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Ann Sotheran’s West End Champions

April 27, 2019
by the gentle author

The Champion

Perhaps more than anywhere else in London, Oxford St is where the grief of the world can descend upon me without warning  – especially when I make the foolish mistake of going to the West End to buy a pillowcase. In such circumstances, there is fortunately a nearby refuge where I can seek respite from the urban clamour. It is The Champion in Well St – just minutes walk from the nightmarish agglomeration of chain stores – where Ann Sotheran‘s magnificent stained glass windows cast a spell of benign quietude.

The Champion has been there on the corner of Wells St and Eastcastle St since before 1869 and you would be forgiven for assuming that the glorious array of stained glass dates from this era, but you would be mistaken because it was designed and installed in 1989. The husband and wife publicans who live upstairs informed me that this imaginative notion was the inspiration of a member of the Samuel Smith family of brewers who own the pub and commissioned the glass from Ann Sotheran to endow it with distinction.

Thirty years later these gaudy portraits of Victorian worthies offer a generous welcome to the weary shopper, proving that there is still mileage in the traditional pub when it is as cherished and as handsome as The Champion.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) gained professional status for nurses and raised hospital standards in the Crimea

Bob Fitzsimmons (1862-1917) The only Englishman to have won three world titles at different weights

Young Tom Morris (1851-1875) won four consecutive Open Championships, first at the age of seventeen

Capt Bertie Dwyer (1872-1967) ‘Flying Bertie Dwyer was one of the early Cresta riders, a President of the St Moritz Tobogganing Club and winner of several trophies

W G Grace (1848-1915) A legendary figure whose all round ability and enthusiasm dominated cricket for over thirty years

Edward Whymper (1840-1911) became a traveller and mountaineer, the first man to climb the Matterhorn and Chimborazo in the Andes

Capt Matthew Webb (1848-1883) was the first to swim the English Channel (thirty-four miles in twenty-one hours) He died swimming across Niagara Falls

David Livingstone (1813-1873) Originally sent to Africa as a missionary, he mapped and explored vast areas of the continent

William Renishaw (1861-1904) Winner of seven singles and seven doubles cups, he with his brother, made Lawn Tennis into a sport

Fred Archer (1857-1886) Possibly the greatest jockey ever, being Champion Jockey for thirteen consecutive years, with twenty-one classic victories

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Margaret Rope’s East End Saints

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    April 27, 2019

    Great stuff and fab images, especially Capt Bertie Dwyer and his designer snow shoes.

    I wasn’t aware of the pub despite having worked in Oxford Street for seven years (we used to escape to the hostelries in Marylebone!)

  2. April 27, 2019

    Brilliant craftsmanship but why no footballers?

  3. John Barrett permalink
    April 27, 2019

    Glad army nurse Florence Nightingale is shown here today thanks GA. She helped save many soldiers lives in the Crimea war. She re-invented nursing at that time. John Barrett Poetry Soc, Bus Pass Poets, MoD Rtd. Shirehampton, Bristol.

  4. Caroline Bottomley permalink
    April 27, 2019

    Love Sam Smiths pubs and their approach to business – lots of fascinating aspects – didn’t know about their artist commissions, this is great

  5. April 27, 2019

    You mean its still there and developers haven’t pulled it down to put another ugly building up!?

  6. Sue permalink
    April 27, 2019

    Stunning work.

  7. April 27, 2019

    On July 24, 1883 Capt. Matthew Webb tried to recapture the world’s imagination, and earn sponsorship of £12,000, by swimming across the _Whirlpool Rapids_ below Niagara Falls.

    Like the channel crossing, it was a challenge involving a stretch of water separating two nations: Canada and the US. But it was also a challenge observers described as “suicidal.”

    Strangely, even Webb, by this time 35, seemed aware of how dangerous it was.
    In a newspaper interview he acknowledged it was “one of the angriest bits of water in the world.”

    But despite having so much to lose he was determined to complete the feat and regain his public status.

    Wearing the same red bathing suit he’d donned when he crossed the channel, he was taken to the centre of the river by ferryman John McCloy, who asked his passenger if he made much money from the Channel swim.

    “Most of it is gone,” Webb is said to have answered. “Well,” said McCloy, “if I was you I’d go ashore and keep the rest.”

    Webb did nothing but smile and wave at him as he went over the side. Initially he swam well, but he cried out as a huge wave caught him and he was sucked into a whirlpool.

    There was no defying death this time.

    His body was found four days later, washed up downstream. An autopsy revealed he hadn’t drowned – his whole body had been crushed by the sheer pressure of the water in the whirlpool.

    I have visited The Whirlpool Rapids which are about half mile below the actual Falls – it’s a terrifying mass of heaving water. Interesting that he died of water pressure rather than actually drowning.

    Co-incidentally I live in Dawley, (Telford) where he was born – and I’ve handled his swimsuit which is now in care of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
    Dave Hunt

  8. April 27, 2019

    Some may describe these windows as “gaudy” — but the word that comes to MY mind is:


    Beautiful, colorful, unique, distinctive, evocative, engaging illustrations, which just happen to be
    rendered in glass. Well-done!

    Loved the prize fighter and the throng in the background.
    GA, has anyone ever told you the story of the famous/historic prize fight that happened right here in little Ancram, NY? Oh yes. Its part of our history. Makes me think we might need a stained glass window at our town hall.

  9. Helen Breen permalink
    April 27, 2019

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thank you for sharing your jaunt to the West End and your visit to the Champion Pub. I guess I assumed that the art of making stained glass was a thing of the past – hey, thirty years ago is not that long. Such an undertaking must have been quite an expensive investment for the proprietor. Charming…

  10. David permalink
    April 27, 2019

    Capt Bertie Dwyer was also a champion in the world of competitive ironing – with the same apparatus

  11. Amanda permalink
    April 28, 2019

    DAVID : Ha ha ha !

    Thanks for making me laugh on a dreary Sunday.

  12. Gregory Hubbard permalink
    April 29, 2019

    Samuel Smith, brewers, create really wonderful beers, especially their Oatmeal Stout, so the idea that they’d sponsor stained glass does not surprise me. However, these windows are remarkable. It would be very interesting to know what sort of program, if any, Samuel Smith’s gave to the artist.

    Most modern stained glass is so abstracted, so generally formless, that they usually leave the viewer reaching for a guide pamphlet to puzzle out what the artist was trying, and failing, to portray. Swerving lead cames snake across vast expanses of colored glass, all of it trying to look very modern. Young children could do a better job portraying saints, or landscapes, or champions.

    Ann Sotheran is a real artist, someone who captured the spirit of late Victorian stained glass design, from the intricate borders to the style of the portraits. Her other creations demonstrate the windows she designs are unexpected, always inventive, and they fit seamlessly into spaces for which they were created. Give yourself the pleasure of looking at her other work.

    We need to take up a collection and commission more windows from her!

  13. Eric Forward permalink
    May 1, 2019

    Surprised at how old an age some of these people lived to, and also how young even more of them were when they passed away.

  14. January 7, 2020

    The original commission was for Victorian “champions” from social and cultural history – medical men, engineers, industrialists, politicians, etc – until I pointed out that most of them would be men in black suits and it wouldn’t make good glass. I believe the Chairman of the brewery had then seen the windows in the Cafe Royal in Edinburgh and wanted something along similar lines. My choice of subjects was to a certain extent dictated by being able to find good quality contemporary photographs (black and white of course) of the people, so that I could get authentic details of their clothing and equipment. I took some liberties with the colours of the costumes – I am not sure that Florence Nightingale would have worn a vermillion dress! I am sorry to say that I did not know that Matthew Webb’s bathing suit still exists and is red, I just used artistic license here as well. I have to say that I have been involved in several refurbishments of Sam Smith’s public houses and they do not stint on the quality and craftsmanship of any aspects of the work which is carried out. Nothing is trendy, intended to be ripped out and replaced every couple of years, but solid, reliable and comfortable. Cost is not so important when it is intended to last.
    Thank you to everyone who has enjoyed the work, long may it continue.

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