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Mary Annunciate

Ashdown Park Hotel, near East Grinstead, Sussex, occupies the 1860s Victorian gothic mansion and chapel of the former convent of the Order of Notre Dame. The nunnery here closed in the 1980s and the site was briefly used as a training centre by Barclay's Bank before becoming the present luxurious hotel.


The large former chapel has been converted into an elegant dining area, with a floor inserted to create a lower level. The beautiful vaulted apse remains uncluttered as the visual climax of the building with it's superb set of windows by the renowned Irish master Harry Clarke. The new floor level means that the gorgeous windows are much more accessible than they were originally.


This set of windows is Harry Clarke's most significant work in Britain and is truly some of the most beautiful stained glass anywhere. Dating from the 1920s, Clarke's wonderful glass fills the fourteen lancets (arranged as seven pairs) of the former apse with glittering scenes from the life of Mary. The colours are simply astonishing and virtually impossible to do justice to in photos. Clarke's charactersitic elongated figures are portrayed with all his usual richness, using much acid etching and plating to create different layers of colour, which combined with the heavy painting creates a shimmering, jewel-like effect.


There is a further Harry Clarke window at the west end of the former chapel, a superb three light depiction of the Assumption (beneath the tower).


Otherwise the chapel contains further late Victorian windows and some striking abstract glazing by John Hayward (mosaic like arrangements made using bits of dismantled Victorian windows, a controversial approach he also used at Blackburn Cathedral).


To see these fantastic windows it will be necessary to make an appointment with the hotel, and as the room is popular for functions a visit will have to be timed accordingly (ours was rather rushed, owing to an imminent wedding reception!).


It is also essential to use a tripod, which alas I lacked, as these are some of the darkest, richest, most camera unfriendly windows a photographer is ever likely to meet. Capturing the true beauty of this glass is nearly impossible, these photos are but an impression.

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Taken on July 7, 2007