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Robert Mills Architectural Antiques (Reclamation and Salvage) is one of the largest suppliers of antique, reclaimed and salvaged stained glass in the UK. We have saved and restored many stained glass windows from derelict churches in Britain and abroad. We have also reclaimed and salvaged stained glass and etched glass from many public buildings, grand houses and pubs prior to demolition. Robert Mills Architectural Antiques also has a long reputation for bespoke stained glass. As well as our restoration service (to English Heritage standards), we are able to salvage fragments of antique stained glass and make them into new windows incorporating old and new glass to make a new stained glass window. We can also make up completely bespoke windows, singlular or runs, to any design and shape or replicas of antiques.
Robert Mills Architectural Antiques is well known for its stock of large church stained glass sets and single stained glass windows with subjects including angels and saints, Jesus Christ and the Crucifixion. We usually have a large section of grisaille church stained glass and can alter most windows to fit specific openings. Our domestic stained glass section also contains Victorian grisaille and figurative stained glass and leaded light windows of Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. We also stock etched glass, much of which is salvaged from pubs, banks, hotels and grand public buildings. You will also find in this section etched and brilliant cut glass mirrors.
The term stained glass refers either to the material of coloured glass or to the art and craft of working with it.
As a material the term generally refers to glass that has been coloured by adding metallic salts during its manufacture. Painted details and yellow stain are often used to enhance the design. The term is also applied to windows in which all the colours have been painted onto the glass and then annealed in a furnace.
Stained glass, as an art and a craft, requires the artistic skill to conceive the design, and the engineering skills necessary to assemble the decorative piece, traditionally a window, so that it is capable of supporting its own weight and surviving the elements.
Although usually the purpose of stained glass is not to allow those within a building to see out or even primarily to admit light but rather to control it. As such stained glass windows have been described as 'illuminated wall decorations'.
The design of a window may be non-figurative or figurative. It may incorporate narratives drawn from the Bible, History or Literature, or represent saints or patrons. It may have symbolic motifs, in particular armorial. Windows within a building may be thematic, for example:- within a church- episodes from the life of Christ; within a parliament building- shields of the constituencies; within a college hall- figures representing the arts and sciences.
From the 10th or 11th century, when stained glass began to flourish as an art, glass factories were set up where there was a ready supply of silica, the essential product of glass manufacture. Glass was usually coloured by adding metallic oxides to the glass while in a molten state in a clay pot over a furnace. Glass coloured in this way was known as pot metal. Copper oxides were added to produce green, cobalt for blue, and gold was added to produce red glass. Glass production
From the 10th or 11th century, when stained glass began to flourish as an art, glass factories were set up where there was a ready supply of silica, the essential product of glass manufacture. Glass was usually coloured by adding metallic oxides to the glass while in a molten state in a clay pot over a furnace. Glass coloured in this way was known as pot metal. Copper oxides were added to produce green, cobalt for blue, and gold was added to produce red glass.
Cylinder glass This glass was then collected from the pot into a molten globule and blown, being continually manipulated until it formed a large cylindrical bottle shape of even diameter and wall-thickness. It was then cut open, laid flat and annealed to make it stable. This is the type of glass most commonly used for ancient stained glass windows.
Crown glass This glass was partly blown into a hollow vessel, then put onto a revolving table which could be rapidly spun like a potter's wheel. The centrifugal force caused the molten material to flattened and spread outwards. It could then be cut into small sheets. This glass could be made coloured and used for stained glass windows, but is typically associated with small paned windows of 16th and 17th century houses. The curving ripples are characteristic. At the centre of each piece of glass thus produced was a thicker piece. These were sometimes used for the special effect created by their lumpy, refractive quality. They are known as bull's eyes and are feature of late 19th century domestic lead lighting and are sometimes used with cathedral glass or quarry glass in church windows of that date.
Table glass This glass was produced by tipping the molten glass onto a metal table and sometimes rolling it. The glass thus produced was heavily textured by the reaction of the glass with the cold metal. Glass of this appearance is commercially produced and widely used today, under the name of cathedral glass, although it was not the type of glass favoured for stained glass in ancient cathedrals. It has been much used for lead lighting in churches in the 20th century.
Flashed glass Red pot metal glass was often undesirably dark in colour and prohibitively expensive. The method developed to produce red glass was called flashing. In this procedure, a semi-molten cylinder of colourless glass was dipped into a pot of red glass so that the red glass formed a thin coating. The laminated glass thus formed was cut, flattened and heat annealed.
There were a number of advantages to this technique. It allowed a variety in the depth of red, ranging from very dark and almost opaque, through ruby red to pale and sometimes streaky red that was often used for thin border pieces. The other advantage was that the red of double-layered glass could be engraved or abraded to show colourless glass underneath. In the late Medieval glass this method was often employed to add rich patterns to the robes of Saints. The other advantage, much exploited by late Victorian and early 20th century artists, was that sheets could be flashed in which the depth of colour varied across the sheet. Some stained glass studios, notably Lavers and Barraud, made extensive use of large segments of irregularly flashed glass in robes and draperies.
There still exist a number of glass factories, notably in Germany, USA, England, France, Poland and Russia which continue to produce high quality glass by traditional methods primarily for the restoration of ancient windows. Modern stained glass windows often use machine made glass, slab glass, which as its name suggests is very thick, and so-called cathedral glass which is sometimes heavily textured.
Creating stained glass windows
- The first stage in the production of a window was to make, or acquire from the architect or owners of the building, an accurate template of the window opening that the glass was to fit.
- The subject matter of the window was determined to suit the location, a particular theme, or the whim of the patron. A small design called a Vidimus was prepared which could be shown to the patron.
- A narrative window would have glass panels which related a story. A figurative window would have rows of saints. Certain scriptural texts would sometimes be included and perhaps the names of the patrons or the person as whose memorial the window was dedicated. It was usually at the discretion of the designer to fill the surrounding areas with borders, floral motifs and canopies.
- A full sized cartoon was drawn for every "light" (opening) of the window. A small window might typically be of two lights, with some simple tracery lights above. A large window might have four or five lights. The east or west window of a large cathedral might have seven lights in three tiers with elaborate tracery. In Medieval times the cartoon was drawn straight onto a whitewashed table, which was then used for cutting, painting and assembling the window.
- The designer would take into account the design, the structure of the window, the nature and size of the glass available and his own preferred technique. The cartoon would then be divided into a patchwork as a template for each small glass piece. The exact position of the lead which held the glass in place was part of the calculated visual effect.
- Each piece of glass was selected for the desired colour and cut to match a section of the template. An exact fit was ensured by grozing the edges with a tool which could nibble off small pieces.
- Details of faces, hair and hands were painted onto the inner surface of the glass in a special glass paint which contained finely ground lead or copper filings, ground glass, gum arabic and a medium such as wine, vinegar or urine. The art of painting details became increasingly elaborate and reached its height in the early 20th century.
- Once the window was cut and painted, the pieces were assembled by slotting them into H-sectioned lead cames. The joints were then all soldered together and the glass pieces were stopped from rattling and the window made weatherproof by forcing a soft oily cement or mastic between the glass and the cames.
- When the windows were inserted into the window spaces, iron rods were put across at various point, to support the weight of the window, which was tied to the rod by copper wire. Some very large early Gothic windows are divided into sections by heavy metal frames. This method of support was also favoured for large, usually painted, windows of the Baroque period.
- From 1300 onwards, artists started using silver stain which was made with silver nitrate. It gave a yellow effect ranging from pale lemon to deep orange. It was usually painted onto the outside of a piece of glass, then fired to make it permanent. This yellow was particularly useful for enhancing borders, canopies and haloes, and turning blue glass into green grass.
- By about 1450 a stain known as Cousin's Rose was used to enhance flesh tones.
- In the 1500s a range of glass stains were introduced, most of them coloured by ground glass particles. They were a form of enamel. Painting on glass with these stains was initially used for small heraldic designs and other details. By the 1600s a style of stained glass had evolved that was no longer dependent upon the skilful cutting of coloured glass into sections. Scenes were painted onto glass panels of square format, like tiles. The colours were annealed to the glass and the pieces were assembled into metal frames.
- In modern windows, copper foil is now sometimes used instead of lead. For further technical details, see Lead came and copper foil glasswork.
Coloured glass has been produced since ancient times. Both the Egyptians and the Romans excelled at the manufacture of small coloured glass objects. The British Museum holds two of the finest Roman pieces, the Lycurgus Cup, which is a murky mustard colour but glows purple-red to transmitted light, and the Portland vase which is midnight blue, with a carved white overlay.
In Early Christian churches of the 4th and 5th centuries there are many remaining windows which are filled with ornate patterns of thinly-sliced alabaster set into wooden frames, giving a stained-glass like effect. Similar effects were achieved with greater elaboration using coloured glass rather than stone by Muslim designers in Western Asia.
Stained glass, as an art form, reached its height in the Middle Ages. In the Romanesque and Early Gothic period, from about 950 CE to 1240 CE, the untraceried windows demanded large expanses of glass which of necessity were supported by robust iron frames, such as may be seen at Chartres Cathedral and at the Eastern end of Canterbury Cathedral. As Gothic architecture developed into a more ornate form, windows grew larger, affording greater illumination to the interiors, but were divided into sections by vertical shafts and tracery of stone. The elaboration of form reached its height of complexity in the Flamboyant style in Europe and windows grew still larger with the development of the Perpendicular style in England.
Integrated with the lofty verticals of Gothic cathedrals and parish churches, the glass designs became more daring. The circular form, or rose window developed in France from relatively simple windows with pierced openings through slabs of thin stone to wheel windows, as exemplified by that in the West front of Chartres cathedral, and ultimately to designs of enormous complexity, the tracery being drafted from hundreds of different points, such as those at St. Chapelle, Paris and the Bishop's Eye, Lincoln.
At the Reformation, in England large numbers of these windows were smashed and replaced with plain glass. The Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII and the injunctions of Oliver Cromwell against 'abused images' (the object of veneration) resulted in the loss of thousands of windows. Few remain undamaged; of them the windows in the private chapel at Hengrave Hall in Suffolk are among the finest. With the latter wave of destruction the art of glass painting died and was not to be rediscovered in England until the nineteenth century.
In Europe, however, stained glass continued to be produced in the Classical style widely represented in Germany, despite the rise of Protestantism, in Belgium, in France, particularly at the Limoges factory, and at Murano in Italy where stained glass and faceted lead crystal are sometimes in evidence in the same window. Ultimately, in France the French Revolution brought about the neglect or destruction of many windows.
The Catholic revival in England, gaining force in the early 19th century, with its renewed interest in the mediaeval church brought a revival of church building in the Gothic style, claimed by John Ruskin to be "the true Catholic style". The architectural movement was led by Augustus Welby Pugin. Many new churches were planted in large towns and many old churches were restored. This brought about a great demand for the revival of the art of stained glass window making. This section is expanded at Stained glass - British glass, 1811-1918.
Because of the technical requirements, stained glass making was generally on an industrial scale. Firms such as Hardmans of Birmingham and Clayton and Bell of London employed artists who were never known outside their particular trade but who filled English churches with their glass. Hardmans did much work for other designers. Initially Hardmans used A.W.N. Pugin for their design work, mostly on buildings which he had designed, but on his death in 1852, his nephew J. Hardman Powell (1828-1895) took over. A keen Catholic, Powell's work appealed to Anglo-Catholic tastes but he also had a commercial eye and exhibited his works at the Philadephia Exhibition of 1873. After that the firm did a good deal of work in the United States of America.
Among the foremost designers were the Pre-Raphaelites, William Morris (1834-1898) and Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). While Burne-Jones was best known as a painter, William Morris's studios created designs for architectural and interior decorating of many sorts including paintings, furniture, tiles and textiles. As part of Morris's enterprise, he set up his own glass works, producing glass to his own and Burne-Jones designs.
Clayton and Bell, and Kempe
Clayton and Bell's output was considerable and it was said that most English churches had one of their windows and many had nothing else. Among their designers was Charles Eamer Kempe (1837–1907) who set up his own workshop in 1869. His designs were lighter than that of his former employers: it was he who designed all the windows for the chapel of Selwyn College, Cambridge. He is credited with having produced over 3,000 windows. His cousin Walter Tower took over the business — adding a Tower to the Wheatsheaf emblem used by Kempe — and which continued until 1934.
Ward and Hughes, William Wailes
Another important firm was Ward and Hughes which, though it had begun by following the Gothic style changed direction in the 1870s towards a style influenced by the Aesthetic Movement. The firm remained operational until the late 1920s. Yet another was William Wailes (1808-1881) whose firm produced the West window of Gloucester cathedral. Wailes himself was a business man, not a designer but used designers such as Joseph Baguley (1834-1915) who eventually set up his own firm.
Shrigley and Hunt
Founded in 1875, the family run firm, Shrigley and Hunt, was the main producer of stained glass in the Lancashire area of England but acclaimed nationally and abroad for their designs.
Tiffany and La Farge
Notable American practitioners include John La Farge (1835-1910) who invented opalescent glass and for which he received a US patent February 24, 1880, and Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), who received several patents for variations of the same opalescent process in November of the same year and is believed to have invented the copper foil method as an alternative to lead, and used it extensively in windows, lamps and other decorations.
Within fifty years of the beginnings of commercial manufacture in the 1830s, British stained glass grew into an enormous and specialised industry, with important centres in Newcastle, Birmingham, Whitechapel in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Norwich and Dublin. The industry flourished in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. By 1900 British windows had been installed in Copenhagen, Venice, Athens, Bangalore, Nagasaki, Manila and Christchurch. After the "Great War", 1914-1918, stained glass design was to change radically. During the Medieval period following the Norman conquest of England, many churches, abbeys and cathedrals were built, firstly in the Norman (or Romanesque) style, then in the Gothic style which was to become increasingly elaborate and decorative. In these churches the windows were generally either large or in multiples so that the light within the building was maximised. The windows were glazed, frequently with coloured glass held in place by strips of lead. Because flat glass could only be manufactured in small pieces, the method of glazing lent itself to patterning. Over the years, much medieval glass has darkened. Designers of the 19th century often imitated this and the appearance of the interiors of many churches is more sombre than it would have originally been. The pictorial representation of biblical characters and narratives was a feature of Christian churches. By the 12th century stained glass was well adapted to serve this purpose. For 500 years the art flourished and adapted to changing architectural styles.
In the 1600s, during the time of Cromwell, the vast majority of English glass was smashed by Puritans. Churches which retain a substantial amount of early glass are rare. Very few of England’s large windows are intact. Those that contain a large amount of Medieval glass are usually reconstructed from salvaged fragments. The East, West and South Transept windows of York Minster and the West and North Transept windows of Canterbury give an idea of the splendours that have been mostly lost.
Medieval windows and drawings of them provided the source and inspiration for the nearly all the earlier 19th century designers.
Canterbury Cathedral retains more ancient stained glass than any other English Cathedral. Much of it is appears to be imported from France and some is very early, dating from the 11th century. Much of the glass is in the style of Chartres Cathedral with deep blue featuring as the background colour in most windows. There are wide borders of stylised floral motifs and small pictorial panels of round, square or diaper shape. Other windows contain rows of apostles, saints and prophets. These windows, including the large West window have a predominance of red, pink, brown and green in the colours, with smaller areas of blue. Most of the glass in this remarkable window is older than the 15th century stone tracery that contains it, the figure of Adam being perhaps oldest surviving panel in England. York Minster also contains much of its original glass including important narrative windows of the Norman period, the famous "Five Sister" windows, the 14th century West window and 15th century East window. The "Five Sisters", although repaired countless times so that they now contain a spider's web of lead, still reveal their delicate pattern of simple geometric shapes enhanced by grisaille painting. They were the style of window which was most easily imitated by early 19th century plumber-glaziers. The East and West windows of York are outstanding examples because in each case they are huge, intact, at their original location and by a known craftsman. The West window, designed in about 1340 by Master Robert, contains tiers of saints and stories of Christ and the Virgin Mary, each surmounted by a delicate Gothic canopy in white and yellow-stain, against a red background. The highly ornate tracery lights are filled with floral motifs. White glass stone borders surround each panel, making it appear to float in its frame. The East window of 1405 was glazed by John Thornton and is the largest intact medieval window in the world. It presents a narrative in sequential panels of the Creation, the Downfall of Humankind, the Redemption, the Apocalypse, the Last Judgment and the Glory of God. York also has windows with small diaper-shaped quarries painted with little birds and other motifs which were much reproduced in the 19th century. Between them, the windows of York and Canterbury cathedrals provided the examples for different styles of windows- geometric patterns, floral motifs and borders, narratives set in small panels, rows of figures, major thematic schemes.
Scattered all over England, sometimes in remote churches, is similar evidence of the designs, motifs and techniques used in the past. Two of these churches stand out from all the rest- St Neot's Church in Cornwall and Fairford Church in Gloucestershire. Somehow escaping the depredations of the Puritan era, Fairford has, uniquely in England, retained its complete Medieval cycle of stained glass. The theme is that of the East Window of York, the Salvation of Humankind, but in this case the theme is spread across all the windows of the church, large and small. The West Window, of seven lights, shows a single narrative incident, the Last Judgment. This scheme and these particular windows provided a rare source for the designers of narrative windows for parish churches.
Links and References