St Mark’s Staplefield

Visits to Staplefield in Sussex and references to the ‘Staplefield account’ appear in Frederick Leach’s pocket diaries in August 1866, throughout July, August and September 1869 and again in November 1870.

The design of the wall paintings in the chancel of St Mark’s church in Staplefield  – trees, interpersed with flowers and angels with scrolls – has strong similarities to the Morris frieze on the ceiling of the chapel at Jesus College, Cambridge, that Leach had recently painted, supervised by Morris, for Bodley.

During conservation of the wall paintings at St Mark’s in 2011, a discrete signature was discovered, that of Alfred Edward Tombleson (1851-1943).

Alfred Tombleson was apprenticed to Frederick Leach in 1867 and his name appears frequently in Leach’s pocketbooks and diaries until June 1872, by which time he had moved from working for Leach at the firm’s glassworks in London, to working for Kempe, for whom he became foreman of the glassworks.  After Kempe’s death in 1907, Tombleson became a director of the firm and remained active there until it finally closed in 1934.  However, back in 1869 at Staplefield, Tombleson was only 18 years old and barely half way through his apprenticeship.

Frederick Leach ceased working with Charles Kempe from 1872 but Alfred Tombleson and his younger brother Arthur (who had also been apprenticed to Leach) made one final appearance in Frederick Leach’s diaries on 28 December 1876 when the brothers paid a seasonal visit to City Road.

See also Adrian Barlow, Kempe, The Life, Art and Legacy of Charles Eamer Kempe (Cambridge, 2018), esp. pp 41-44 and his blog for The Kempe Trust:




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