What a rare delight! A small piece of stained glass, dating back a little more than a century, that nestles in the Shaw Library (more about that later) at the London School of Economics.
This is the Fabian Window - for many years missing, but now back where it belongs.
It was commissioned in 1910 by that archetypal Fabian, George Bernard Shaw - who features in it, top right, dressed in green; the man in red helping GBS hammer the world into shape is Sidney Webb, perhaps the most influential of the Fabians and - alongside his wife Beatrice Webb - a founder of the LSE; on the left working the bellows is Edward Pease, the secretary of the Fabian Society. There's a really good piece about the history of the window here.
The artist, Caroline Townshend, was herself a Fabian as well as a designer of stained glass of some distinction. And this is so charming, mischievous, self-mocking ... and so very English.
An array of prominent Fabians are shown kneeling at the foot of the window as if in prayer - though the books they appear to be revering are not holy scriptures but Shaw's plays and other similarly improving works. Sue Donnelly, the LSE archivist, has identified most of these 'worshippers':
The women are led by Maud Pember Reeves (1865-1953), founder of the Fabian Women’s Group and author of Round about a Pound a Week, who was married to the School’s third Director, William Pember Reeves. The figure at the far right is said to be Caroline herself. In between is Mary Hankinson (1868-1952), a gymnastics teacher claimed as the model for St Joan; Mabel Atkinson (1876-1958), who was involved in organising Fabian summer schools and later moved to South Africa; and Mrs Boyd Dawson author of a Fabian Tract on co-operative education.
The men include the actor manager, Charles Charrington (1854-1926); Aylmer Maude (1858-1938), translator of Tolstoy; George Stirling Taylor (died 1939) a lawyer and member of the Executive Committee; and Frederick Lawson Dodd (1868-?) who was the instigator of the Fabian summer schools. At the far left is the writer H G Wells. He is shown cocking a snook at his former colleagues in the Society following his failure to oust the old guard, including Shaw and Webb, from their leadership of the Fabian Society.
The window was unveiled at its new home at the LSE in 20o6 by ... Tony Blair. (My thoughts exactly!)
I discovered the Shaw library this week when visiting the LSE to hear Sachin Pilot, an up-and-coming Indian politician and the deputy chief minister of his home state of Rajasthan. He is a rising star in a sinking party (he's a member of the Indian National Congress) - and among the most impressive, articulate and sincere of Indian political figures.
I knew Sachin's father, the late Rajesh Pilot - indeed I travelled with him around Kashmir when he was India's internal security minister in the mid-1990s. And I first met Sachin when (I guess) he was still in his teens and did a brief internship in the BBC bureau in Delhi. He described me the other day as his first boss!
And peering down on Sachin Pilot in the Shaw library - yes, that's Sidney Webb. There's a portrait of him and his wife which takes pride of place in the room - which also boasts a stylish glass cupola and (perhaps uniquely for a library!) two Steinway grand pianos.
You may have assumed that the LSE's Shaw library, bearing the Fabian Window which George Bernard Shaw commissioned, was named after the great GBS. Wrong! It takes its name from his wife, Charlotte Shaw, an important benefactor to the LSE in its early years. Her maiden name was Charlotte Payne Townshend - but as far as I can make out she's no relation to the Townshend who designed and made the window.
Talking of which, let's have another look at it - along with an adjusted close-up which reveals the titles of the books so reverently placed among between the two lines of kneeling Fabians -
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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