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Sir George Williams & YMCA

In the south aisle of the nave of Westminster Abbey is a stained glass window in memory of the services rendered by the Young Men's Christian Association during the First World War. The window also remembers its founder Sir George Williams. Two portraits of Sir George, in youth and old age, appear at the base of the window. The window was designed by Dudley Forsyth and dedicated on 14th November 1921.

The subjects are the Sermon on the Mount and the Transfiguration of Our Lord; above are St Michael and St George; below these are the royal coat of arms and the arms of Edward the Confessor. In the quatrefoil at the top is Our Lord in glory surrounded by angels. In niches in the window borders are figures of soldiers from all over the world who served with British forces during the Great War, with the shields of arms of their countries. At the base of the window is the YMCA symbol and the chi-rho sign (the two letters which begin the Greek word for Christ). The inscription reads:

To the glory of God and in memory of the services rendered through the Young Men's Christian Association during the Great War 1914-1918: and to George Williams, its founder

George was born on 11th October 1821 at Dulverton in Somerset, one of seven sons of Amos, a farmer, and his wife Elizabeth. He was educated locally and worked on the family farm until being apprenticed to a draper. Moving to London he worked in many areas of the ministry of the non-conformist King's Weigh House Chapel. In 1844 he and some friends set up the YMCA. This soon grew into an international movement. In 1853 he married Helen Hitchcock and had several children. He became proprietor of the drapery firm he had worked for (Hitchcock, Williams & Co, which only closed down in 1984). In 1894 he was knighted by Queen Victoria and he died on 6th November 1905. His funeral was at St Paul's Cathedral and he is buried in the crypt there with a monument with a bust nearby.

His great-great grandson Colin Williams, Vice President of the YMCA, was a donor to the Abbey's recent restoration appeal and a small window for him, with the YMCA badge, can be found in the Abbey's Lady Chapel.

Further Reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

Born

11th October 1821

Died

6th November 1905

Memorial

14th November 1921

Location

Nave

Memorial Type

Window

Material Type

Glass

Sir George Williams & YMCA
Sir George Williams & YMCA

© The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

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At different times of the day, or in different seasons, the light falling in the Abbey will light up something that you have walked past a million times and never seen before.

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Vanessa, Head of Conservation

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