New light on lost chapter

A stained glass window commemorating a key figure in Octavia Hill’s campaign to build a better society is set for its first public viewing at the Wisbech house where she was born on Sunday (March 8).

The specially commissioned work by the glass artist, Hazel Parry, which has been installed at Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House, has been created to remember John Kyrle, who was known as ‘’the Man of Ross’.   He gave his name to the Kyrle Society, which was founded in 1876 by Octavia and Miranda Hill.

The philanthropist who gave all his fortune to his community in the border town of Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire was cited  by the poet, Alexander Pope, in the third of his ‘Moral essays’, as an example of the ethical use of wealth.

At least 13 Kyrle Societies were established in England, Scotland and abroad to better the lives of working people by laying out parks, encouraging house decoration, window gardening and flower arranging, and the Kyrle Society was one of the first civic amenity bodies.   Its open space branch was a progenitor of the National Trust.

The latest artistic project is the second stained glass creation by Hazel Parry to be installed at the Birthplace House at 7 South Brink.   She has collaborated closely with the museum since its inception in December, 1995.

The striking new feature showcases Victorian images of John Kyrle and of Octavia Hill, who a few years later co-founded the National Trust, as a champion of open spaces and clean air – and the flowers are testimony to her drive to develop window boxes in urban areas.

Curator Peter Clayton, chairman of the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust, said that the eye-catching new window in the museum, which overlooks the garden, would celebrate the crucial role played by the Kyrle Society.

He said:  “Over many years it was a lost element in the history books and most of the Kyrle Society functions were adopted by local authorities everywhere.   The work of the society was taken over by others, but was a model for the future.”

The window goes on show for the first time at the opening event of the new season at the Birthplace House.   Doors open at 1pm and the unveiling at 1.30pm by Hazel Parry is followed by a talk about the creative process that informed it.

Operations manager Jen Barback outlines the current museum redisplay and building restoration programmes at 2.15pm, as well as introducing the new Memory Booth project which will be developed in 2020.

At 2.30pm there is a talk on ‘Community arts’ by a speaker from the Metal project in Peterborough discussing contemporary arts participation and using local projects as a case study.

At around 3.15pm the audience has an opportunity to view the new ‘Arts for all’ exhibition, to see the first changes to the galleries of the new redisplay and to take refreshments in the refurbished Clock Tea Room.   The museum remains open until 4.30pm.

The launch of the new season at the Birthplace House is timed to coincide with International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8 and the museum dedicated to the town’s most famous daughter opens between 1pm and 4.30pm from Saturday to Wednesday every week until the end of October.