In 1911, Henry George, 7th Duke of Northumberland initiated the installation of a window in the Duke’s School, in memory of Eleanor, Duchess of Northumberland, who had formally opened the ‘new’ buildings in 1904. Throughout her time as Duchess, Eleanor and her husband, the 4th Duke of Northumberland, had taken a very real interest in both the school and the scholars and, because of their fondness for the late Duchess, many old boys of the school felt it would be a privilege to be associated with this tribute to her and formed a committee in order to assist with the project.
The result was the magnificent and much admired stained glass window in the school hall. His Grace selected the large south east window of the school hall and chose beautiful heraldic symbols to be designed in stained glass. The chief central compartment of the window is occupied by the arms of Duchess Eleanor in a lozenge-shaped shield displaying
the impaled coats of Northumberland and Westminster, surmounted by the ducal coronet with heraldic supporters on either side. In other parts of the window surrounding the central compartment, are shields of arms showing the early important alliances from which the present families of Percy and Grosvenor are descended and also the immediate ancestry of Duchess Eleanor and her husband Algernon.
The upper tier of lights show the ‘badges’ of Northumberland and Westminster, displayed on banners carried by heraldic supporters – the Lion of Northumberland and the Talbot of Westminster. The mottoes of both families, “Esperance en Dieu” and “Virtus non stemma” are in some of the small tracery openings at the top of the window, the initials EN (Eleanor Northumberland) in the others.
The window was installed in 1913 at an estimated cost of £468.00 and is a superb example of the work of C E Kempe and Company, which was formed after the death of the eminent stained glass artist and church decorator, Charles Eamer Kempe.
The memorial window in The Duke’s School is quite unique in that it is one of very few examples of ‘Kempe’ windows devoid of any ecclesiastical symbols. ‘Kempe’ windows are usually identified by a wheatsheaf, which was inserted somewhere in the design; this wasn’t necessary in the case of the Duke’s School because a wheatsheaf is part of the Westminster/Grosvenor coat of arms and there are several of them in the window!
Eleanor was the eldest daughter of Richard, 2nd Marquess of Westminster and Elizabeth Mary Leveson-Gower, daughter of George, who later became the 1st Duke of Sutherland. For the last forty years of her life, Stanwick Hall, near Richmond was Eleanor’s principal residence. She was almost 84 years old when she was invited to officially open the ‘new’ Duke’s School. This was in fact the last public duty Eleanor would carry out in Alnwick. Eleanor died on 4th May 1911 and, at her own request, is interred in the churchyard of Stanwick St John.
The following ‘Appreciation by an Old Boy of the Duke’s School’ after Eleanor’s death is a perfect example of the fondness felt for her and why the Old Boys were eager to be involved with the installation of a memorial window.
“A great wave of deep and heartfelt sympathy will be awakened amongst those who remember the days when Duke Algernon and his Duchess reigned at Alnwick Castle when they learn that Her Grace has passed away. But it is not in sadness unbrightened that the news will be received, but deep thankfulness that so beautiful and saintly a life should, by the will of Divine Providence, have extended to the great length of 90 years. How well we remember her graceful presence and queenly mein, and to none more than to the Old Boys of the Duke’s School will the passing appeal in all its pathos. How well and with what pride we remember the periodical visits of Duke Algernon and his Duchess to the School. As they entered it was like a ray of the brightest sunshine which illuminated the face of every boy, and ever present to those who were permitted to be the recipients of her gracious smiles, will remain the memory of the joy and the pleasure each visit bestowed. Her life was indeed a beautiful one, full to overflowing with kindly sympathy and deep interest with those amongst whom she lived, and after the decease of her noble husband “Algernon the Good”, her periodical visits to Alnwick Castle gave pleasure and delight to the many who in the past had known and appreciated her may virtues. Her last visit to Alnwick was I think on the occasion of the opening of the present Duke’s School in July 1904, and her presence at this function stirred deep feelings of the past in the hearts and minds of those who had known Her Grace in earlier years. Truly may it be said that a great, a noble and a saintly life has closed after a long and memorable wealth of years; but with our sadness at the parting there is present a great joy in the knowledge that the spirit has passed to that rest and reward granted to those who in this world have given of their best to their fellow creatures and have earned that Crown of Life bestowed on those to whom the Master’s voice calls in loving welcome, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord”.