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A brief history of our stained glass glories

In the reception of Belgravia House there is a display that contains the coats of arms of the original veterinary schools and of the universities with veterinary schools. In the Members’ Room there is a stained glass representation of the RCVS coat of arms, which was once part of a much larger window. Veterinary historian Bruce Vivash Jones and RCVS Knowledge Librarian Clare Boulton explain their origins.

Coats of arms in stained glassThe story of this stained glass begins in 1884, when the College decided to knock down its existing building in Red Lion Square and erect a new home on the same site.

This new building was to be a ‘fitting for the home of the veterinary profession’ and, as such, tenders were invited for stained glass windows in the Council Chamber facing onto Red Lion Square. However, money was tight, and the building opened on 6 April 1886 with plain glass.

The idea of having ‘coloured’ windows must have appealed to sections of the profession as the Central Veterinary Medical Society offered to pay for stained glass in the central of the three windows.

Practitioners HL Simpson and JF Simpson (prominent members of the Royal Counties Veterinary Medical Association) jointly offered another. These windows were installed in time for the AGM in May 1886.

That same month an editorial in The Veterinary Journal reminded ‘societies and individuals that there is much yet to be done in the way of furnishing, fitting and embellishment of their building, and that now is a good opportunity for their assistance’. Perhaps that was a plea aimed at the issue of the final window in the Council Chamber?

If so, it seems to have worked, as the following year the Norfolk and Eastern Counties, Western Counties and Lincolnshire Veterinary Medical Associations agreed to jointly fund the final stained glass window. They presented the design to Council on 3 April 1888. The window would show:

“a veterinary surgeon examining a horse, which was made to appear as jaded as possible, to carry out the idea of a sick animal. After the stable-master’s explanation about the animal, the veterinary surgeon appears to be cautioning him for the future, telling him never to leave till to-morrow what might be done to-day. There was a Latin inscription under the subject to that effect. In the background a shepherd was seen driving a flock of sheep for the veterinary surgeon to examine. The subject was surrounded by an oval interlaced with the monograms of the counties by which the window was presented.”

Finally the three windows were complete, and they disappear from the records until 1941, when they are mentioned in reports of damage caused by the bombing of Red Lion Square in the final month of the Blitz. The damage was so serious that they had to be removed and replaced by plain glass. It was not until 1953, following the payment of war damage compensation, that the windows were repaired and returned.

The 1953 Annual Report also records that the idea of adding the “armorial bearings of the universities having veterinary schools and of the veterinary colleges which have their own bearings” in the windows at the opposite end of the building, overlooking Yorkshire Grey Yard, was being considered.

It was hoped that these would be paid for by “the universities and colleges concerned or by the alumni thereof”. There is no record of when this happened but the six university coats of arms must have been added before 1960, when the College vacated the Red Lion Square Building, as they are mentioned in discussions in March 1962 about the fitting out of the new building in Belgrave Square: a representative from Goddard and Gibbs [a leading stained glass studio where the windows were being stored] reports that it was not practicable to include the main windows in the new building but it would be possible to “incorporate one panel of the Royal College coat of arms [see photo] and the six existing panels of the coats of arms of the universities in the window at the garden end of the large room on the first floor”.

This was agreed and these sections of glass, with the addition of the coats of arms of “the ‘Royal Sign Manual’ veterinary schools under the old one portal system” (Royal Veterinary College, Royal (Dick) Veterinary School, Glasgow Veterinary College and the Veterinary College of Ireland) plus Trinity College, Dublin, and University College, Dublin, were installed in the Historical Library in Belgrave Square. It is this stained glass that can now be found in Belgravia House.

The question of what happened to the rest of the three larger windows remains a mystery. Minutes of 1962/63 record discussions of possible homes, including a new student hostel been built at RVC’s Hawkshead Campus. These all fell through. The final mention of them in the official records is in October 1963, when Registrar WGR Oates reports that he has written again to the associations who presented the windows to see if they have views on their future.

To see more images of the windows, visit Clare Boulton’s blog on the topic.



First published in RCVS News (June 2015), page 22.

August 2015