Poems demand from the writer

serenity and solitude. I'm tossed by sea and wind,
savaged by winter.

                                        The poet Ovid, banished from Rome and exiled to the Black Sea, 8 A.D.                   


The Impact of War.

Stanley Spencer's halcyon days of Slade and Cookham creativity. which had resulted in such masterpieces as
Apple Gatherers, Zacharias and Elizabeth and The Nativity, came to a tangled halt with the outbreak of war in August 1914. In his 'pilgrimage', he was face-to-face with the first of the 'perils' to threaten his artistic integrity
(the disturbers of the peace, as he later called them.)

Three Spencer brothers in uniformThree of Stanley's older brothers volunteered for the infantry immediately. The photograph shows two of them, Sydney (left) is the lieutenant (later awarded the Military Cross, but sadly killed in France in 1918), Percy is the seated sergeant (also later commissioned, but then wounded.) Stanley, in uniform by then, stands on the right of the photo. He had wanted to join his county infantry regiment, the Royal Berks, but from respect for their parents' insistence that he and his younger brother Gilbert should join a non-combattant arm, he felt he had to postpone his enlistment.

His confused feelings can be deduced from the subject and treatment of his late 1914 The Centurion's Servant, in which he is emotionally both the centre of the kneeling watchers by the bed and also the figure on the bed. In the latter self-figuration he has further combined both the sick servant of the biblical story and also the perplexed messenger in the attitude of running to Christ for deliverance.

Early in 1915, the two brothers began training in Maidenhead to acquire the St John's Ambulance Certificate which would qualify them to serve in the newly-formed Home Hospital Service of the Royal Army Medical Corps. They achieved their certificates in the spring. I only remember being asked two or three questions, and cannot remember answering any of them, Stanley later recorded. Both sent in their names as volunteers. A few weeks later, they received their postings to the Beaufort War Hospital in BristolThus was set in motion three-and-a half-years of military service which was to have such a profound effect on the artistic life of those young artists who were just settling to their careers.

Gilbert arrived at the Beaufort first. His reports were discouraging. Nevetheless, abandoning his current work on Swan Upping, Stanley left Maidenhead Station with his party of recruits on 24 July 1915. His feelings were mixed - excitement about the future, nostalgia at leaving Cookham, anxiety about his parents' situation (all later incorporated into his painting Christ Carrying the Cross), but above all the dread that his artistic creativity might be irreparably damaged or even snuffed out.

In Bristol, his party enlisted at the recruiting centre which Stanley describes as the Colston Hall (but might have been the nearby Guildhall to which the recruiting centre is reported to have moved by then) where Stanley was pleased to find himself medically graded A1. They gave themselves tea in a city centre café, and then, proudly wearing their 'enlisted' badges <60>, made their way to Stapleton and the hospital.

The Beaufort War Hospital.

Bristol Lunatic Asylum about 1890 The building they arrived at was in normal times the Bristol Lunatic Asylum. It was a product of the 1845 Mental Health Act and had been constructed from a locally-quarried drab grey sandstone in 1861 at the city's then rural edge, in extensive grounds surrounded by high walls (since lowered.)

The layout comprised a central block (creeper-covered by Stanley's time there), administrative to the front and service to the rear <2>, from which two complexes of wards and corridors extended as wings, one on each side. The left wing as viewed was for female patients, the right for males. By the outbreak of war, these had been extended to accommodate some 500 long-term patients <3>. 

The two wings were transected at intervals by ward blocks on two floors, so enclosing three-sided courts or 'squares' <4>. Each ward was self-contained, with a dayroom and a night dormitory, and its own toilets and bathrooms. 

Early in 1915, with casualties mounting, the asylum had been requisitioned by the War Offce and renamed under the patronage of the Duke of Beaufort whose Badminton estate owned land in the vicinity. Forty-five of the mental patients were retained for domestic duties or for work on the hospital pig farm and kitchen gardens, but the rest were dispersed to rural asylums.

Three months were spent converting the building into a military hospital to accommodate a possible 1600 wounded. A total of 24 medical and surgical wards were provided by turning both the former day rooms <6> and the original dormitories <7> into nursing wards. Even a corridor section with its side doors into padded cells was brought into use <8>. Extra facilities were constructed for surgical, orthopaedic, pharmacy and x-ray services <5>.

Most of the permanent Asylum male staff were 'volunteered' into the Army in appropriate rank <9> (conscription was not introduced until 1916.) The Superintendent, Dr J Vincent Blachford <51> (known as 'Vince' to family and friends) was promoted to Lieut.Colonel and occupied an apartment in the administrative block. His pre-war cab, pulled by a horse called Tommy which had lost its tail and been fitted with a substitute, was replaced by a motor-car. The cab driver, Jack Lewis, became chauffeur. A Registrar, Dr Phillips, was appointed, and in all about 25 physicians and surgeons were recruited or co-opted in the rank of Captain or Major, some of whom can be seen in a group photo of 1915, resplendent in their service uniforms <52>.

Of the female staff, the homely asylum wardresses became nursing assistants <10>, supervised by intakes of trained nurses mostly from the Red Cross <11>, and overseen by experienced ward sisters from Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve <12>. They were all under the hegemony of an appointed Hospital Matron, Miss Gilson, who superseded the Asylum Matron, Miss Dunn.

In September 1915 the fledgling Beaufort War Hospital was vouchsafed a Royal Visit from King George V and Queen Mary on one of their West Country morale-boosting tours. An ideal place for a sick man, His Majesty pronounced, no wonder they recover so rapidly.

Sadly Stanley's impressions on reaching the hospital were quite different, and as dire as Gilbert's forewarnings. He recalled them later vividly if somewhat over-heatedly....as soon as I had passed through the gate and was walking down the drive <14> all my patriotic ardours, which I had struggled hard to retain, seemed suddenly to leave me. A great clammy death seemed to be sitting or squatting on all my desires and hopes. Everything seemed so false. The day did not seem like the day to me, the men did not belong to the day <15> .....even the trees and laurel hedges were affected: they were so deathly....had someone been round in the morning and dusted them with a duster? If so, a cobweb had been missed here and there. The ground was hard and had the 'ring' of iron about it, the lamp posts, sign posts, railings and trees seemed to be riveted to the ground <16> : a steel-like uniformity prevailed and nothing could prevail against it. We were escorted at length into a ward, an empty one, as our billet, I cannot imagine anything more incongruous than the feelings I had on that summer afternoon, sitting on one of the spring mattresses of the many empty beds. Everything seemed to be directly opposite to what, under natural circumstances, it should have been.

The above comment was made some years later. At the time it did not take the energetic Stanley long to bounce back. On his second day there, he tells his friends Gwen and Jacques Raverat, I had to scrub out the Asylum Church <17> It was a splendid test of my feelings about this war. But I still feel the necessity of this war, and I have seen some sights, but not what one might expect. The lunatics are good workers and one persists in saluting us and always with the wrong hand. Another one thinks he is an electric battery...

Such inconsistencies in Stanley's memoirs is best appreciated by accepting that he lived simultaneously on two levels, an everyday level of often amused acceptance of the physical necessities of existence - his down-to-earth life - and a more emotional level of hypersensitivity to what he called the atmosphere of places, incidents or people - the stimuli to his creative up-in-heaven life. Whenever he was able to connect the two levels by means of quiet contemplation, he would find peace and creativity. But when he couldn't connect them, or did not have time or opportunity to do so, he would be left troubled and confused, his longing to paint blocked.

Sadly, Stanley's early reactions at the Beaufort were of this troubling bafflement. His nature was such that to make sense of new atmospheres - to integrate their significance into connected totalities - he needed time and deliberation. Although the hospital was in essence a nothing-happening place - a place of monotonous day-by-day routine - it was also a place where everything [that occurred] was so quick, so that the details of each new experience kept changing as he was absorbing them : every bit of change, no matter how slight or often, would be felt [by Stanley], and the arrival of a convoy <19> - two hundred or more would arrive in the middle of the night - was the most disturbing change in this respect. I had just got used to the patients I had (there are four beds that way and in that little recess one bed <20> I remember the names, Good, Riddle, Courtney, Hines, had mentally and imaginatively visualized them [that is, he had at last absorbed that particular circumstance into a totality (an entity) and so could 'see' it as an image] and so could not conceive of anything in that affair being altered or in any way different, or in any way being added to or detracted from. But what will the world be like tomorrow [after the convoy had been installed]? What about Courtney and Hines when the beds between them are filled? The significance [the former totality] will remain [fixed forever in his mind.] But another God-creation takes place during the night and I will find it in the morning.

Although the hospital was forewarned of convoys, the mental adjustment Stanley would have to make to accommodate the new atmosphere when he came on duty the next morning would, in his terms, constitute an imaginative shock. Such shocks assailed him from all directions. After early morning parades or physical training, he would be assigned with one or two other orderlies to his ward, usually Ward 4, to serve a ten, twelve or even fourteen hours' duty of heavy lifting, fetching and carrying, bathing and washing of patients and the scrubbing of floors <21>. In the photograph, he is on the left as 'Me'. The other orderlies are 'Jones' and 'Culliford'. The postcard was sent to his sister Florence who acted as the keeper of the family records.

There were, of course, intervals of quiet when Stanley could begin to contemplate, but they would all-too-often be interrupted by orders from the Sister to carry out yet another task, as when he was sudddenly told to take a patient to a show at the hospital concert hall <22> and found his ward trolley missing. The desperate search for another made him late and exposed him to both a ticking off from the Sister and to caustic comments on his inadequacy from the patient, who failed to get the place near the front he wanted <23>.

There were other sources of shock. The Hospital Regimental Sergeant Major, William Kench, was a particularly fearsome one <24> . He was a time-served Warrant Officer who had become Head Male Attendant (Nurse) in 1905, and was a gigantic man whose eyes paralysed me....He was quite terrifying enough even when he did not wear puttees, but if you came anywhere near him when he did wear puttees [was in formal parade uniform <25>], God help you!

When Kench removed his tunic to avail himself of a favoured loo on his rounds of inspection (as a mental asylum the patients' loos had no doors) he revealed a striped flannel shirt, and it became Stanley's whimsy to think of himself in his relation to Kench as one of the stripes on his shirt, which in military fashion had to be exactly like every other stripe.

Kench on the loo however, tunic doffed and trousers down, would become uncharacteristically sociable, chatting cheerfully to any fortuitous passer-by. Readers might feel justified in seeing a good-natured photograph of him with one of the smaller orderlies <26> as the basis of Stanley's 1938 painting Knowing (see highly-adept.)

In his Beaufort days Stanley had not yet formulated his ideas on the meaning of what he came to know as love, nor were the inspiring mental transformations he later experienced possible in his circumstances then. His current inability to master the significance of the atmospheres he was meeting or to discern the connections in them so vital to his creativity not only alarmed him but turned eventually into a source of desperation for him.

He was so disconnected that he became convinced in later life that the war had damaged beyond repair the cherished pre-war Cookham-feelings which had sourced the pristine glory of his early work. An uncharacteristic attempt in the 1930s to recapture those early Cookham-feelings - the associated webpage on The Lovers or The Dustman refers - was to lead him to disaster in his material life, and thereafter he resigned himself to the conviction that he would never again retrieve them in their former physical-plus-spiritual entirety.

At the time, a few sympathetic comrades like the violinist Lionel Budden <27> (one of the best men I have ever met according to his fellow-orderly Jack Witchell) and a new Bristol friend, the twenty-one year-old intellectual Desmond Chute <28> did their best to help Stanley in his dejection. He was gratified when his painting The Centurion's Servant was exhibited in London in November 1915 and reviews in national newspapers alerted hospital staff to his status. He spent heartwarming afternoons-off with Chute at his family's elegant Clifton home (his widowed mother, Abigail, owned the Prince's Theatre, a major touring theatre in Bristol, and Desmond as her only son was accustomed to helping her entertain stars of the day such as Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, Mrs Patrick Campbell and Sarah Bernhardt.) He invited Stanley to musical and artistic activities at Clifton Arts Club, and on one occasion made a pencil portrait of him <30> (Desmond had begun a Slade course in 1913, but discontinued it at the outbreak of war.)

Demond Chute was later to become a priest, and through his devotional outlook Stanley found further consolation in the writings of St Augustine. He saw himself in the up-in-heaven or spiritual aspects of his aspirations as enduring on a personal scale the passion of Christ. In the way that Christ had become human, Stanley had, in enlisting, reduced himself to the status of a servant, fetching and carrying and doing things to men. The army had no use for his art (apart from his once being detailed to paint a sign for the sergeants' latrines in Macedonia), so by offering up its spiritual purpose for denial, Stanley had deliberately chosen to become a sacrifice to the down-to-earth. The fact that such sacrifice might involve not only artistic but physical death was irrelevant. Sacrifice was a sacrament, and Stanley had become both priest at this personal sacrifice and the sacrifice itself.

Such metaphysical thoughts - incomprehensible to most of his comrades - sustained in Stanley the hope that he would eventually be able to decipher some totality of meaning in his experience. But for the time being all he could do was store in his mind occasional glimpses of it. In this, his powers of auditory and visual recall came to his aid, as in this example from a moment in Macedonia in which he recalls listening at home to his pianist brother Will practising Bach after breakfast <31> : Since I have been out here I have dreaded [times] of awful empty silence, and just as if some divine presence has seen my fears, he has intensified my memory and has caused me to hear four or five of the 48 Preludes so clearly that I have instinctively stood still to listen...I shall always have the atmosphere then created with me.

Stanley's comment that the incident originated from some divine presence is again suggestive. Sourced as such incidents were in random moments of experience, they nevertheless became permanent, indestructible and eternal for him (as were the paintings he was later able to derive from them.)

Major Sandham, centre. Such memories, welling up from Stanley's subconscious, formed the maze of associations on which he eventually drew for much of his imagery. In his metaphysical thinking it was the war which was 'unreal' - contrary to all natural human instincts - whereas 'reality' rested in the values of peacetime life. So if he were to find reconciliation through his art, he must somehow acquire a method of metaphysical osmosis through which the disagreeable detail depicting the actuality of the experience would be so modified by association with his occasional happy imagery that his paintings would show the 'unreality' of their wartime activity being metamorphosed into peace-time 'reality', in other words redeemed into his up-in-heaven

Stanley's mastery of the process was to result in the striking paintings in the Sandham Memorial Chapel, his 1927-32 masterwork at Burghclere commissioned by his patrons Louis and Mary Behrend as a memorial for Mary's brother Henry Willoughby Sandham who had died as a result of malaria contracted in Macedonia. He is the officer in the centre of the photo.

The Sandham Memorial Chapel

Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere Of the nineteen paintings in the Chapel, ten reflect Stanley's Beaufort experiences during his ten months of service there. They form a significant part of a most moving masterwork. The Chapel is now in the care of The National Trust and its website provides details, together with a picture gallery showing seven of the ten hospital panels. The reader may need catalogue reproductions for the remaining three paintings: Sorting and Moving Kitbags, Washing Lockers and Patient Suffering from Frostbite. All the paintings are excellently reproduced in a National Trust booklet Stanley Spencer at Burghclere, in Professor Paul Gough's scholarly Stanley Spencer, Journey to Burghclere (Sansom & Company, 2006), and in a history of the hospital by Dr Donal Early, details below. Eight of the ten Beaufort panels are rectangular panels at eye-level, which Stanley called predellas. They are Scrubbing the Floor : Sorting and Moving Kitbags : Sorting Laundry : Filling Tea Urns : Bed Making : Patient Suffering from Frostbite :Tea in the Ward : and Washing Lockers. The remaining two are lunettes : Convoy of Wounded Soldiers Arriving at Beaufort Hospital Gates and its neighbour Ablutions.

The Paintings

Scrubbing the Floor  (repro available on the NT website.)

This is an oddly claustrophobic painting, deliberately so. The setting is part of a then flagstoned corridor lined by drab black and brown tiling which connected the Stores with the front reception area where the Sergeant-Major's office was situated. Each end of the corridor was well lit, especially the sunny end by Kench's office. But the corridor at the point where the orderlies are seen scurrying with their trays of bread, butter and monkey brand (bar scrubbing soap containing soluble gritty specks, colloquially known as 'sugar-soap') is lit only by small barred windows facing north-east which get no direct sunshine <32>. Stanley has omitted them in his painting to increase the gloom. One orderly has to lean his tray against the wall to adjust its balance.

Off the picture to the right was an exit door to the court across which Stanley would have to scuttle to gain access to his group of wards. A glass-covered walkway gave shelter when it rained, but to use it took longer. His dread while crossing the court was a chance encounter with the Sergeant-Major and his Airedale dog, from which he was convinced he would suffer yet another reprimand for his unsoldierliness.

In that detail of the painting Stanley is telling of his agitation at everything at the hospital being so quick and of his dejection at his inability to pause and collect his thoughts.

Compare that activity with the figure scrubbing the floor. It seems inconceivable that he too is not taking part in the same frantic activity. In physical terms, Stanley tells us, he is, for of course he too represents a Stanley alter-ego detailed off to yet another floor-scrubbing duty. But the figure's strange posture, arm extended, is in a very unscrubbing-like attitude.

In fact the figure is an echo of one of the 'lunatics' known as Deborah, a long-term mental patient who acted as the Sergeant-Major's orderly : his face was long and egg-shaped with a short scrubby white beard and bald head. I felt he could claim some mystical discipleship with the Sergeant-Major. If the Sergeant-Major was God, Deborah was St Peter ....when he washed the floor he knelt down with his back to you but now and again peering sideways across his shoulder at you. As he lifted the wet rag out of the bucket he slowly raised himself to a vertical kneeling position, arm extended straight out in front of him, rag hanging down; then open goes his hand and plop! goes the wet rag. Down he bends, takes hold of the wet rag and slowly swishes it about.

Why such an unexpected detail in a war painting? Because all this was part of his mental illness, but I thought I would like [to be in a mental state] to do things that way. I felt that in that state, and doing things at that speed, I could take things in. I could contemplate. Nothing would disturb me.

The feeling at the time was almost physical in its intensity, and the effect was to inflame all those creative urges which Stanley found so thwarted by his war service : Oh, how I could paint this feeling I have in me if only there was no war, the feeling of that corridor, the sergeant-major and his dog - anything so long as it gave me the feeling and the circumstance gave me! If I was Deborah, the lunatic who doesn't know there is a war on, I could do it. I envied him the mental agony of being cut off completely from my soul. I thought in agony how marvellously I could paint this moment in the corridor now. And I will paint it, with all the conviction I feel now, in a belief in peace being the essential need for creative work, not a peace that is merely the accidental lapse between wars, but a peace that whether war is on or not is the imperturbable and right state of the human soul.

Note the phrase anything so long as it gave me the feeling and the circumstance gave me, surely as vivid description of what Stanley meant by memory-feeling as he ever offered. The circumstance produced the memory, and joined with the feeling to produce the moment of illumination, the epiphany, and thus the aspiration - the urge to re-create.

Thus a panel which at first sight seems aesthetically undistinguished uses that very notion to emphasise the drabness of the unremitting repetitiveness of hospital work. Yet within that repetitiveness Stanley has taken one aspect, the tray-carrying, and counterpointed it with the other, the scrubbing. The former is creatively sterile, even though it can equate with St Augustine's precept of the spiritual importance of doing things to men, because it leaves Stanley no time to think or to assimilate, whereas the latter offers at least some opportunity in which to let his mind wander, to contemplate, to catch hold of a little bit of spiritual life. He has depicted Deborah because if the lunatics were fools to most, to Stanley they could, as in mediaeval time, be seen as the Fools of God.

Other, subtler, counterpoints may resonate in the painting. Of the three items the orderlies carry - bread, butter and monkey brand - the first two echo the happinesses of his boyhood tea-times at Fernlea, whereas the scouring soap forebodes another scrubbing duty.

Then, too, the orderlies are hurrying along the corridor to and from the direction of the Sergeant-Major's office, even though they will divert before they reach it. We know how dread to Stanley at the time was the Sergeant-Major and his works. But the Stores from which they collected their goods <33> were to Stanley very different in atmosphere. They had no windows, being lit by a glass roof overhead, and were one of the places in the hospital where the Sergeant-Major's writ did not run. It was under the command of the Quartermaster-Sergeant (the standing figure third from left in <34>) whose name was King - the Pope to Kench's Mussolini, as Stanley said of him in later recollection. He was the pre-war Assistant Steward, and always kept his civilian title of Mr.King rather than QMS King.

Stanley found the Stores and its kindly staff a refuge in off-duty hours. He liked to keep his hand and eye in by drawing occasional portraits, and one he made of the tall orderly on the right of <34>, Jack Witchell, a grocer from Weston-super Mare in his 'real' life, still survives in his (Jack's) autograph album <35> (and see Slade.) It needed two sessions of two hours each while Jack played chess with Budden. The result, thought Jack, was quite like me.

Sorting and Moving Kitbags

There were no hoists, ramps or lifts in the hospital. Everything had to be manhandled along the corridors and up and down the stone staircases which linked the upper and lower floors of the ward blocks. So for the activity shown in the adjacent panel, Stanley needed all the spiritual consolation St Augustine had to offer. The wounded were brought by hospital ship to Southampton or Avonmouth and entrained in  'convoys' to Temple Meads Station in Bristol, from where they were distributed to local Convoy arriving at the Beauforthospitals, the Beaufort being a major one. If stretcher cases, they would be brought in ambulances, or if walking wounded, in relays of city omnibuses. They arrived mostly in the uniforms in which they were injured. Their kitbags were hopefully forwarded later and would arrive in bulk as a lorryload when their owners' whereabouts had been confirmed. It was then the orderlies' task to hump them to their owner's bedside, unlock them, sort them through at the patient's direction and store them until the owner was discharged. Up-patients naturally came down to see if theirs had arrived and, if so, to point it out.

Why in such a mighty project paint an occurrence so prosaic as humping kitbags? Perhaps because the more awful the activity, the more wondrous the treasured moments of its transcendence. A soldier's kitbag, containing as it does his few personal possessions other than his issued kit, encompassed the only private world he could call his own, even though that private world was, in Stanley's verb, pantechniconised for the foreseeable future in the form of an army-issue canvas kitbag stencilled with his name and number. It represented a fragment of Stanley's revered world of 'real' life. Just as graves were to him the personalisation of the homes of their occupants, or gardens were the expression of their makers' atmosphere, so kitbags were their owners' homes, their atmospheres, their existence in a life other than the military.

For the orderlies to take their kitbags to their owners was in Stanley's spiritual terms to restore to them a little of their real selves, and thus to insert a moment of peace in the face of war. He himself valued his kitbag because in it he kept the drawings he made for future reference (portraits of comrades were given to the sitter.) When during his later days as an infantryman Stanley had to leave his kitbag behind for a major attack, he was amgered to learn that it had been disposed of, so I suppose some Macedonian peasant now has my drawings. He never got them back. It is a tribute to his powers of recall that the Macedonian panels at Burghclere were done purely from memory, whereas his diaries record at least one postwar visit to Bristol, ostensibly to see Desmond Chute but no doubt also to have a second look at the hospital to check his drawings.

Peace out of frenzy in Scrubbing the Floor, peace out of herd anonymity in Sorting and Moving Kitbags. So in the third of the left-hand predellas, Sorting Laundry, Stanley continues to celebrate a coming of imaginative peace amid physical agitation.

Sorting Laundry (repro available on NT website.)

The agitation arose from the orderlies' duty to ensure that every item of ward laundry was properly booked in (the ward laundry books can be seen rolled up from being carried under an epaulette) and its laundered replacement collected and equally accurately booked out. Any mistake would induce a ticking-off from his ward Sister, and repetition to correct it.

It has been suggested that the shape of the towels being lifted by the orderly on the right is echoed by the mosquito net in the Macedonian lunette Reveille (repro NT website.) Certainly in Reveille the mosquito net, and indeed the bell tent, symbolise a physical confinement from which the soldiers inside the tent are struggling to free themselves as a result of the (unexpected and imagined) news from their comrades on the right that hostilities have ceased. The counterpoint translates their bodily struggle into spiritual release - the arrival of peace, a true awakening or 'reveille'.

(The painting Stand To opposite Reveille in the chapel was based on Stanley's 1918 experiences as an infantryman in the trenches opposite Machuchovo and parallels the same feelings of imaginative release from confinement. The two paintings were designed to act as emotional wings to the central Resurrection of the Soldiers in which the ultimate release (spiritual) from confinement (physical) takes place, the whole thus forming a triptych in the mediaeval concept.)

Does the same sense of confinement and release apply to the orderlies in Sorting Laundry? We should always bear in mind in looking at the detail in Stanley's visionary paintings that he is not depicting recalled incidents for their own sakes, but for the sensations or feelings he associates with them. The incidents themselves are not the subjects of the painting. They are stepping-stones, counterpoint elements running in harmony while playing against each other like fugue themes in music, and directing us to the feelings Stanley wants to project and to the inferences he hopes we will derive from them. The struggling soldiers he shows are honouring peace as part - if only a 'microdot' - of the universal human instinct towards freedom, not only of body but more importantly of spirit.

In Sorting Laundry, the feeling-elements which counterpoint its depictions of physical agitation and confinement probably source from at least two further associations which the hospital laundry evoked for Stanley. One was that the laundry, like the Stores and indeed the kitchen, was outside the Sergeant-Major's jurisdiction: it was under the control of the former asylum matron, Miss Dunn, who had been demoted to the job in favour of that great gaunt creature, the more experienced QAIMNS matron, Miss Gilson. So he was less likely to suffer the shock of a reprimand there.

The Beaufort  LaundryThe other was that the room, hot and noisy though it was  resembled the Stores in being lit mainly from overhead, and so gave him the same closed, almost mystical atmosphere he had known in church at home, where the high windows let in light which too came from somewhere mysteriously unidentifiable. However great the activity and din that went on there from the rotating rollers of the steam-heated calenders <37> ironing the sheets, pillows, towels and heap of asylum handkerchiefs the orderlies are sorting (asylum handkerchiefs were red with white spots), such associations could redeem the atmosphere of the place for him into the unthreatened peace, the sense of divine mystery which had wrapped him round in the quiet of former Sunday mornings in Holy Trinity in Cookham.

Filling Tea Urns (repro available on NT website.)

The fourth of the left hand wall predellas, all of which emphasise redemptions through fetching and carrying, celebrates another of Stanley's imaginative experiences - that of being in one atmosphere and glimpsing its opposite. As a boy. the mirror-imaging experience of entering his uncle's neighbouring semi-detached house Belmont <38> and finding the layout of the rooms to be like his own at Fernlea but reversed, was repeated for him at the Beaufort, where 'his' wing, the former male wing, was mirror-imaged by the former female wing.

The Stores and Kitchens spanned the two halves, with serving counters facing in opposing directions, so orderlies arriving from each wing would face each other across the divide, a happening which was bound to intrigue the sensitive Stanley : so unapproachable and remote was [seemed to Stanley] that other side that when one saw the familiar faces of orderlies that one would be going out with in the evenings, they looked like people from another world - from Mars or like the spirits appearing to Odysseus on the verge of Hades....

The Beaufort KitchenThe kitchen and its approaches were all stone floors and there was a general echoing of kitchen wenches' voices and the clumping about of the one or two big men loonies who worked in the kitchen and wore heavy boots [wooden-soled clogs to keep them off the wet floor] with padlocks on them instead of bootlaces, and the clanking of the tea urns as they were filled.

Removal of the mental patients' bootlaces was a standard hospital precaution.

In his painting, one of Stanley's seemingly remote orderlies from Mars can be seen distantly on the far side of the counter, counterpointed by the small red-haired loonie in the centre foreground who is collecting the tea for the asylum patients' ward. Not only were the 'loonies' remote to Stanley in their mental displacement, but their ward, being out-of-bounds to the military, was as equally mysterious for him as the far side of the serving counter.

Stanley's depiction of the spotless tea urns has an almost sensuous feel, their random patterning reflecting the agitation and competitveness which he so disliked. The filled tea urns were heavy and scalding, and had to be carried along the corridors and up the stone staircase to Stanley's distant ward, where there would be complaint if the contents did not arrive hot (in subsequent years facilities were more sensibly provided for tea-making in the wards themselves.)

The painting surely counterpoints contrasting atmospheres, the actuality of the hectic, ritualised processional of the filling of the tea urns, set against the two meaningful figures, the one from the hospital's other wing and that of the foreground 'loonie', both of whom signified to Stanley that world of the unapproachable and the remote which as a boy he had first experienced in trying to see what was beyond the high brick walls of the big houses round Cookham, and which all his life continued to grip his imagination in wonder.

Washing Lockers

The corresponding predellas on the right wall continue the feelings, but with more emphasis on St Augustine's doing things to men. Washing Lockers is a memento of a strict ward Sister, Sister Hunter, and her insistence that Stanley should hunt for dust not only under but inside the patients' lockers. The lockers were not cabinets in the modern semblance, but simply-contrived though sturdy shelves, as seen by the bedside in <40> where a couple play chess in a former dayroom in use as a ward. Periodically Sister Hunter would set Stanley and his fellow-orderlies to wash them in the ward baths.

The event depicted took place in the bathroom of Ward 4. This had a wooden deal floor andBathroom Ward 4 being the access to the open lavatories with their cheerful communal banter was jolly. Stanley liked too the colour - magenta - of the large baths, one of his complaints being that there was little enough colour in the hospital generally. He is in feeling, if not in actual portrait, all the figures in the painting. He is both the locker-washers and the orderly kneeling between the baths on a piece of folded sacking. But particularly he is the latter.

As a small child Stanley suffered frightening nightmares. In the morning he would wake to find himself removed into his parents' bed, lying between their - to him - huge and comforting bodies. He has carried the association - protectiveness - into the actions of the orderly scrubbing the floor. There, ensconced between the massive shapes of the baths, he can find momentary peace, the chance to contemplate : whenever I had been frequently in a particular place [in the hospital] employed on some job, I would become so in harmony with the place and the job, it being regular, that at last I would discover happy, homely places in the most unlikely places. There, only to mentally place myself between these baths and be scrubbing the floor, is at once to feel inspired.

Overhead, the frenetic routine of locker-washing takes place. Below, counterpointing the activity, a Stanley-figure scrubs in peace and contemplation. The ritual has become religious for him, and the piece of sacking on which he kneels is elevated to the sanctity of a prayer-mat.

Tea in the Hospital Ward (repro available on the NT website.)

This panel could be interpreted as a sequel both to the orderlies carrying the contents of their trays in Scrubbing the Foor and to their queuing in Filling Tea Urns, though Stanley offers no indication that this was intended. The thick slices of bread were cut by the orderlies from loaves baked in the hospital bakery <42>. As can be seen on the right of the photo and also in <33> being trolleyed by Jack Witchell, they were longer than today's standard - some eighteen inches to two feet in length. The buttered or margarined slices were smothered in the universal wartime jam, Tickler's plum and apple.

Perhaps they are emphasised in the picture because they reminded Stanley of happier times when he would arrive home each day by train from the Slade in time for the family tea of bread, butter and jam, followed by cake and large cups of strong sweet tea. I always [as a boy] had to eat my bread and butter before I could have my cake. There was no cake at the Beaufort except on special occasions, but the association remained powerful for him.

The feeling of longing to be home will be familiar to any reader who has had to spend convalescent hours in hospital awaiting discharge. By afternoon, the main ward work has been done and the patients are relaxing, as are the ward orderlies (in their case out of the picture.) Stanley welcomed these occasions as among the few when he could slip alone into the laundry store by the Sister's office - always leaving the door open (in case he was suddenly wanted) - hopefully to spend a few quiet moments studying his precious Gowan and Gray handbooks, which were small partworks of art reproductions at that time published in black-and-white.

The expressed atmosphere of nostalgia appears to sum up the panel. But Stanley, as so often in paintings which seem at first sight to be saying the obvious, springs a surprise. Look more closely at the patients. They are all wearing their hair parted, mostly in the middle. One patient has even propped up a small hand-mirror on his bed to help him get his parting exact. This hair-style was very much in fashion at the time, a pre-cursor of the 'Brylcreem Boys' epithet used in WWII. But the detail is so emphasised that we should suspect an ulterior Stanley-association.

Underlying Stanley's feelings in the months before he joined up was the agonizing decision whether he should sacrifice his destiny as artist by enlisting. We know that his parents were against both. So his reaction when one day he went to the Cookham barber is understandable: In the barbers yesterday a married man who had been in the South African war and was just going to the present ....looked me up and down and said 'Now, Master Spencer, you ought to be in the army, you know. Here I am a married man with children, and I am going tomorrow, yes, tomorrow!' My answer was to stand and look at him like an idiot and a lout, and the fact that the barber had parted my hair made me feel more so....

Stanley always wore his hair fringed across his forehead. His refusal to adopt the contemporary high-crown parting echoes his conviction from youth that he was different from the mass of his fellows. The feelings carried into the Beaufort where he could not fail to perceive his separation from the majority of his comrades with their mundane interests in beer, football, and picture palaces, a separation, it should be stressed, not in any assumed intellectual superiority, nor in arrogant criticism of them in person, but in anger at the limitations of their education, which in his view - and his father's - had deprived them of their right of insight into more creative and spiritual interests.

Although at times Stanley found the triviality of his comrades' outlook infuriating - it is the utterly selfish spirit of these orderlies that makes me wild....ill-natured, cattish, conceited Sisters who are also incompetent.... there is something so damnably smug and settled down about this place - he recognized the feelings to be a temporary part of his down-to-earth life, whereas in his up-in-heaven life his instinct was to seek reconciliation. After all, everyone at the hospital - orderlies, patients, Sisters, Sergeant-Majors - were in the same boat as a consequence of the war, compelled, as he was, to endure and make the best of an 'unnatural' existence.

Surely the significant 'message' of the panel lies in its ingenious visual emphases of his two contrasting associations. However limited were his comrades' ambitions, he is one with them in being displaced from 'real' life, and like them he too longs for such small glimpses of it as can be invoked, even if in his case no more than the cutting of slices of bread and butter for the teas he once knew at home, or in theirs the spending of time parting their hair carefully down the middle, as they were wont to do when hoping to look their macho best at home.

Bed Making (repro available on the NT website.)

Patently this panel continues the theme of longing for home, the noun being used in Stanley's 'spiritual' sense. The setting is a corner of the orderlies' billet, a ward which was situated at the far end of the former female wing. The décor, with its warm red carpet, striped wallpaper and comfortable easy-chairs suggests a former dayroom adapted to sleeping quarters. Asylum beds are in use (examples can be seen in <43>) made available by the introduction of metal hospital beds into the surgical wards  Most of the asylum beds, like the one being made up, were essentially divans low to the ground to minimize possible hurt from falling out, and when necessary without headboards or bars to avoid injury to flailing limbs in the event of an occupant's sudden seizure.

Daily inspections ensured that the orderlies kept their quarters in military good order, but the pinning up of mementoes was evidently not discouraged. Stanley says that he himself did not put up any, but when he came to depict the ward he conveyed its atmosphere by inserting a selection which could have been his own. A favourite, if anachronistic, photo of his wife Hilda is there, as is one of his brother Percy in uniform. Another shows Pa in the porch of St Nicholas Church, Hedsor, of which he was organist for forty years, and inevitably there is a postcard of the interior of Cookham church.

In need of more postcards in his painting, Stanley, as usual, did not invent them, but copied real-life souvenirs begged from their Burghclere maid Elsie. She came from a local family, several of her brothers had served in the Navy, and many of the postcards on view were hers. The possibility that they could be irrelevant to his narrative was of no consequence to Stanley; he was using them in their metaphorical, not their actual, implications.

In the painting, two patients sit wrapped in counterpanes while their beds are made. One has his feet on a hotwater bottle. The painting is patently an amalgam of Stanley-associations, and the figure may reflect one of the orderlies who went sick and was allowed to stay in bed. Stanley once remarked that the figure could stand for himself as a malaria patient with a high temperature in hospital in Macedonia, a comment which led to a longstanding misinterpretation of the scene as representing a hospital in Salonika.

However, the setting is essentially the Beaufort, as Stanley's later comment to Hilda makes clear : in making beds the patient would be wrapped in the counterpane, which counterpanes were adorned in the centre with the letter BLA....I do not think I have [depicted] any letters showing they represented Bristol Lunatic Asylum which is what the place had been before being taken over for the war-wounded.... [he is congratulating himself on his instinctive tact ; the hospital was renamed Bristol Mental Hospital after the war]. Someone [a visitor to the Burghclere chapel] thought the constellation on the wall was typical of what the soldier would have. I said, 'Yes, they were my own collection although I did not stick them up'. One is Pa, one is you [Hilda], one is Percy's daughter Pam (this was a later card after the war, but suitable.)

In the complexity of Stanley's associations, it is not everywhere possible to attribute full meaning to a work. The viewer may prefer to rest interpretation through his own experience. However, in this painting a possible explanation can be offered from his writings. The crucial detail may be the figure wrapped up in the armchair. His uncombed mop of hair must have resembled Stanley's when ill. But the figure may also be a recollection of a fellow-orderly, Tomlin by name, whom both Stanley and Gilbert mention in admiration. He reported sick, was not thought to have been seriously ill, so was temporarily confined to bed in his billet and cared for by his fellow-orderlies in the way the painting shows. Then, unexpectedly, he died. There were staff suspicions he had mistakenly been given unsuitable medication. Stanley and Gilbert were shocked, and Stanley was especially distressed as Tomlin had been a valued ward-mate. It would be typical of Stanley to redeem his disquieted feelings by associating Tomlin in the painting with his constellation of postcards. Maybe in tribute he was taking Tomlin home, setting him among the stars.

Patient Suffering from Frostbite

This panel plainly conforms to others in its statement of the dichotomy between hospital activity where contemplation was impossible for Stanley, and those occasional moments of stillness when he caught glimpses of spiritual peace.

The depiction shows a morning in a ward. In contrast to the afternoon's Tea in the Ward, all is bustle. Orderlies are making beds, changing sheets, retrieving slop buckets, examining a patient's chart (maybe he is a doctor on his rounds.) A Sister, the only one featured in the chapel, passes the distant doorway holding something under a towel. In contrast, a quiet orderly on the right bends or kneels to his prosaic task of gently scraping the dead skin from a patient's frostbitten foot. The bitter winter of 1915/16 was particularly cruel to the men in the trenches.

If Stanley touches the poetic in the up-in-heaven feelings of the Bed Making panel, in this panel he seems to confront us with the matter-of-factness of his rural upbringing, an earthiness which could evoke rustic similes like the one he used to express his frustrated desire to paint while at the Beaufort, like longing to pee with no lavatory to be found.

Visual similes in the composition extol the circle, especially when hollow and containing a limb - a hand usually in Stanley's imagery, although in this panel a foot. Such symbols recur throughout Stanley's work, from his Hilda on her ivy-covered tomb in The Cookham Resurrection to images of Christ in his Christ in the Wilderness. He used them as a token of home.

Perhaps there is a meaning to the symbol in one of Stanley's comments to the effect that all my life I have been impressed with the idea of emergence - a train coming out of a tunnel, for instance. The imagery could be sourced in the sexual, the scatological, or the masturbatory. In his Beaufort days, it was most likely to be the masturbatory.

Stanley, even at 24, was sexually inexperienced. This was not because he was uninterested. While trolleying a patient around the hospital he would sometimes be accosted by earnest young ladies visiting with their mothers or chaperones to cheer up the wounded. He would wait while they cooed over the patient, ignoring him completely - orderlies had not been to the Front. But while he stood gazing at the luscious girl, I would get more out of the back of her head than the patient did from the front.

Like most of his fellows, Stanley was a well-brought-up product of his time. Marriage was deemed a mutual commitment. Even courting couples were expected to preserve virginity as long as they could, preferably until marriage. But the alternative, masturbation, too was condemned. For years Stanley was to think of the urges as his woeful habits, particularly when they emerged forcefully from his subconscious and infiltrated their imagery into his compositions. In need of circular or wave-form imagery in this picture to convey a sense of swirling motion and thus of activity, elements of Stanley's subconscious emergence seem to have surfaced.

If such aesthetic switches in a painting from the poetic to the ambivalent strike the viewer as outlandish, it should be appreciated that the artist in Stanley saw no distinction between the functions of the physical and the aspirations of the spiritual. Each is as vital to our human nature as the other. If in depicting the physical he usually took care to mask its imagery into the conventionally acceptable, this was because he felt obliged to observe reticence in public depiction while insisting it being there to exalt its implications into the imaginative.

The decorative wallpaper implies an asylum dayroom, a hint of former homeliness. The window is typical of the Beaufort. For safety reasons they were barred, not with prison-like struts, but with a grid of more decorative ironwork which rendered the panes too small to escape through if broken. For the same reason they could be opened only a few inches top and bottom, even in summer <44>.

Ablutions (repro available on the NT website )

Above the line of predellas on each sidewall of the Chapel, Stanley set a corresponding series of eight larger arched paintings generally known as lunettes. Six refer to his later war experiences in Macedonia, but two feature the Beaufort. This one, Ablutions, can be interpreted as continuing the feeling of Frostbite. The setting, depicted accurately, is the washroom of Ward 4. Activity there, wrote Stanley, was the hospital in its most robust form. The masculinity of the men's bodies is emphasised. One of the patients is having a wound treated with iodine.

Stanley's appreciation of the male physique had overtones partly derived from his boyhood friendship with a Thames waterman's son, Guy Lacey, whose physique he admired - his muscles are not "bumpy" but evenly developed over his whole body. I love to see the vapour rising from his body when he comes out of the water. Stanley's enthusiasm went no further than admiration, but the physical sensation stayed with him, and he went on to use it as an association for his 'boat' cameo in The Cookham Resurrection.

Beaufort washbasins awaiting renovationA smaller orderly in service uniform polishes the taps, shown as one to each basin (there were later two, hot and cold.) The uniformed orderly is so visually distinct that his function as a counterpoint must be presumed. For Stanley, the ward taps seem to have had an equivalent - male - sexual meaning for him as the hollow circles in the previous panel, Frostbite, held for the female. Years later, when working on his World War II drawings at Lithgow's Shipyard, he records how he was suddenly brought up short by the sight of long rows of brass taps in one of the yard washrooms.

Indeed, the cameo of the Sister passing the doorway in the preceding Frostbite panel augments the symbolism. She is, says Stanley, carrying a bed bottle under a towel, at first sight an incongruous association, as the orderlies were expected to cope. But if we presume that the image continues the masturbatory references in the panels, a meaning can be discerned from the fact that the men at the hospital occasionally made use of a bed bottle to relieve sexual tension.

Is Stanley being mischievous in giving such a bottle to a Sister to carry, an ironic jest at the expense of one he disliked? If so, it is typical of Stanley's redemptive feelings that the image can be counter-interpreted as a tribute to the the female staff at the hospital, no longer seen in their imperious and domineering down-to-earth proclivities, but exalted in their up-in-heaven function as females, the universal gestators or nurturers of the species. He was to refashion the insight as an astonishing simile in his 1949 Angels of the Apocalypse, where his angels (a single male angel in the biblical account, but unquestionably a group of females in his picture) are no longer pouring poison to destroy mankind, but are floating beatifically like wartime barrage balloons to revitalise the world below with the seminal contents of their Beaufort bed bottles. In his research on Stanley Spencer, art historian Andrew Daniels convincingly posits that the dumpy angels source from postcards Gwen and Jacques Raverat brought back for Stanley from their honeymoon in France during their Slade days. Among them were photos showing the church carvings at Vézelay, and Stanley's memoirs record how he and his brother Sydney spent an evening discussing them in detail, before sticking them into an album.

Surely in these commingled images Stanley is telling us that he views himself and all his comrades, male and female, as displaced from their real lives as lovers, husbands and fathers, or as girl-friends, wives and mothers, all instead forced into an unnatural existence in which their universal human instincts nevertheless continue to assert themselves, just as they broke, sometimes unwantedly, sometimes joyously, into the real-life levels of Stanley's artistic output.

The emphasis in the panel on a single theme common to all its figures provides a subtle new development in Stanley's treatment. In predellas such as Frostbite the orderly who scrapes the patient's foot works independently of the activity around him. He represents a moment of peace specific to Stanley's personal feelings. But in the lunettes such as Ablutions, each distinctive attainment of peace is associated with feeling common to all.

Convoy of Wounded Soldiers Arriving at Beaufort Hospital Gates (repro available on the NT website.)

This, the other of the Beaufort lunettes in the Chapel, is the first on the left wall. It is unfortunate that The Beaufort Main Gatescommentators have sometimes restricted its interpretation to Stanley's feelings of the Beaufort as being a hated prison. They particularly refer to a memoir in which he likens the hospital gates to the gates of Hell in Paradise Lost : this gate was as high and massive as the gate of Hell. It was a vile, cast-iron structure. Its keeper, though unlike that lean son of a hag who kept the gates [in Milton's poem] being tall and thick, was nevertheless associated with that auspicious gentleman, being the man who had charge of all the 'dedders' and did all the cutting up in the post-mortem operations. I could imagine him cutting my head off as easily as I could imagine him cutting up chunks of beef ; his eyes were beefy....

The description is part of Stanley's subsequent account quoted earlier of his first impressions on arriving at the hospital. But as we have seen, the next day he was writing cheerfully to the Raverats without such graphic phraseology. We have to recognise that by nature Stanley was inclined to over-dramatisation at times, particularly when he was trying to find words to express a major shock.

Of course there must have been a sense in which the hospital did indeed have the character of a prison. The gates were routinely locked between 10pm and 7.0am. Military patients had to be inside by 7.0pm Sergeant Sam Vickeryand normally needed a signed pass to be out till 10pm. The gate sergeant, Sam Vickery, was indeed a tall and thick man with beefy eyes. He lived with his family in the gatehouse, and the girl posing was his pretty daughter Dolly whom the more adventurous of the patients tried to date by buying him drinks in his local, the George Inn (now the Old Tavern) opposite the gates. The onlooker - little more than a boy, it seems - is a wounded patient wearing hospital blue.

Vickery's job was to keep tabs on all who came and went and to make sure that each soldier who passed his gates was smartly dressed. Although he was noted as a zealous stickler for rules (when the clocks went back at the end of British Summer Time, first introduced in 1916, he dutifully made local staff, who had misguidedly arrived for work too early, wait the hour outside) but there is no recollection that he was considered terrifying, Moreover, it is unlikely that he took any surgical part in post-mortems, being merely responsible as part of his brief. for the small Mortuary building isolated on The Drive, with its attendant Harry Keeler.

Is Stanley being mischievous again in depicting Vickery in the painting as brutish? Or in showing him hatless (he would never be seen on duty without his cap) and in swinging from his belt the gate keys as if they were the keys to the Gates of Hell (for which Stanley actually painted the chapel keys)? At another time in his memoirs we find Stanley saying of Vickery that he rather liked him, and of the heavy ornate Victorian gates - here portrayed as slender prison bars - I love such things.

There are other anomalies. The open-top buses bringing the wounded are accurately portrayed <48> but in Bristol were never red. The shrubs lining the Drive were laurel (as Stanley knew) not rhododendron - an echo of Burghclere perhaps? Maybe we are being forced to the conclusion that Stanley is being melodramatic for the sake of a significant effect he wishes to create. He is going to counterpoint his down-to-earth images with an up-in-heaven redemption.

The crux of the counterpoint surely lies in the long-winded title to the panel. If to the wartime staff the hospital had the claustrophobic character of a mythic Hell, to the wounded arriving from a genuine Hell it was a symbolic Heaven. Those shown are walking wounded, chatting excitedly among themselves (they were cheered by passers-by through the streets of Bristol in early days of the war.) Some are still wearing their Gallipoli sun-helmets and most have their right arms in a sling, a motif Stanley also used in his portrayal of the foreground orderly in his Travoys painting and probably from the same suppressed dread - an artist's terror of damage to his painting right-hand. Those in the rear of the bus look more dispirited.

A new batch of walking wounded arriving at the BeaufortThe arrivals would be lined up for registration, examined and assigned to an appropriate ward. There they would be bathed and allocated a bed (when I am seeking the Kingdom of Heaven I shall tell God to take into consideratiion the number of men I have cleaned and the number of floors I have scrubbed, as well as the excellence of my pictures, so as to let me in.) Convalescent, they would be issued temporarily with the light washable hospital uniform of blue flannel jacket and trousers. When deemed fit, they would be returned to their units. For them, as Stanley emphasises in his counterpoint, the hospital interlude represented a few moments of Paradise in which they could recall their 'real' selves, as did he in his few moments of peace there.

This panel is the last of the Beaufort sequence of pictures at Burghclere. Stanley, helpful as usual, explains what they meant to him. I would like to explain what was at the back of my mind when I began to want to do these pictures. Well, when I first enlisted I began to feel I was dying of starvation, spiritual starvation, and this feeling intensified my desire for spiritual life, and then suddenly I began to see and catch hold of little particles of this life in the scrubbing of a floor or the making of a bed; and so everything I did meant a spiritual revelation to me. Everything at the hospital became a key to my conception of spiritual life, and so it came about at last that tea urns, bathrooms, beds etc all became symbols of my spiritual thoughts, things sacred to me by association.
Sandham Chapel interior
Stanley's spiritual revelations, his counterpoints, continue into all the paintings at Burghclere. Each is a redemption. Stand in the middle of the Chapel and look around. You stand in the centre of one of Stanley's most remarkable spiritual exaltations. In widening individual feelings in the predellas to embrace those common to all the fighting men, Stanley raises the lunettes to a more universal level. Each new painting advances us a step on his journey of enlightenment. He becomes, as he once suddenly found himself in the snows of Macedonia, a walking altar of praise. The journey will end only when at last we reach the endwall Resurrection of the Soldiers.

There for Stanley the metamorphosis is complete. The imagery has become poetry, the poetry music, and both, as he once told brother Will as he stood listening in his head to the glory of Bach, evidence of the divine: the Cross in this Resurrection picture seems to have something of the same relationship as the subject of a fugue in music. The Cross represents the constantly-recurring fugue subject, the soldiers and mules and such are the harmonies through which the fugue subject - always the same - passes. In doing this it reveals the special nature, identities and meaning of the harmonies which come into contact with it.

Substitute Stanley's moments of spiritual redemption in the Beaufort panels for the Cross in the Resurrection painting and they become the panels' constantly-recurring fugue subject which, in passing through the harmonies of the soldiers and such, reveal their special natures, identities and meanings.


After six months of such hospital service, Stanley put his name down on a list of volunteers for service overseas, concealing his intention from his parents so as not to upset them (Gilbert had already left in September.) A further six months passed before his posting came through. He left in May 1916 for Field Ambulance training at the RAMC Depôt at Tweseldown in Hampshire <64> (the photo appears to show Stanley under mule-handling instruction.) The Kit Inspection panel at Burghclere refers to the formality of such depôt training. On the 23rd August he sailed with his draft from London Docks in the troopship Llandovery Castle, destined for Salonika. The remaining Chapel pictures summarize his Macedonian service, as does his painting Travoys at Smol.

In Macedonia Stanley eventually achieved his original wish to join his county infantry regiment, transferring in late 1917 from the RAMC to 7 Royal Berks. With them he shared the final attack into Bulgaria that helped bring the war to an end. Then, struck down a second time with malaria, he was repatriated at the request of the British War Memorials Committee to undertake a commissioned war painting. He arrived back in Cookham early in December 1918 to begin Travoys. He was finally demobbed in April 1919.

On 29 February 1919, the Beaufort War Hospital was handed back to the City and County of Bristol. In its later years it had become noted for its orthopaedic work. Overseas visitors, particularly American Army surgeons, came to study its methods. Altogether it treated 29,434 patients of whom only 164 were lost in death, and of these, 30 were local civilians rushed there during the 1918 influenza epidemic. The dedicated men and women who worked there, whatever their grumbles, served better perhaps than they knew.

Most pre-war Asylum staff resumed their former posts. Lt.Col Blachford was apppointed CBE (military) for his services, even though he felt diffident about the award in his admiration for the bravery of the many fighting men his hospital had healed. He became Superintendent again and at the age of 57 married a Helen Tucker, aged 48, in September 1923. Miss Dunn resumed her pre-war rôle as Matron. To smooth the transition back to civil usage, Kench and Vickery were persuaded to stay on past their retirement dates until Blachford's own retirement in 1924. The hospital's name was changed in 1921 to the Bristol Mental Hospital and then in 1959 to Glenside Hospital. A small section is still used as a psychiatric clinic, but during the 1990s the patients were gradually dispersed into Care in the Community and the main buildings (now heritage-listed) were adapted to form a Campus annexe to The University of the West of England. The gatehouse still exists, but the Victorian gates have been removed to allow open access to the Drive and its strict carparking.

Only the former Hospital Chapel, which Stanley scrubbed so assiduously, serves now as a reminder of earlier days <50>. It houses a fascinating museum, largely the collection of the late Dr Donal Early, the only one devoted to a 150-year-old history of psychiatric treatment. One of the hospital beds Stanley shows in Bed Making is there, as well as a locker seen in Washing Lockers <53>.

The Museum is run by a team of dedicated Friends and is free to visitors. To reach it by car, take the main of the two entrances, the one almost opposite the Old Tavern, and use the first small car park on the left. It is normally open on Wednesday and Saturday mornings from 10am to 12.30pm. Its website is www.glensidemuseum.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk and its e-mail address is glensidemuseum@hotmail.com. The postal address is Glenside Hospital Museum, UWE Glenside Campus, Stapleton, Bristol BS16 1DD, from which copies of Dr Early's comprehensive illustrated history of the hospital (IBSN 0-9542458-2-2), with its excellent reproductions of the Chapel paintings, are available price £15 plus £3 p&p. 

Further Reading

An extensive account of the planning and execution of the Sandham Memorial Chapel and its paintings, based on Stanley's considerable correspondence about the project, is given in Stanley Spencer at War by his brother-in-law Richard Carline, Faber & Faber Ltd, London, 1978.  Paul Gough's Stanley Spencer, Journey to Burghclere, Sansom & Co, 2006, provides a professional art historian's interpretation.

In assembling these notes, the author gratefully acknowledges the help given by original members of the Beaufort staff and their Glenside successors, by Geoffrey Blachford, and by the Friends of Glenside Museum.

In the above account of the Beaufort, text quotations are from the Tate Archive, principally from 733.3.85 and from Spencer's letters to the Raverats. Some are from the Spencer family correspondence in the Berkshire Record Office. Photographs in the text are accessible from indicated links, and are credited below. Those from the author's collection are free of copyright.  

Photo Credits

© Stanley Spencer Estate : 13, 18, 21, 31, 38, 55, 56, 64.
© Stanley Spencer Gallery, Cookham : 30.
© David Shean : 27.
© Private collection : 35.
© Glenside Museum : 4, 22, 41, 45, 50.
© George Behrend : Major Sandham
Author : all remaining photos.