St Colmon Parish Church is a rural church set in one of the most beautiful parts of Ayrshire, the Stinchar Valley. The parish covers four villages: Colmonell, Barrhill, Pinwherry and Lendalfoot.
Since it was built in 1772, this church has had some very significant renovations and additions from a famous artist and architect.
The first of these was Louis Davis an English watercolourist, book illustrator and stained-glass artist. He was often referred to as the last of the Pre-Raphaelites.
Davis was born May 1860 and raised in Abingdon, Oxfordshire along with his two older brothers, Arthur and David, and younger brother Oliver. His father, Gabriel Davis was a manufacturer and a merchant of grain alcohol and coal. He also had an interest in the Davis Engineering and Launch Building Company, which built and refurbished boats, barges and canals.
Educated at Abingdon School, Davis’ artistic talents were soon recognised as he was awarded a foundation scholarship in 1871. Twenty years later, in 1891, Christoper Whall began to teach Davis to be a glass artist.
Davis lived with Whall’s family for a time, and even assisted Whall on the windows commissioned by the St Mary’s Church in Stamford, Lincolnshire. The two became close friends, so much so that Whall named his youngest son Louis, after Davis, who also may have acted as godfather to the child.
Following his time with Whall, Davis worked with Mary Lowndes and Alfred J. Drury at Lowndes. He also contracted James Powell & Sons to make the works when the demand of him was greater than he could supply. Davis then maintained his own studio at Pinner.
This was where Louis and his wife Edith set up home and had a new house built along with the studio. He named their new home after his mother’s birthplace, Ewelme Cottage.
Davis met his future wife while on a countryside sketching expedition in East Anglia. Edith the daughter of an agriculturist was significantly younger than Davis, and when he called at a cottage asking for water, the young Edith Webster who answered impressed him. Louis offered to educate the girl and married her in the mid-1890s.
It is believed that Louis used Edith as a model, as her face strongly resembles the women in his glasswork.
Edith and Louis were both injured due to an accidental gas fire and the resulting fumes in 1915. Davis seemed to have suffered a stroke, lost his ability to speak, and occasionally required a wheelchair for mobility. Edith fully recovered from the incident.
Davis died in 1941 after which Edith sold their home and studio and returned to East Anglia where she was raised. She died in the late 1970s.
In their obituary of Davis, The Times wrote: "Mr Davis may be said to have inherited the side of the pre-Raphaelite movement which was concerned with medieval glamour and Celtic twilight rather than with the method of fidelity to nature... Davis was so thoroughly imbued with the spirit of his school that he used all its devices and mannerisms with an easy, natural skill, and the sentiment of his pictures never seemed forced or affected.”
In 1935 for a review of his exhibit in London, the Oxford Mail said that: "Mr Davis, who was born at Abingdon, is one of the last remaining Pre-Raphaelites."
Davis created works across the country including; Dunblane Cathedral; glasswork at Gloucester Cathedral; St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin and Westminster Abbey.
He also worked on the Thistle Chapel at St Giles’ cathedral in Edinburgh. This was one of several joint projects where he worked with Robert Lorimer, the famous Scottish architect and designer. Another of these joint projects was St Colmon Parish Church.
The windows in St Colmon Parish were created between 1908 and 1920. Davis was responsible for the window in the North wall of the church entitled "The Nativity". The window is in memory of William McConnell who died in 1902 and his wife Margaret Bradshaw McConnell who died in 1881.
Davis also designed the three-light window in the West wall of the church entitled "The Sacraments; Praise; All the Works of God" as well as the heads of two windows in the organ loft area. The first of these depicts ‘Grace’ as rose petals falling and the second depicts ‘Praise’ as incense rising- "Omnis Spiritus Laudet Dominus", (Let every Spirit praise the Lord)
As mentioned previously, Louis Davis was not the only person of notable success who enhanced the church, Sir Robert Lorimer the renowned Scottish architect was commissioned to renovate the church in 1899.
Sir Robert Lorimer
Born in Edinburgh in 1864, Robert Stodart Lorimer was the third son of James Lorimer, Regius Professor of Public Law at Edinburgh University, and Hannah, daughter of James Riddell Stodart, WS.
He began his education at
then went on to Edinburgh
University but did not
graduate. He left early having decided to become an architect. He became an
apprentice with Anderson Wardrop & Browne in 1885, though Browne left the
practice shortly after. Having taken the technical classes at Heriot-Watt
College he passed the
qualifying exam in 1888 after little more than three years, something of a
He then went on to work for George Frederick Bodley in London for eighteen months before returning to Edinburgh to form his own practice in 1891 with his first major restoration commission at Earlshall in Fife for a friend of his parents.
Lorimer was an advocate for the arts and crafts approach to architecture, and drew significant influence from the ideas of William Morris as well as 16th and 17th century Scottish architecture. He established a group of artists and craftsmen who helped him with many of his commissions and furniture creations which were often sent to arts and craft exhibitions in London. He went on to be elected to the Art Workers Guild in 1896.
Inevitably, as his reputation grew so did the scale of his commissions. He began to work on major alterations and additions to important houses in various styles, then three entirely new country houses designed in his personal interpretation of Scots Baronial. These were at: Rowallan, Ayrshire; Ardkinglas, Argyllshire and Formakin, Renfrewshire.
His important restorations were beginning to be recognised throughout the country. He could take a house of modest character and give it a strong personality, particularly where he found the raw materials sympathetic. However, if he felt the end result justified his actions, he would often disregard existing architectural qualities in a way that conservation practice today would question.
The outbreak of the First World War restricted the demand for large new houses and his attention shifted to smaller scale projects like war memorials and restorations.
Although much of his work, and reputation, was in the sphere of domestic architecture, Lorimer also carried out significant public works. One of his most notable works was his design for the new chapel for the Knights of the Thistle in St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh which Louis Davis also worked on. He received a knighthood for his efforts and went on to gain the commission for the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle in 1919.
Lorimer became President of the Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, and it was during his tenure in office that the body received its second royal charter, permitting use of the term 'Royal' in the title. Lorimer was also a fellow of the North British Academy of Arts. He died in Edinburgh in 1929.
As previously mentioned the Knights of the Thistle in St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh was not the only building that Lorimer and Davis worked together on, St Colmon Parish church also greatly benefited from their collaboration. Built in 1772, the church went through a real transformation in 1899 when Lorimer was commissioned to do renovations. Specifically, the organ screen and chancel were Lorimer’s creations.
Norman and Beard
The organ itself also came from notable origins. Built in 1908 this is a rare example of a Norman and Beard church pipe organ. This organ is considered to be equalled by none south of Paisley Abbey.
Norman and Beard were a pipe organ manufacturer based in Norwich from 1887 to 1916. The originally business was founded in 1870 by Ernest William Norman and based in the market town of Diss in Norfolk. In 1876, Norman moved to Norwich where he went into partnership with his brother, Herbert John Norman. In 1887, they went into partnership with George A. Wales Beard, and the company who produced the organ at St Colman Parish church was formed.
The company grew in success and in 1896 opened a second office in London. They worked closely with Robert Hope-Jones and held the patents on many of his developments, including electro-pneumatic action.
The company merged with William Hill & Sons of London in 1916, and became William Hill & Son & Norman & Beard Ltd.
Top: Example of Louis Davis leaded glass window in St Colmon Parish Church
© St Colmon Parish Church
Bottom: Louis Davis as a youth at Abingdon School
© Abingdon School Archives