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  • Place of origin:

    Birmingham (made)

  • Date:

    1897 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Catterson-Smith, Robert, born 1853 (maker)
    Webb, Philip Speakman, born 1831 - died 1915 (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wood, covered with silver plates, chased and embossed.

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Trustees of the Rochester and Southwark Diocesan Deaconess's House

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 122, case 8

Object Type
This altar cross has a distinctive design. The embossed almond forms are reminiscent of early medieval metalwork, and the scallops of Islamic ornament. The calligraphic lettering of the monogram IHS (the traditional abbreviation of the name of Jesus) at the centre of the cross is Celtic.

Ownership & Use
The cross was designed by the architect Philip Webb (1831-1915) for the chapel of a religious community and theological college for women, the Rochester and Southwark Diocesan Deaconess's House, Clapham Common, London. The candlesticks that accompanied the cross on the altar were probably made by Barkentin & Krall. The ensemble, together with a superfrontal (altar cloth) designed by Webb and embroidered by May Morris, was given to the V&A in 1970. In that year Deaconess's House ceased to function as a theological college for women.

Physical description

Cross, wood, covered with silver plates. Shaped arms, edged with a moulding, embossed with a guilloche pattern in the form of vescias with convex centres set in wreaths and pellets and surrounded by vines. A coronet with a cresting of fleur-de-lis surmounts the cross while the lateral arms trerminate in scrolls. At the intersection a shaped and internal frame decorated with pellets encloses a convex roundel embossed with the Sacred Monogram. The lower arm terminates in a roundel with a representation of the Agnus Dei surrounded by stars and fleurs-de-lis, above symbols of the sun and the moon.

Place of Origin

Birmingham (made)


1897 (made)


Catterson-Smith, Robert, born 1853 (maker)
Webb, Philip Speakman, born 1831 - died 1915 (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Wood, covered with silver plates, chased and embossed.

Marks and inscriptions

No hallmarks


Height: 115 cm, Width: 77 cm, Depth: 4.5 cm

Object history note

According to W,R, Lethaby, Philip Webb and His Work, 1935, p.189, the cross was made to hang on the east wall of the chapel built by Webb in 1896-7 for the Rochester Diocesan Deaconess Institute at North Side, Clapham. The Head Deaconess, Mrs Gilmore, was William Morris's sister.

Historical context note

Summarised accounts for six buildings designed and erected by Webb between 13 May 1887 and 19 August 1897 (ms in the collection of John Brandon Jones F.R.I.B.A. : photocopy in the NAL) include entries for the chapel which cost £1,693-6s-9d, exclusive of the architect's fee. A draft letter from Webb to Mrs Gilmore, inserted in the accounts, dated 6 April 1897, shows that the cross had not yet been executed, for it contains the following passage: "I wrote to Barkentin's, telling them to send you the candles and candlesticks; and bill and if they agreed to let you have an altar cross on hire for two or three months, to send it with the candlesticks".

The Deaconess House ceased to function as a theological college for women in 1970 and the Trustees presented the cross and candlesticks to the V&A, together wioth a superfrontal designed by Webb and embroidered by May Morris. The gift was nade at the suggestion of Mrs Gurney, the last Head Deaconess.

Descriptive line

Altar cross with IHS and crown

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

The image of Christ: the catalogue of the exhibition Seeing Salvation, National Gallery Ltd, 2000, cat. no 19

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Isabella Gilmore, the sister of the designer William Morris, was a Deaconess (a member of an Anglican sisterhood). She commissioned this cross from the architect Philip Webb (1813-1915), who designed the chapel for her community in south London. Webb was a friend of her brother. [27/03/2003]


Silver; Wood


Embossing; Chasing


Metalwork; Christianity; Religion


Metalwork Collection

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