimentary family tree are those who stayed in the "family business" of maintaining and beautifying churches.
Christopher Rahere Webb worked in stained glass; his windows can be seen at Southwark Cathedral & St. Lawrence Jewry in London, Chichester Cathedral and the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital.
Photo of Christopher Webb contributed by and used with the gracious permission of Oliver Webb.
Christopher's Orchard House studio used a number of symbols as trademarks, primarily pictures of St. Christopher (as illustrated in the Spring 2005 edition of the Alban Link).
The Stained Glass Museum's listing for Christopher Rahere Webb
Benedicite, the east window of St. Anne's, Moseley
Newmarket St. Mary's, with a Webb west window
The amazing east window of St. Michael and All Angels - boy does this need more detailed photography!
Oliver Webb writes this comment on the article in the Alban Link:
The article in the Alban News newsletter is mostly pretty close to the reality, though there are one or two glaring mistakes - the furnace which needed constant attention was actually gas fired and one simply turned on a gas tap and away it went! Grandpa was also attributed as adoring children, which perhaps doesn't quite paint the picture; he was a very gentle and restrained man, contemplative and posessed of a humble dignity, huge moral depth and a quiet wit. He certainly did not suffer fools gladly and had been through the hell that was the First World War so had no romantic illusions about humanity, but I don't think this had made him cynical about mankind - perhaps it served to strengthen his deeply held Christian faith. I have no doubt that he treasured children, as one treasures life, but I don't think he participated in children's lives as a more gregarious parent or grandparent might. I think perhaps he was a very private man and the bounciness and exuberant energy of children probably appealed to him more as a quiet observer than an active participant - certainly I would not have attributed him with an unconditional, passionate, love of all children of the type that draws flocks of adoring little ones to the dear old gentleman they all wanted for their own Grandpa. In many ways my own father mirrored so many of my grandfather's characteristics and qualities. Its difficult to define my own observations and feelings about someone who died when I was a little boy since, inevitably, my personal impressions are those of a little boy, but I've also spent my life listening to the echos of his life through my father and other family members and have tried to paste everything together in my mind in order that I might in some way come to know my grandfather. Ultimately, I suppose, nobody can ever accurately summarise somebody else's life in a few sentences - or even a few tomes. Each of us look upon one another through our own windows from subtly differing viewpoints and nobody is privy to the unwritten transcripts of our lives and thoughts (thank God!).
(from a private communication, October 2005)
|Martin Webb, Alfred's grandson and the founder of Fine Stone Miniatures, passed away on 22 September 2005.|
Martin's son Oliver wrote an evocative and moving eulogy for his father, which he has graciously permitted me to reproduce here in its entirety. Obviously I never had the pleasure of meeting Aston, Alfred, Christopher or Martin -- and I'm still looking forward to meeting Oliver on one of my trips to England. Despite this lack of personal contact, when I stand in the apse at St. Bartholomew, I see a glimmer of the same passion for detail, the painstaking work, and commitment to artistic vision that Oliver describes:
Good bye Dad. Such little words. I’ve said them a million times at the front door and down the telephone. Every work day, Good bye Dad, as I set off for home. Now I find myself with these same, everyday words, but this time their meaning hits me like an oncoming express train as, for the first in my life, I utter them from the very heart of my soul.
But just as when I have said good bye out of the car window at night, the unspoken codicil “for now” still applies. For whilst Dad is unavailable just now, and I can’t tell him that funny story I heard this morning, death is not final. Death is only a horizon, and a horizon is but the limit to our vision. So even if Dad’s as unable to look backwards over that horizon as I am unable to see forwards, when I said “Good bye” this time, I also silently added “For now”. Dad is not lost, he is merely lost to us for the time being, and it is this separation which is so hard to bear. I would like us all to celebrate Dad’s life rather than mourn his passing, because he has always been a man of life and vitality, and that deserves being celebrated.
So who is my Dad? He’s my hero, to put it in a slightly old fashioned way. The man whom I've always most admired and respected, my role model, my guide and tutor, my most trusted friend, my work colleague, an all-round terrific person. He taught me to ride a bike and drive a car, to think, to work and to play. To see - not just to look. To listen - not just to hear. He taught me to understand and appreciate. He taught me love, happiness and laughter. All this encompassed in one word: Dad.
When I was a little boy I remember him making a wooden train for me. That little train encapsulated so much of “Dad”. My parents struggled by on very little money, and expensive tools and materials – certainly train sets – were out of the question. So Dad made a lathe out of an old treadle sewing machine, then, using materials such as salvaged wooden RAF crates, timber he’d cut from the fruit trees in the garden and seasoned himself, bits of old greenhouse and van bodywork, he made me the most beautiful train in the world. I loved it. It’s still sitting in its biscuit box, beside my bed, right now, so that now my little boy, Guy, can also play with the very best train in the world.
Who else would have built my sister and me an underground den in the garden with its own working stove which nearly kippered its thrilled ten year old proprietors each time they lit it? Or constructed an overhead pulley ride which allowed us to roar down the garden demolishing Mum’s carrots and onions with our backsides as we hurtled towards Dad’s open arms, where he usually caught us before we crashed into the pear tree at the other end? Who else had a fleet of Dinky lorries carefully sign-written with their own name, or a magnificent carved dolls’ house with working lights? Or a huge string-operated Meccano mechanical grab suspended from the living room ceiling that could be worked from a dining chair to pick up ping-pong balls from any part of the room. For a while our stair well was dominated by a gigantic double-pendulum harmonograph which gently swayed and gyrated, producing exquisitely delicate patterns drawn with home made ink using home made glass pens. Our living room really was for living, whether temporarily immobilised by the crane, or full of bicycles being dismantled, or an ankle-deep sea of wood chippings from some carving project or other, it was the place where practically everything happened. When my sister got her first chemistry set, she and Dad ensconced themselves beneath the living room table, like naughty conspirators in some dark plot, and set about making explosions – the table cloth must have absorbed the bigger blasts since Mum and I survived more or less unscathed.
It was in the living room, too, that Dad created a massive carved wooden propeller which fitted onto a dynamo and was wired to illuminate a bulb inside a jam jar. It was ceremoniously set up in the garden on a post beside my Grandfather’s garage, and a complex system of old car wing mirrors in the house allowed both Dad and me to watch the glowing light outside from our beds. The thrill, that first night, of watching the lonely little lamp blazing in the night, was merely enhanced by the unforeseen mechanical racket the whole thing made. A particularly dazzling moment came, late that night, when the revs vastly exceeded their anticipated maximum and our ears were assailed by the distinctive sound of furious machinery crashing heavily through Grandfather’s garage roof. The wreckage was duly retrieved, repaired and reinstated and the improved version shone like a little beacon each windy night for many years.
When I was about eight years old, I used to go with my Dad, most Friday nights, in the cab of his lorry. Sitting high up in the cab as Dad piloted this gargantuan, articulated liner of the land through the night, nobody was more proud of their Dad than me of mine. And he treated me with a degree of trust which greatly inspired me; I doubt that many eight year olds were regularly allowed to drive a 50 foot long, 32 ton artic down the M5 from Birmingham to Worcester – even in 1970.
Dad never did anything by halves. Everything he did was done with the dedication, attention to detail and enthusiasm of a true specialist. In the 1960s he became interested in astronomy, so he bought a sadly neglected telescope, which had sat outside beneath a tarpaulin, and duly set to work to restore it. Not only did he restore it to perfection, he also made a spectroscope out of pieces of drain pipe and plywood and a prism he had made, specially coated with an optical refraction grating. Then, using this little lot, in conjunction with a home made projection box and an equatorial telescope mount made from an old bicycle frame, he recorded solar flares and prominences and sun spots, producing some of the most accurate and detailed observations made within the British Astronomical Association of the time.
Aeroplanes and flying always had a special place in Dad’s heart. He joined the RAF when he was called up to do his National Service with the hope that he might make aircrew. Sadly this was not to be. However, Dad inevitably found other ways to enjoy flying. Several huge hot air balloons were made out of polythene sheet and disappeared into the sky piloted by two intrepid little yellow bears known as Teddy Two Legs and Teddy One Leg. A terrifying box kite the size of a wardrobe followed and the sight of Dad hauling on an industrial sized cable reel as a couple of thousand feet of wire disappeared into the cloud-base over Castlemoreton Common still makes me smile. Later he built and flew radio controlled gliders on the Malvern Hills . Each glider, itself a work of art, being lovingly finished with a hand carved wooden pilot sitting in the cockpit – one dashing young chap complete with correct flying suit and helmet piloted a Spitfire, one was an extraordinarily striking self portrait, one was a pretty young brunette with a blue and white spotty headscarf and one, slightly worried looking fellow, who sat beneath the canopy of the fastest of them all, rejoiced in the name “Nearly Dead Fred”! Needless to say, they all clocked up some pretty astronomic flying hours and must have shared some rollicking good yarns at night when parked back on top of the piano. Fuselages became scarred from stony landings, wings pierced by gorse and bracken – occasionally an armful of shattered firewood would return home, following a particularly hairy encounter with terra firma. Out would come the tools and Dad would painstakingly graft and splice the whole lot back together – usually in time for the next fair wind.
Dad’s dedication and hard working nature extended to every part of his life. His workplace, of course, always benefited from it. When he was lorry driving his lorry was known affectionately amongst the other drivers as “The Sore Thumb”, because Dad’s lorry was the only one which got washed and polished and had its tyres and rubber mats blacked with boot polish. When Dad changed jobs and took up a mallet and chisel to become a stone mason, it too was done with his characteristic near fanaticism. Within the space of time it would take most young men to complete an apprenticeship, Dad was heading a complicated restoration of the facade of Worcester Guild Hall, including re-carving much of its splendid tympanum. In recognition of this work he was presented to the Queen on the occasion of her visit to Worcester in the late 1970s.
Latterly, of course, Dad’s energies have been directed into the business he started with Mum, some twenty years ago. Working with his characteristic ingenuity and resourcefulness he single handedly produced his exquisite miniature bosses and corbels from his minute workshop using almost entirely home made equipment. Problems arose and Dad solved them in his typically original ways – tools that didn’t exist were needed, so Dad invented them. Even now, as I work in his workshop, my eye is caught by the phrases he wrote on the wall: “Failure is not an option”, “Don’t panic”, “Maintain a monastic calm”, “Life knows what it is doing”, “No Smoking”. My own efforts to conduct my workdays by these wise tenets are successful so far as the smoking is concerned, at least! The quality and accuracy of Dad’s miniatures – the products of his perfectionism - caught the eyes of a great many people and they began collecting his work. Though Dad’s modest nature prevented him ever really mentioning it, the only officially sanctioned miniature of the Big Ben bell was made by Dad, and the Royal Mint subsequently wanted to sell copies of it. Dad went on holiday to Gavrinis in France to see the Neolithic carvings there. Disgruntled that no replicas were available in any of the gift shops, Dad came home and promptly made six different ones, then took them straight back to Gavrinis. Dad’s miniatures of Green Men and the Three Hares have made him many friends and remain some of his most popular pieces.
A few years ago Dad decided he should do some exercise to keep himself in trim. So he began walking down the road. To begin with he went to the letter box, then the pub on the corner (no, he didn’t call it a day there), then Fromes Hill several miles away, then the whole of the Malvern Hills . Then came Dartmoor . Ever since he was at school at Postbridge, slap bang in the middle of Dartmoor , during the Second World War, Dad has had an enduring affection for the lonely moor. As his interest in walking developed, so did his hunger to discover, research and photograph Dartmoor ’s prehistoric and industrial archaeology, Dad took to walking huge distances on his own across the moor. Typically, Dad perfected his orienteering skills, using just basic equipment (no satellite navigation toys for Dad. Certainly not!) and would be disappointed if he arrived, in his wellies, just a few hundred feet off target in thick fog. Gradually he criss-crossed practically the entire moor and his maps show more coloured-in areas than not. Finally, in April 2004, Dad fulfilled a long held ambition and walked right across Dartmoor in a single day. Solo. It was an awesome undertaking, of which he was rightly extremely proud.
Over the years Dad has accumulated a huge circle of friends, all around the globe, through his work and interests. Dad was a very special person, and he attracted very special friends who meant a very great deal to him; he “did” friendship with the same intensity and energy and enthusiasm that he applied to everything else in his life. The warmth and generosity of his friends brought Dad immense happiness, and, latterly much comfort.
I could go on for hours about Dad. As I write this more and more memories come pouring in. Memories of Dad bashing out tunes on his accordeon or on the piano remain as vivid today as they were when they were bashed in – “Its A Long Way To Tipperary” still has an odd, unnerving effect on me that maybe its composer hadn’t intended! I thought that writing this might be a difficult, painful process, yet I find myself feeling far from sad or mournful at his passing from us, but instead a tremendous happiness and gratitude for the truly wonderful, fun times we shared and for all the care, love, values and ideals both Dad and Mum have given my sister and me.
So whatever lies beyond that horizon, call it heaven or whatever, I’m sure that Dad is busy with some scheme or project. No doubt St Peter’s pearly gates will benefit from a quick release, spring-loaded, fully counter-balanced automatic retaining mechanism. Also, I’m reliably informed by my little girl Rosalind, Heaven is a place so perfect that they have felt pens which never run out and crayons whose points never break off, so presumably tools shouldn’t present too much of a problem. In the meantime, we shall all miss him dreadfully.
So, goodbye Dad, but only for now.
30 th September 2005
Photographs and text copyright Tina Bird 2003-2006
Last modified: 15 February 2006