After mentioning it here last Friday, Roamer attended art-historian Nicola Gordon Bowe’s illustrated talk about one of the world’s greatest and most acclaimed stained-glass artists - Wilhelmina Geddes.
Barely remembered today in Belfast where she was brought up and educated, one of Wilhelmina’s windows received one of its first reviews in the Belfast News Letter almost 90 years ago on 22 May 1930.
Just like her window, the review was glowing!
This newspaper marvelled at the window’s ‘restraint and strength’, at its ability to captivate and absorb anyone looking at it, and at the magical way that Geddes’s glass transported the observer ‘far away on the wings of enchantment’.
Judging from her audience’s reaction, Nicola’s talk in Edgehill College had the same effect!
And the college’s past and presence, in a beguiling, tree-shadowed glade at the end of Lennoxvale on the Malone Road, was the perfect setting for Nicola’s talk.
“We’re here because of the Methodist connection,” she began.
Wilhelmina was strictly reared in Methodism.
Her father was a lay preacher and she attended Methodist College.
She didn’t remain in the church, but her work was profoundly inspired by religion, and she often visited churches, particularly to look at their stained glass windows.
Edgehill College today, whether training people for ordination or for deeper involvement with other traditions of faith, follows the very earliest Methodist ethos of being ‘a friend to all and an enemy of none.’
Wilhelmina was rarely without her sketch book, packing it with all sorts of people and places, capturing details from ancient carvings and sculptures and drawing powerful portraits of her friends and family for use in her window designs.
‘A friend to all and an enemy of none’!
Roamer is by no stretch of the imagination an artist, but the whole area around Edgehill and Lennoxvale on Friday night evoked similar ‘pictures’ of old acquaintances.
Anyone who has been to Queen’s University will probably share my feelings.
Edgehill College is currently the world’s largest archive of original Irish Methodist manuscripts and early printed material from the church’s past, and the Lennoxvale district is without doubt similarly endowed with history and with powerful, student memories.
Roamer often trod these pavements in the past.
With the Q.U.B. halls of residence just up the Malone Road and countless student flats and other residences in the vicinity, the main road past Lennoxvale was not just a rite of passage, it was a right of way!
Two favourite student hostelries faced each other - the ‘Bot’ and the ‘Egg’ - dangerously close to several of the university’s key departments - the Ashby and the David Keir buildings, and the Science Library.
The School of Architecture is, and was, on Lennoxvale and Chlorine Gardens, and for ‘culture vultures’ the Museum, the Lyric Theatre and the Friar’s Bush Graveyard (thought to be Belfast’s oldest Christian burial ground) were near at hand.
Stranmillis Road, adjacent to Botanic Gardens and the Q.U.B Sports Centre, boasted Danklesons butcher, the Stranmillis Bakery, a grocer (O’Donnells, later a V.G store), Gibson’s fruitier, Ewings fishmonger, Scott’s pharmacist, Sammy Jenkins’ hardware shop, a laundrette and an off sales - everything that a student could ever want, within a few short steps of each other.
And on a Friday night there was the wonderful Café Montmartre chip shop, formerly Rocky’s Chippie, with the biggest and tastiest helpings of the best fish, chicken, pies, sausages, burgers or whatever you wanted with your chips.
Smokey Joe’s further down the road was excellent too!
Many of these iconic student-haunts are gone but not forgotten, but on Friday night on my way along Lennoxvale to Edgehill College, I stopped my car very suddenly, such was the impact of a huge gap in the ‘scenery’.
The Science Library has gone!
All the other aforementioned establishments have been replaced, renovated or renamed, but the Science Library, where Roamer and tens of thousands of undergraduates and research students built their futures - is now an enormous hole in the ground!
Times must change, and the huge gap will soon be filled with a new Q.U.B department of Biological Sciences.
The site is on several levels - the highest part is some four metres above Chlorine Gardens which is about four metres higher than Lennoxvale, thus the immense excavations.
As well as a gross internal area of approximately 11,000 square metres, the new building will have four floors, a big underground facility, a central atrium or glazed ‘street’, a new plaza, landscaped pathways and open, planted, public areas.
But let’s not forget what has gone before.
The Science Library, Q.U.B’s first venture into industrialised buildings, was opened in 1965.
It was designed in a Cambridge-based architect’s office called
Twist and Whitley, using a revolutionary, pre-fabricated, modular building system that was invented in 1956 for school buildings.
The Science Library gained a major R.I.B.A (Royal Institute of British Architects) award in 1970.
“Despite first impressions of an unremarkable structure,” wrote an architectural analyst “it has a certain presence and is deftly placed in a sloping well-wooded site.”
In a very different context to the News Letter’s reviewer of Wilhelmina Geddes’s window in 1930, many thousands of former Q.U.B. students will remember their library’s ‘restraint and strength’, its ability to ‘captivate and absorb’ and it most certainly carried them ‘far away on the wings of enchantment’!
The same words that the News Letter reviewer used for Wilhelmina’s beautiful ‘Children of Lir’ stained-glass window all those years ago.