Open days shine a light on little-seen church treasures

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When Andrew Lloyd Webber called for churches and their works of art to be made more accessible to the public, one group of parishioners had more reason than most to take up the challenge.

When Andrew Lloyd Webber called for churches and their works of art to be made more accessible to the public, one group of parishioners had more reason than most to take up the challenge.

All Saints in Wilden, Worcestershire contains a glittering but little-seen array of treasures from renowned figures in 19th- and 20th-century arts, politics and literature.

Hundreds of visitors have now been to the simple 19th-century chapel, near Stourport-on-Severn, to see its 14 stained-glass windows, designed by the pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones.

Other treasures include an altar frontispiece designed by the writer and craftsman, William Morris, and an illuminated prayer book. There are altar hangings from Westminster Abbey made for George VI's coronation.

The church, which has had two open days in recent months, also has strong links to the novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling.

The churchwarden, Pam Craven, saidalthough private parties have visited the chapel, opening the church to the wider public had revealed an unexpected level of interest.

"Quite a lot of people did know about the stained glass and hadn't been able to get into the church," she explained.

"We've had people trying to come for years but it had been locked. One lady just couldn't believe she was seeing all these windows. Some churches have one or two, but not a full set."

The links between All Saints and some of the most famous names of the time have much to do with Alfred Baldwin, the businessman father of the former prime minister Stanley Baldwin, who built the church. His wife Louisa's three sisters, Alice, Georgiana and Agnes MacDonald all made impressive marriages: Alice to John Lockwood Kipling, which produced a son, Rudyard; Georgiana to Edward Burne-Jones and Agnes to the classical Victorian painter, Edward Poynter.

The original glass windows were replaced with the Burne-Jones designs between 1902 and 1914. Many are dedicated to members of the MacDonald, Baldwin and Burne-Jones families. One depicts Stanley Baldwin setting out on life's journey, accompanied by his guardian angel.

Mrs Craven said: "Churches are closed so much of the time because of the current climate of security and few works of art and architecture are made available to the public.

"This was a call to be more accessible. We took it on board."

* The next open day at All Saints, Wilden will be on 5 February.

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