In August, reports emerged of the rediscovery of nineteenth-century glass from St Mary’s Church, Bramall Lane, Sheffield. Vidimus is grateful to Sylvia Pybus, who has pieced together elements of the story, and hopes to undertake a fuller investigation when current restrictions end.
St Mary’s was built in the 1820s and consecrated in 1830. It was one of the many churches whose primarily nineteenth-century windows were removed in 1939 to save them from the danger of war damage. The stained glass, including the 20ft x 12ft east window, was taken out and stored underground. This action was vindicated when the church was damaged in the first Sheffield Blitz of 12-13th December 1940, losing most of its roof. During repair work, which took place ahead of the reopening of the church in 1957, the west end of the building was divided from the east and developed as a community centre, to a plan proposed by Professor Stephen Welsh of the University of Sheffield.
Unfortunately, the records of the glass had been lost, although it was rumoured to be as far afield as a South Yorkshire coalfield, a cavern in the Peak District, or a Welsh mine. The windows were instead filled with plain glazing. Despite periodic appeals for information, the historic glass remained undiscovered, and in 2007 the church commissioned Helen Whittaker of Barley Studios, York, to design a new east window, in an £80,000 project funded by the Arts Council. After installation began on 30th November, 2008, a final, fruitless, appeal was made in The Guardian on 1st December, seeking retired miners who might have information on the original stained glass, described as “some of Britain’s best examples of pre-Victorian abstract work”.1 The then vicar of St Mary’s, Canon Julian Sullivan, was quoted:
“Sadly, we have very little information about what the original windows looked like, but Helen has given us a stunning piece of work. Meanwhile, the 19th –century windows are still down there somewhere. They were clearly much admired and descriptions describe their abstract nature. We have not been able to find them, but it would be wonderful if there is still someone out there who knows where they are.”1
In August, it was announced that the lost glass had been found, after being bought at auction by Colin Mantripp, who owns a woodcarving studio in Buckinghamshire.2 Mr Mantripp did not go to the auction, but put in a bid of £300 on what he thought was a box of fragments of stained glass which he could use in his bespoke designs. He expected a small box but when he went to collect it found an 8ft x 3ft wooden box full of thirteen stained-glass panels. There was no information about the provenance of the glass, but the words ‘St Mary’s’ were written on the box. After searching online, Mr Mantripp found the story of the lost St Mary’s glass and offered them back to the church. Sadly, however, the panels are probably from the east window, which was filled with a new commission by Helen Whitaker in 2008.
The panels, which include narrative scenes and large standing figures, are thought to date from the 1850s, but further research into their date, maker and iconography will have to wait until local archives can be accessed again.
- Martin Wainwright, ‘Miners asked to solve riddle of missing stained glass windows’, The Guardian, 1st December 2008, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2008/dec/01/stained-glass-window [Accessed 25 August 2020].
- Good News Network, ‘Box of Stained Glass Bought at Auction Solves 80-year Mystery of Church Windows Gone Missing During WWII’, 9th August 2020, https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/stained-glass-from-auction-solves-mystery-of-missing-ww2-church-windows/ [Accessed 28 August]; Sheffield Telegraph 6th August, 2020