Posted by: Glassartist | October 5, 2009

English Stained Glass – Ancient and Modern

English Stained Glass

English naturalist Gilbert White memorial stained glass window, Selborne, Hampshire, UK

English naturalist Gilbert White memorial stained glass window, Selborne, Hampshire, UK

Memorial window to the celebrated English naturalist Gilbert White at St Mary’s Church, Selborne. Featured in several international magazines and books, it has been described as:

“One of the loveliest of 20th Century windows….”

Simon Jenkins, ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches.’

By Glass artist Jude Tarrant AMGP, Sunrise Stained Glass, commissioned in 1993.

History of Stained Glass

The history of coloured glass dates back to the Egyptian times and the earliest known surviving coloured glass window in England was discovered in Jarrow in Northumberland UK and dates from the 9th Century AD.

The materials and tools used in the making of traditional stained glass windows have actually changed very little over the centuries. Where glaziers once used a hot iron to break the glass apart we now use a steel-wheeled glass cutter, and where the glass was fired in solid fuel kilns we now use gas or electric kilns and soldering irons.

Medieval English Stained Glass

We have a great wealth of fine medieval stained glass windows across England and the U.K. The prosperity of the wool trade in the 15th Century led to many beautiful windows being installed in small parish churches throughout the counties of England. The windows of the medieval period were often used as ‘poor man’s Bible’ telling the stories of the Old and New Testaments in colourful detail at a time when very few people were literate. Wealthy landowners marked their success by donations of stained glass to the church, and pilgrims to the Christian holy places in England gave much wealth to dioceses such as Canterbury.

Sunrise Stained Glass Ltd has skilfully designed and painted a number of new stained glass windows for the Elizabethan Priory ‘Flowton Manor‘ in Hertfordshire to complement existing medieval stained glass in the building, and other early English glass in heraldic styles.

Cardinal Shield window

Cardinal Shield window by Sunrise Stained Glass

Heraldic English stained glass window

Heraldic English Tudor Rose stained glass window

There was a period of decline after the Protestant Reformation and the iconoclasm of the times caused the destruction and defacing of much of this earlier English stained glass, and by the 17th and 18th centuries many of the skills and secrets of these earlier craftsmen had been lost entirely.

Stained Glass Revival

It was not until the Gothic Revival and the Arts and Crafts Movement of the 19th century that these skills were re-discovered and stained glass in England began a great revival. To satisfy the growing demand for windows to adorn the newly built churches of the Victorian era workshops grew and flourished, often adopting a division of labour and mass-production type methods on the scale of a small factory to cope with the demands of this stained glass revival across the country, mostly in the towns and suburbs springing up around the new industrial centres. The resurgence of the ‘designer-craftsman’ involved in all aspects of producing a window made a shift away from these hierarchical factory style methods. William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones created much beautiful glass, and followed by Christopher Whall and a new generation of stained glass artists, English stained glass found new methods of expression and style.

Sunrise Stained Glass carries out many conservation projects on historic windows. One such project recently conserved and successfully re-sited was a large window by Christopher Whall removed from Woolwich Barracks, London in to a new home in a custom made light box mounted to the interior wall of the Regimental Church at Larkhill, Wiltshire. This large five light tracery window and another Victorian traceried window of similar size also from the old Woolwich Barracks church, were fully restored in the studio prior to the mounting of the windows in the new light boxes.

Stained Glass and Modern Design

Despite the economic decline following the two World Wars and the closure of many of the larger stained glass workshops, the skills of these masters continue to be practised today and are now making use of new technological processes which have widened the scope of artists in achievable design and scale. Large areas of colour can now be applied to float glass with enamels and fired in kilns which can bend and shape the glass sheets. Bonded to toughened glass suspended on wire supports and freed of the constraints of a lead matrix and the necessity to form an integral part of the buildings structure, stained glass design can be fluid and dynamic, seemingly only limited by the imagination of the artist.

Using the best of traditional methods with a modern perspective on design our team at Sunrise Stained Glass can supply stained glass windows in a variety of styles, figurative or abstract.  See our Gallery of stained glass.

See the ‘Stained Glass Museum’ at Ely:

The William Morris Gallery:

Worshipful Company of Glaziers:

British Society of Master Glass Painters:

And for a comprehensive list of notable English stained glass in your area the book by Simon Jenkins ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’.


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