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Margaret Rope’s East End Windows

March 29, 2020
by the gentle author

A familiar East End scene of 1933 – children playing cricket in the street and Nipper the dog joining in – yet it is transformed by the lyrical vision of the forgotten stained glass artist Margaret Rope, who created a whole sequence of these sublime works – now dispersed – depicting both saints of legend and residents of Haggerston with an equal religious intensity.

This panel is surmounted by a portrayal of St Leonard, the sixth century French saint, outside a recognisable St Leonard’s church, Shoreditch, with a red number six London bus going past. Margaret Rope’s extraordinary work mixes the temporal and the spiritual, rendering scenes from religious iconography as literal action and transforming everyday life into revelations – describing a universe simultaneously magical and human.

Between 1931 and 1947, the artist known simply to her family as ‘”Tor,” designed a series of eight windows depicting “East End Everyday Saints” for St Augustine’s church off the Hackney Rd, portraying miracles enacted within a recognisable East End environment. For many years these were a popular attraction, until St Augustine’s was closed and Margaret Rope’s windows removed in the nineteen-eighties, with two transferred across the road to St Saviour’s Priory in the Queensbridge Rd and the remaining six taken out of the East End to be installed in the crypt of St Mary Magdalene, Munster Sq. Intrigued by the attractive idea of Margaret Rope’s transcendent vision of the East End, I set out to find them for myself.

At St Saviour’s Priory, Sister Elizabeth was eager to show me their cherished windows of St Paul and St Margaret, both glowing with lustrous colour and crammed with intricate detail. St Paul, the patron saint of London, is depicted at the moment of his transformative vision, beneath St Paul’s Cathedral – as if it were happening not on the road to Damascus but in Ludgate Circus. The other window, portraying St Margaret, has particular meaning for the sisters at St Saviours, because they are members of the Society of St Margaret, whose predecessors first came from Sussex to Spitalfields in 1866 to tend to the victims of cholera. In Margaret Rope’s window, St Margaret resolutely faces out a dragon while Christ hands a tiny version of the red brick priory to John Mason Neale, the priest who founded the order. Both windows are engaging exercises in magical thinking and the warmth of the colours, especially turquoise greens and soft pinks, delights the eye with its glimmering life.

I found the other six windows in the crypt of St Mary Magdalene near Regents Park, now used as a seniors’ day centre, where they are illuminated from the reverse by fluorescent tubes. The first window you see as you walk in the door is St Anne, which contains an intimate scene of a mother and her two children, complete with a teddy bear lying on the floor and a tortoiseshell cat sleeping by the range.

Next comes St George, who looks like a young athlete straight out of the Repton Boxing Club, followed by St Leonard, St Michael, then St Augustine and St Joseph. All share the same affectionate quality in their observation of human detail that sets them above mere decorative windows. These are poems in stained glass manifesting the resilient spirit of the East End which endured World War II. Another window by Margaret Rope in St Peters in the London Docks, completed in 1940, showed parishioners celebrating Midnight Mass at Christmas in a bomb shelter.

Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope was born in 1891 into a farming family on the Suffolk coast at Leiston. Her uncle George was a Royal Academician, and she was able to study at Chelsea College of Art and Central School of Arts & Crafts, where she specialised in stained glass. Unmarried, she pursued a long and prolific working life, creating over one hundred windows in her fifty year career, taking time out to join the Women’s Land Army in World War I and to care for evacuees at a hospital in North Wales during World War II, before returning to her native Suffolk at the age of eighty-seven in 1978.

Her nickname “Tor” was short for tortoise and she signed all  her works with a tortoise discreetly woven into the design. Upon close examination, every window reveals hidden texts inscribed in the richly coloured shadows. So much thought and imagination is evident in these modest works executed in the magical realist style. They transcend their period as neglected yet enduring masterpieces of stained glass and I recommend you make your own acquaintance with the stylish work of Margaret Rope, celebrating the miraculous quality of the everyday.

St Leonard is portrayed in a moment of revelation outside St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, with Arnold Circus in the background and a London bus passing in the foreground

The lower panel of the St George window

A domestic East End scene from the lower panel of the St Anne’s window

This tortoise-shell cat is a detail from the panel above

The lower panel from the St Michael window

Mother Kate, Prioress of St Saviour’s and Father Burrows with his dog, Nipper, standing outside St Augustine’s in York St, now Yorkton St. In the right hand corner you can see the tortoise motif that Margaret Rope used to sign all her works.

Sisters of St Saviour’s Priory, portrayed in the lower panel of the St Margaret window, 1932

Margaret Rope’s St Paul and St Margaret, now in the entrance of Saviour’s Priory, Queensbridge Rd

Stained glass artist, Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope known as “Tor” (1891-1988)

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16 Responses leave one →
  1. Esther Birchall permalink
    March 29, 2020

    They are superb. When I can travel to London again I will endeavour to track sone of them down to view them in o

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    March 29, 2020

    These are delightful and profound – thank you!

  3. March 29, 2020

    How extraordinary to see these fine works : thank you ! (Stephen Watts)

  4. Josephine Rogers permalink
    March 29, 2020

    These are absolutely beautiful-I can’t wait to get to see some of them when life gets better. I live very near where Margaret Rope was born, I wonder if there are examples in Suffolk?

  5. Josephine Rogers permalink
    March 29, 2020

    Further to my last comment, I have looked her up on Wikipedia and there are many examples close to me here, so I shall go and see them asap! I must have been in their presence already but had not been made aware of them- thank you for doing so!

  6. March 29, 2020

    Dear GA.. at first glance I thought “boring”. But I persevered. One day is something we are saying at present but “one day” I will go to see these windows . Thank you for the revelation

  7. March 29, 2020

    These are exquisite….thank you for introducing me to ‘Tor’.

  8. March 29, 2020

    Dare I say, Tor was not only a master of her chosen artform but she also had a knack for collage.
    (which I offer as a compliment…….). Little glimpses of wallpaper pattern enliven the family scene,
    a poster for Pear’s Soap, lots of typography and bits of lettering and labels, etc. The totality of the windows reveals spot-on composition — but I absolutely loved spotting small details. For instance, that little turbulent swirl of blue in the upper corner of the Father Burrows panel. Wow, what a “sweet spot”. I was so grateful to see a photo of Tor — the perfect way to conclude this vivid introduction to one of your treasured artists.

    Onward and upward, all.

  9. March 29, 2020

    These really are quite special. Full of love of the subject matter and craftsmanship.

  10. March 29, 2020

    So profound and wonderful. Thank you for sharing them.

  11. March 29, 2020

    Greetings from sequestered Boston,

    GA, thank you for hunting down these lovely, accessible stained glass windows by Margaret Rope. She must have had a special penchant for children since she includes so many in her works.

    You mention that she attended the Chelsea College of Art, Central School or Arts & Crafts. There must have been so many like institutions for artists in those days since you reference them in many of your pieces about different artists and crafts men in London area.

    AGREED: “Margaret Rope’s extraordinary work mixes the temporal and the spiritual, rendering scenes from religious iconography as literal action and transforming everyday life into revelations – describing a universe simultaneously magical and human.”


  12. March 29, 2020

    Some beautiful examples of stained glass. Again, Thank you and with all good wishes.

  13. Pauline Taylor permalink
    March 29, 2020

    Very individual and impressive works of art, and personally I much prefer these to some of the work of those who work in stained glass today, but we all see things from different perspectives I guess.

    When we are allowed out of hibernation I shall ask our friend, who travels the country seeking out examples of stained glass, if he knows about these. He tells me how much can be learnt about how people lived and worked and dressed in the past from stained glass and these are no exception. If they survive, and I certainly hope that they do, later generations will be able to learn much from them. I agree with Lynne there is so much detail to be found if you look carefully and I also appreciated the photo of ‘Tor’ to finish off the article. Thanks.

  14. March 29, 2020

    Another uplifting post. The detail of the cat, the domestic scenes including a London bus, how wonderful to see them so preserved.

  15. March 30, 2020

    Thanks for this lovely blog post about Margaret (Tor) Rope.

    You might like to see this detailed introduction to Margaret Rope and her cousin, also called Margaret Rope,, on the website by her great-nephew, and also a list of both of their works:; There is also a website dedicated to the artists,, which has been done by a friend of Arthur Rope and another of a small group dedicated to preserving and cataloguing their archive and promoting the works of these wonderful artists.

    You can see many photos by them on this Flickr group,, and a few by me at churches in Suffolk: Leiston, Little Glemham, , and Kesgrave – a really important church in relation to this family,

    Of course we can’t visit them now, but can look forward to doing so once that is possible, and meanwhile enjoy the photographs and writings about the artists.

  16. April 6, 2020

    Amazingly Beautiful!!?????????

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