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Sir Ninian Comper

The ashes of architect and stained glass designer Sir John Ninian Comper are buried in the north aisle of the nave of Westminster Abbey. The gravestone was originally of slate but became very worn. A new granite stone cut by Sebastian Comper, with a cross at the top, replaced it. The inscription reads:

JOHN NINIAN COMPER KT. ARCHITECT 1864-1960. He designed the windows in this aisle

In 1907 the Dean of Westminster approached Comper to design a series of eight stained glass windows for the north side of the nave depicting figures of kings associated with the Abbey together with an abbot of Westminster from the same era. These windows form memorials to engineers and scientists Henry Royce, Charles Parsons, John Wolfe Barry, Benjamin Baker, Lord Strathcona and Lord Kelvin. There is also a memorial window to the Royal Army Medical Corps and one to British prisoners of war who died in Germany during the 1914-1918 war. He also designed a separate window to John Bunyan in the north transept and a window in the east triforium (depicting Eleanor of Castile and Lady Margaret Beaufort). In 1932 Comper provided the furnishings for the Warriors chapel in the nave (now St George's chapel).

Comper was born in Aberdeen in Scotland on 10th June 1864, a son of the Reverend John Comper and his wife Ellen (Taylor). His ancestors had lived in Sussex since the Norman conquest and his father had gone to Scotland to teach. Ninian worked as assistant to C.E. Kempe, glass painter, and studied drawing in London before working under G.F. Bodley. A partnership with William Bucknall came later and in 1890 Comper married his sister Grace. They had four sons and two daughters - son Sebastian also became an architect (he designed the furnishings in the Nurses Memorial Chapel in the Abbey and the memorial tablet to Queen Anne Neville). The other children were Mary, George, Nicholas (pilot and aircraft designer), Ursula and Adrian. Ninian designed and worked on churches throughout the country and became one of the most influential church architects of his day. His masterpiece is considered to be St Mary's, Wellingborough in Northamptonshire.

Further reading

Sir Ninian Comper by Anthony Symondson and Stephen Bucknall, 2006

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

Stained glass of Westminster Abbey by Christine Reynolds, 2002 (available from the Abbey Shop)

The 100 best stained glass sites in London by Caroline Swash, 2015

The Comper windows in Westminster Abbey, with some recollections of B.E. Barber, glass painter to Sir Ninian by David Marsh 1977 (a photocopy of this small pamphlet can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library)

The Royal Institute of British Architects hold many of Comper's papers

Born

10th June 1864

Died

22nd October 1960

Field

Architect

Location

Nave

Memorial Type

Stone

Sir Ninian Comper
Sir Ninian Comper grave

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2018 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Sir Ninian Comper
Comper window in east triforium

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2018 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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There really isn’t a more spectacular building to work on. It’s been one of the most gratifying and rewarding experiences of my life.

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Kevin - Galleries Project Manager

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