Martin Travers (1886-1948) was one of the most distinguished church furnishers and stained glass painters of the Twentieth Century.
He was born in Margate and educated at Tonbridge School and the Royal College of Arts, leaving in 1908 with a Diploma in Architecture. He then worked for short periods with his teacher at the RCA, A. Beresford Pite, and then with Ninian Comper, but by 1911 at least he had set up on his own account. His work had hardly taken off before it was interrupted by the First World War, in which he was a conscientious objector.
Although virtually all of Travers' work was for the Church of England, it is clear that at any rate after the Great War he had become an agnostic. It is very apparent however that he was much in tune with contemporary Anglo-Catholicism and was able to design what was demanded of him by the fashion for "Back to Baroque" furnishings, which were strongly promoted by the Society of SS. Peter & Paul (founded 1910) in which Father Maurice Child was a moving spirit, along with Samuel Gurney and, before his reversion to Rome in 1917, Father Ronald Knox.
In the early 1920s, Travers was kept busy designing elaborate pastiches of Baroque altars for the followers of the SSPP, and much of his best known work dates from this period, particularly his redesign of the interior of St. Mary, Bourne Street and, later, the enormous reredos erected in the Butterfield church of St. Augustine, Queen's Gate, South Kensington, the culmination of the so called "Anglo-Catholic Congress style", so called because of the association of that church and others with the Congresses held between 1920 and 1933 in London and in many provincial cities. The success of the Congresses led to the formation of a permanent organization, which in 1934 merged with the English Church Union to become the modern day Church Union.
Travers had however never confined his work to those who were regarded as Anglo-Catholics, and his stained glass in particular is found in many churches over the country. He exhibited at the 1925 International Exhibition in Paris, now regarded as the high water mark of the Art Deco Movement, and his later work was much influenced by that trend. In that year was appointed Head of Stained Glass at his alma mater, the RCA, leading to a profound influence on a generation of practitioners, particularly Lawrence Lee and John Hayward.
It is also clear that by 1930 the wave of enthusiasm for Baroque had largely spent itself. The work for Father Child at Cranford and for Samuel Gurney after the latter became squire of Compton Beauchamp, now in Oxfordshire, were exceptions to this generality.
After the Second World War Martin Travers found himself well known and respected both as a practitioner and as a teacher. At that point he began to be given more "establishment" commissions, from which he had largely been excluded before then by his perceived connections with more extreme Anglo-Catholicism. He designed altar furniture for St. Helier Church, Jersey, on the gift of the then Queen, an altar cross for the Temple Church, and an uncompleted refurbishment for Gibraltar Cathedral. Sadly, a design for the work which could have been his greatest monument, a magnificent east window for the lady chapel at Ely Cathedral, was rejected in 1946 on the grounds of cost.
Martin Travers died suddenly of a heart attack in the night of 25th July 1948 at the early age of 62.
It is interesting to look therefore at Travers' work in Cranford against that background.
After 1925 Maurice Child was the secretary of the Anglo-Catholic Congress, and later of the Church Union. He was indeed deeply involved with many aspects of the Anglo-Catholic Movement at that time, although there was always an air of mystery about him. He appeared to have substantial means, and he retained a flat in Eaton Square even when living out of town. In early editions of Crockford he is listed as having the additional or alternative christian names of Charles Francis Hugh Dominic, although always known as Maurice. Child was ordained deacon in 1909 and priest in 1910, and was curate of St. Andrew Haverstock Hill, Hampstead, 1909-12, although during that time he was a missioner at St. Silas, Kentish Town. He was then curate of St. James the Less, Plymouth, 1912-4, when he introduced two Baroque alters (not designed by Travers) to the daughter church of St. Michael, West Hoe, then at Holy Trinity Sloane Street, 1914-7, and St. Mary Bourne Street, 1917-23, before a short spell at Pusey House, Oxford, after which he took over the running of the Congress. He had great administrative skills, a flair for publicity, and a liking for conspiracy and secret dealings which repelled some but fascinated many more.
There is a description of Father Child in Asking for Trouble by Bruno Scott James (1962), an autobiography written by a former Nashdom monk who later went over to Rome.
"He [Child] was a fine preacher with a very attractive
voice, and he had great charm of manner, but he sometimes
liked to affect a rather bizarre and not very clerical dress that did not appear to further his apostolate. Nevertheless, he did good work among delinquent young men, over whom he was said to exercise a somewhat salutary influence."
In 1935 Father Child became rector of Cranford, his first and only parish, and for the first five years of his ministry he combined that with his role in the Church Union. The work that Travers carried out at St. Dunstan was amongst his last in the baroque style which had been so popular 10 to 20 years before, but of course Child had not previously had a parish of his own in which to express his own preferences.
In 1935 Travers designed a processional cross, which seems to have been his first piece of work for Cranford, and, after drawing various schemes, including one which showed a new east window, in 1936 he installed the high altar and its terracotta coloured reredos, which incorporates a tabernacle, which can convert to a throne for exposition by sliding the roof forward over the doors. Four baroque candlesticks accompany it together with a crucifix and attached to the altar is a double-sided frontal in gilded and painted wood. Above hangs the splendid octagonal canopy, matching the frontal, and complete with wooden pendant tassels. Travers then remodelled the chancel arch and placed two cherubs and cartouches above it. He made new communion rails and repositioned them, and also provided a new gallery at the west for the choir and organ. This extensive restoration and refurbishment apparently necessitated the closure of the church for a time in 1936-7.
In 1939 he provided new sacristy accommodation, but this is now in poor condition with an inadequate damp course and leaking roof.
In 1941 Travers designed the statue and plinth of Our Lady with an extraordinarily tall canopy above, which has been moved since its installation, and the tabor for exposition of the Sacrament in silver gilded wood with a large painted angel's head on the front, which is in many ways, as with all his work at Cranford, is reminiscent of his work of some years previously. Finally in 1944 and 1945 respectively Travers designed memorial tablets for the church, for Fr. Lewis, Ronald Bocking, and for the restoration of Dr. Fuller's monument.
Travers himself considered the refurbishment of the old church at Cranford to be his best work.
In complete contrast to St. Dunstan was his work at the former church of Holy Angels, which was built in 1935 as a corrugated iron mission. In 1940 it was provided with its own priest, but in 1941 it burned down and was replaced the following year by a converted Rodney hut. Travers however created within this unpromising situation an ultramontane sanctuary, from designs dated 1943. Across the eastern end he placed a screen, forming a sacristy behind, and in front was a baroque altar complete with six baroque candlesticks and a rood. On either side stood a single pillar topped with a boy cherub holding a candlestick. The detail was altered during the course of the life of the building, which itself burned down in about 1965.
The above Biographical details were very kindly supplied by Michael Yelton - see below for details of a recently published biography of Martin Travers (Martin Travers (1886-1948) An Appreciation by Rodney Warrener and Michael Yelton).