St John's Church, Stratford, E15
St John's Church, Stratford, London E15
Rev. William Jay Bolton
(Perpetual Curate 1866-1868, Vicar 1868-1881)

[Photo of Rev. William Jay Bolton]
Rev. William Jay Bolton
William Jay Bolton was born on 31st August 1816 in Bath, Somerset and was the second son of a wealthy merchant, Robert Bolton, of Savannah, Georgia, USA, who later became an ordained minister and the founder of Christ Church in Pelham, New York. Robert Bolton married Anne Jay in 1810. She was the daughter of the Evangelical minister William Jay of Bath and New York. When Bolton was growing up he often went with his grandfather on summer trips through the countryside making pencil drawings of the stained glass windows of the churches they visited. He also often went with his aunt Arabella to King's College Chapel in Cambridge, where he would have seen the early sixteenth-century stained glass windows in the church.

Bolton attended school in Mill Hill, Middlesex, until he was 16. He also briefly joined an engineering firm in Bath where he began painting in earnest. His first paintings were portraits of his family and friends.

In 1836 the family moved to the town of Pelham in Westchester County, New York. In Pelham, Washington Irving, a neighbour and family friend, introduced Bolton to Samuel F. B. Morse. Around 1839 Bolton became a student of Morse at the National Academy of Design. In 1840 Bolton received first prize for his drawing of the Venus de' Medici from the Academy.

In 1841 Bolton went to Europe where he saw masterpieces of art, mostly in Italy. Here he did many drawings and sketches of these and bought art for the family home. In 1842 Bolton returned to Pelham where he earnestly began his work in stained glass. Here he had a small shop at the rear of a house near "The Priory", the Gothic Revival family home in Pelham. The equipment he had to work with was sparse. He had a muffle kiln, which was used for firing his work after he painted details on the coloured glass. Bolton's younger brother John (1818-1898) assisted him in making and designing stained glass.

Window of St Ann and The Holy Trinity Church Brooklyn
The window of St Ann & The Holy Trinity Church, Brooklyn
Bolton's first stained glass windows were for "The Priory", the family home. His first major window, a representation of the Adoration of the Magi, was for the family church where his father was rector, Christ Church at Pelham. (His brother John may have helped on this project.) It was completed by the time of its consecration on September 15, 1843 and was probably the first figural stained glass window made in the United States. It is similar in design to a subject in a sixteenth-century window at St. Martin's Church in Liege, Belgium, which Bolton most likely had seen in his travels some two years earlier. This work lead up to his finest work, the 60-odd figural windows for the Church of the Holy Trinity (now St. Ann and the Holy Trinity) in Brooklyn Heights; those windows were certainly executed with the help of John. A more modest series of windows, for the Church of the Holy Apostles in Manhattan, was completed at about the same time. These windows were sadly destroyed in a fire in 1990.

Bolton returned to England around 1845 and opened a glass staining studio in Cambridge.

On June 28 1848 he was admitted to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University. He was a fellow-commoner, meaning he paid slightly more than normal undergraduates and in return had the privilege of dining with the fellows.

On 26th September 1849 he married Susanna Welsh (or Welch) in Kings Lynne, Norfolk. Their only child, also Susanna, was born in November 1850 in Cambridge. His wife died on 4th December the same year.

In 1850 he was given an exhibition, at Cambridge University, which is a type of scholarship, for his work on moral philosophy. He won the Hulsean Prize in 1852; this is a prize given for an essay related to the history of Christianity. This essay was published in 1853 as the 'Evidences of Christianity'.

He obtained a BA and was ordained as a deacon 1853, he was ordained as a priest in 1854 and obtained an MA in 1856.

He married again, to Margaretta Elizabeth Jones Wilkinson of Sudbury, Suffolk on 14th August 1855 in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire. They had five children, William Henry (1859), Arabella Sarah (1860 - 1861), Margaretta Grace (1861), James Edward (1863) & Robert Wilkinson (1865).

He was a curate of Christ Church, Cambridge, Trinity Church, Cheltenham, St James's, Brighton and the Chapel of Ease, Islington (1864). Whilst he was Vicar at St. John's he had the Martyrs Memorial erected in the churchyard. After leaving St. John's he became vicar of St James's in Bath from 1881 until 1884.

He Died in office on 28th May 1884 in Bath, Somerset and was buried at St James Cemetery, Lower Bristol Road, Bath. A note on their website states that 'He did not like the large number of prostitutes living near to St James Church in the centre of Bath, but failed to have them controlled - maybe due to too many police or Watch Committee members among their clients?'

His wife, Margaretta, died on 27th December 1903 in Laverstock, Wiltshire.

Known Publications:

Sources: (click to open)

  • The Master and Fellows of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
  • GRO (England and Wales), FRC Marriage Index 1849 Q3 King's Lynn 13 269.
  • GRO (England and Wales), FRC Death Index 1850 Q4 Cambridge 14 9.
  • GRO (England and Wales), 1851 Census - HO107/176 p13.
  • GRO (England and Wales), FRC Marriage Index 1855 Q3 Cambridge 3b 741.
  • Crockford's Clerical Directory (1865)
  • GRO (England and Wales), 1871 Census - RG10/1624 p44.
  • GRO (England and Wales), 1881 Census - RG11/1706 p8.
  • GRO (England and Wales), FRC Death Index 1884 Q2 Bath 5c 435.
  • GRO (England and Wales), FRC Death Index 1903 Q4 Salisbury 5a 105.
  • Hampdon-Cook, E., 'Biography, Mill Hill School Register 1807-1926' (1926).
  • Venn, 'Biography, Alumni Cantabriensis 1752-1900' (1954).
  • Groce, George C., 'The New-York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564-1860', New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press (1957).
  • Marquis Who's Who, 'Who Was Who in America. A component volume of Who's Who in American History. Historical Volume, 1607-1896. Revised Edition', Chicago (1967)
  • Clark, Willene B., 'America's First Stained Glass: William Jay Bolton's Windows at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Brooklyn, New York', American Art Journal, vol. 11, No. 4, Kennedy Galleries (Oct., 1979).
  • Clark, Willene B., 'The Stained Glass Art Of William Jay Bolton, 1816-1884', Syracuse University (1992)
  • Hastings, Peter Falk, 'Who Was Who in American Art. 400 years of artists in America. Second edition.' Three volumes, Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press (1999).
  • Probate, National Probate Calendars.
  • Bodleian Pre-1920 Catalogue.
  • British Library Integrated Catalogue.
  • Newham Libraries Catalogue.
  • Oxford Libraries Online.
  • Website of Lyncombe, Widcombe and St James Cemetery, Bath.
  • Website of the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity, Brooklyn, New York.
  • Wikipedia

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