Maude Caroline Murdoch Cochrane (1883-1959) was born in Glasgow’s Southside in 1883. Little is known about her life before her marriage to the renowned Scottish stained glass artist, Alfred Alexander Webster (1883-1915) including how the couple met. It is most likely that Maude and Alf may have known each other from the living in the same area together. Alf’s family home was at 98 Kenmure Street and Maude just lived around the corner at 63 and both more than likely attended the same local church in Albert Drive. However, the courtship started the lovebirds were married in the June of 1901.
Shortly after their marriage, Alf made a dramatic career change leaving shipbrokering and turning his focus to architecture, when in 1903 he enrolled in evening courses at the Glasgow School of Art. It is noted in the GSA registration entry for 1903/04 that Alf took stained glass classes, most likely one of the studio sessions held on Tuesday or Saturday evening by Stephen Adam Junior.
It’s difficult to fully chart Alf’s progression from GSA student to master stained glass artist in the renowned stained glass studio of Stephen Adam Senior. Adam must have noticed a raw talent and passion in Alf as over the seven years Alf’s unique style came on leaps and bounds. Adam Senior must have trusted and respected Alf as the 1910/11 Glasgow Post Office Directory gives a unique privilege to the young stained glass artist confidently announcing him as an equal with ‘Stephen Adam FSA Scotland) & Alf A. Webster, glass strainers and decorators’. It is no surprise, that with this privilege being bestowed on him so early on in his career, that upon Stephen Adam Seniors death Alf was named successor to Adam’s stained glass studio.
I could talk about Alf all day but I would like to bring your attention back to Maude. Throughout Alf’s career, we don’t really hear much about his wife but is clear that her and her sons influence is clearly felt by Alf. Although she may never have designed, manufactured or produced any stained glass which we know of, she and her family did influence Alf.
First Fruits, a dedication to Alf’s mentor Stephen Adam can still be seen in New Kilpatrick Church in Bearsden, Glasgow. The window, which was installed shortly after Adam’s death, depicts a young angel, head bowed holding an array of grapes, wheat and berries.
By looking through Webster family photographs there is a striking resemblance to Alf’s son Gordon. Through speaking to existing Webster family members, it does become apparent that Alf would use his son as a life model from the age of three onwards. I have managed to pinpoint another three windows which may include the young Gordon Webster; Shettleston Old Parish Church from 1913, in the East End of Glasgow, The McCowan window in Landsdowne church (now Websters Theatre in Glasgow’s West End) and Cadder Parish Church dating from 1914.
I would also suggest that Alf may have used his wife as a life model. Through discussion with Alf’s grandsons (Robin and Martyn), they have helped me to identify one sketch which is housed in a private collection which bears a strong resemblance to their grandmother. When comparing the sketch to some of the 21 windows I managed to trace, I came across this beautiful angel in the McCowan window, which could possibly be Maude.
The golden era of stained glass was about to come crashing down around the Webster family when Alf voluntarily enlisted in February 1915 leaving Maude in Scotland with three young children. Their youngest son Alfred Edward Comyn was barely a month old when Alf went off to war. By the 17th of March Alf received his commission as a probationary 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, based at the Aberdeen City garrison. It’s hard to track Alf’s exact movements during the war but what we do know is that his war, like so many other young men of this era, it was short. On the 24th of August Alfred Alexander Webster died of wounds sustained while on patrol eight days before.
Maude’s sudden loss of her husband left her at home with a very busy and successful business to run – all while bringing up three young boys. Like any widow, I’m sure Maude felt that the running the Stephen Adam studio to be a giant weight on her shoulders but against all odds she not only managed to keep the business going but allowed it to flourish for the next generation of master stained glass artists.
By all accounts Maude played an essential role in the running of the business after Alf’s death. According to the majority of the accounts Maude was in control of the business, with the help of Alf’s former apprentice Douglas Strachan until the 1920’s. Her position as owner of the business is affirmed in the 1916/17 Glasgow Post Office Directory with a new address for the workshop at 13 Hillside Gardens. A year later the Studio moved to 5 Newton Terrace in Charing Cross, where they remained until 1952.
We must also remember that Maude not only managed to run the Studio successfully but also bring up the three boys to become fruitful in their chosen fields. Martyn managed to carve out a distinguished career as a BBC producer; Comyn went on to study at Glasgow School of Art with the intention of becoming an architect. However, his dreams were shattered when Jack Coia from the firm Gillespie, Kid and Coia told him that he ‘couldn’t draw’. And finally Gordon Webster entered into the family business by taking over the stained glass studio in his teens.
Gordon Webster (1908-1987)would continue to design and produce stained glass windows until the age of 78 including major windows for St. Andrews University, Glasgow Cathedral, Dunfermline Abbey, Dumblane Cathedral and an important memorial window for his father which is currently installed in Stamperland Parish Church on the Southside of Glasgow.
If you’d like to find out more about some of Glasgow’s influential women, we will be talking as part of Doors Open Day 2017 on the 15th of September at 6pm in St Andrews on the Square. The whole Doors Open Day programme will be launched next week when booking for all events will be made available.