In Memoriam Paul Sharpling

Paul Sharpling (Image courtesy Sharpling family)

Roger Willson, Chairman of the Leicester Stained Glass Appreciation Group, pays tribute to Paul Sharpling, who sadly passed away this summer.

The death of Paul Sharpling in mid-July is an enormous loss to us and in every sense to the study of stained glass, particularly in the East Midlands.

Paul grew up in Northampton and for much of his life lived in Kettering, teaching at Kettering Grammar School. He first became absorbed by stained-glass as a student at Cambridge, where he read Modern Languages, and subsequently at Oxford where he qualified as a language teacher. In recent years he collaborated in the preparation of the revised edition of Pevsner’s Northamptonshire, contributing entries on church windows, and over the years he translated for publication several articles on stained-glass from other languages, as well as translating inscriptions found in windows. Without doubt, he was the expert on the stained-glass of the East Midlands area and an encourager of our local artists such as Derek Hunt, Mick Stokes and Christopher Fiddes. For some years he was an active and sensitive stained-glass adviser to the Diocese of Leicester and, of course, he shared his knowledge widely through teaching courses and through lectures to many local societies.

Paul published several key books on East Midlands glass. His Stained Glass in Rutland Churches was published by the Rutland Local History and Record Society in 1997 and Fragile Images: Post-Medieval Stained glass in Northamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough (Volume XLIX of the Northamptonshire Record Society) in 2016. In the introduction to this book, Paul wrote that “the current study is the second part of a larger project which began thirty years ago, to record the stained-glass windows of the three southern counties of the East Midlands: Rutland, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire”, counties which formed the Diocese of Peterborough from 1840 to 1926. There is no doubt that the Northants volume was a labour of love, with Paul visiting every church in his home county and describing the contents of every post-medieval window. He also provides comprehensive indices of subject matter, makers, dedicatees and arms bearers, to name but a few. These are all listed by location, and are immensely useful to anyone wishing to follow up a particular interest. Is any other county so well served?

To say that it is to Paul that we owe our very existence as the Leicester Stained Glass Appreciation Group (LSGAG) is to acknowledge our debt to him. As far as we are aware, we are the only local group of a similar nature that has this particular focus anywhere in the country: that itself is a huge tribute to Paul. He was our tutor, our inspiration, our mentor and great friend. Like many of us ‘founder members’, I attended several of what started in Leicester as his Workers Education Association classes. He taught us everything: before then I for one had simply ‘looked’ at most stained-glass windows, as many people do. Paul showed us how to appreciate everything about glass: its art, design, craft, content and historical context. For me personally, he simply opened my eyes to the whole Arts and Crafts period, about which I had no previous knowledge at all beyond the Morris Company, but which is now one of my favourite genres of glass. He was also so pleased when I finally realised the truth of what he was always emphasising, that Victorian stained glass offers so much that is worth discovering, and can be appreciated in all sorts of ways. These are just two examples from the many things he taught me.

I well remember the time when Paul said that he thought that he had taught us everything he could (this was actually not true by a long way), and we decided, because of the enthusiasm which he had engendered, to go it alone and to form our own ‘club’. This was the LSGAG, and here we still are, full of enthusiasm and gaining new members a decade on. Until incapacity and illness overtook him, Paul regularly drove over from Kettering to attend our meetings and to give an annual talk, and when he was unable to do this, he was always prepared to send notes describing the windows in churches we were going to visit. In one of the last conversations I had with him on the phone, he was keen to send me his notes on basic appreciation of glass in case we wanted to set up simple Zoom meetings this autumn for ‘beginners’.

To many of us, Paul became a great and much-loved friend, who was always pleased to give his time and expertise unstintingly. He will be so greatly missed, not only by us, but by all of those interested in glass, both in this area and beyond. Paul had a difficult last couple of years, dealing with tragic events within his family, as well as his own ill health. Yet he was still working on his Leicestershire project right up to the moment of his death.

Paul was so looking forward to finishing and publishing the final volume on Leicestershire, and from everything he said, he has left it almost complete. Our group is likely to take over responsibility for this, and the greatest tribute we could all pay to him would be to make sure that his wishes are fulfilled and to see that his definitive study of our own county is published.

‘A man that looks on glass, on it may stay his eye, or if it pleaseth, through it pass and then the heaven espy’ [George Herbert].

Digital Resource Showcases Images from J. W. Knowles & Sons Archive

Explore York Libraries and Archives Mutual Ltd, which delivers library and archives services on behalf of City of York Council, launched its new Explore York Images website in February 2020. The new site provides access to thousands of images from the city’s archive collections, including photographs, glass plate negatives and digitised documents.

Explore York Images is a replacement for the previous Imagine York database, which contained digitised copies of photographic prints of the city over the last 150 years. The technology powering that site, originally built in the early 2000s, had become slow and the search functionality was poor, resulting in a database that was no longer fit for purpose in the twenty-first century and which couldn’t be added to easily.

In summer 2019, discussions began to find a suitable replacement portal for the images, which could be added to by staff as and when new collections were digitised. An agreement was reached with Sheffield-based CiT Digital in October 2019, and between then and February this year staff from Explore have worked on the design and layout, the increased search functionality and the descriptions of the existing images. They also spent a great deal of time tracking down copyright on images to ensure they could be moved to a more visible public platform. Metadata was standardised, and a new ‘controlled vocabulary’ created so that users could browse the collections in addition to searching using keywords. Overall, the new site is much more user-friendly, easier to search, and has a built-in point of sale function, meaning users can buy copies of images online for a range of purposes, and then download the digital files straight to their computer.

One of the main reasons for Explore’s increased need for a new image platform was their desire to showcase the thousands of newly-digitised images from the J. W. Knowles & Sons collection. J. W. Knowles and Sons were a family firm of glass painters, restorers and church decorators based in Stonegate, York. The business was founded by John Ward Knowles (1838-1931) in around 1861. He was later joined in the business by his two sons, John Alder Knowles (1881-1961) and Milward Knowles, with the firm continuing to operate until the 1970s.

As well as an extensive paper-based collection of local history research and designs belonging to John Ward Knowles, held at York Explore Library and Archive, the archive includes some 3,500 glass plate negatives and lantern slides. Thought to date from the early part of the twentieth-century, the fragile glass plates document many of the projects the firm was undertaking, as well as others which were clearly obtained for wider research purposes. A number are also original paintings on sheets of glass, presumably created by John Ward Knowles in his role at York School of Art.

Fig. 1. Glass plate negative showing a panel from the St William Window (n7), York Minster, c.1900. KNO/24/173, York Explore Library and Archive (Image © City of York Council / Explore York Libraries and Archives Mutual Ltd)

Fig. 2. ‘Giving drink to the thirsty and visiting the sick’, Corporal Acts of Mercy window (n4), panels 2-3b, All Saint’s, North Street, York, c.1900. KNO/24/2239, York Explore Library and Archive (Image © City of York Council / Explore York Libraries and Archives Mutual Ltd)

Following generous grants in late 2017 from the York Glaziers Trust, The Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass and a private donor, Explore was able to second a member of staff to begin work on the cataloguing and digitisation of the glass plate negatives and lantern slides. The bulk of this work took place during 2018. This funding also allowed Explore to purchase a specialist flatbed scanner for photographic materials, and software which would allow positive digital images to be created from the negative glass plates.

The collection is a fascinating insight into the work of one firm in the early twentieth century, including detailed images of panels in many hundreds of different stained-glass windows. Major projects include York Minster, Holy Trinity, Goodramgate and All Saint’s, North Street – key buildings in the history of York’s stained glass past.  

Work is still ongoing to complete the digitisation of the catalogued glass plates, and staff are also conducting a survey of plates that cannot yet be digitised and which will require more significant conservation work. At present, Explore York Images contains nearly 2,300 images from the Knowles collection, a significant proportion of the nearly 7,500 images on the site. Due to delays resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, Explore are continuing to add the remaining images to the site, and are anticipating the completion of the digitisation by late Spring 2021.

Fig. 3. Interior of the premises of J W Knowles & Sons, Stonegate, early 20th century. Y_12207, York Explore Library and Archive (Image © City of York Council / Explore York Libraries and Archives Mutual Ltd)

Fig. 4. Original glass painting showing a woman’s head, c.1920. KNO/24/88, York Explore Library and Archive (Image © City of York Council / Explore York Libraries and Archives Mutual Ltd)

Laura Yeoman

News of the German Corpus Vitrearum Website

Since 2010, the German Corpus Vitrearum’s two centres of operation, Freiburg and Potsdam, have had a joint website. Its original purpose was to present our research project, supported by the Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur in Mainz and the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, to the public. Over time, scholarly resources have been added, such as the Picture Archive, digital versions of individual German Corpus Vitrearum volumes, and an accumulated index of all our publications since 1958, among other things. One of the intentions behind the 2019 relaunch of the website was to make this shift towards its being a research platform more apparent. Now a new tab has been introduced as a complement to the Picture Archive: ‘Glasmalereien im Kontext’ (‘Stained Glass in Context’).

Fig. 1. Digital Picture Archive, German Corpus Vitrearum Website

The home page at features a six-tab menu: ‘Bildarchiv’ (‘Picture Archive’), ‘Glasmalereien im Kontext’ (‘Stained Glass in Context’), ‘Das Projekt’ (‘The Project’), ‘Publikationen’ (‘Publications’), ‘Recherche’ (‘Research’), and ‘Aktuelles’ (‘News’). The most important of these, both for the Corpus Vitrearum’s international research community and anyone interested in stained glass, will no doubt be our digital Picture Archive (Fig. 1). It currently contains 6,395 records and is being expanded on an occasional basis. A search field allows users to find specific images by means of a free-text search (for example, by place name, personal name, iconography, technical term, etc.); there are also search filters that allow you to narrow down your results. For searches made using Iconclass codes, similar, supplementary results are shown, if there are any, from the Picture Archive of the Vitrocentre in Romont, as well as from that of the Austrian CVMA (the latter facility is in preparation: click here for more information). All the images are supplied with full metadata and can be downloaded as high-resolution files under licence CC BY-NC 4.0. The metadata specification can be consulted, as can a list of all the codes applied to categorize images.

The next menu item is ‘Glasmalereien im Kontext’. This new tab, which only went live on 12 October 2020, is, as mentioned, a complement to the Picture Archive. The individual panels and groups of panels in the Picture Archive, which of necessity have been separated from their architectonic and iconographic contexts, are brought together contextually under this tab with text and images. It is the German Corpus Vitrearum’s aim gradually to expand its presentation of church buildings in all respects, with explanatory texts and interactive images. This way the user will be able to establish the exact extent of stained glass in a particular building, either via lists (of locations, parts of buildings, windows, and of individual panels or groups of panels), or explore at will, taking a map as a starting point, and moving over images of interactive ground-plans, overall views, and conservation diagrams of whole windows, right down to the level of individual panels (Figs 2–4).

Fig. 2. Example of building overview, Stained Glass in Context, German Corpus Vitrearum Website

Fig. 3. Example of window view, Stained Glass in Context, German Corpus Vitrearum Website

Fig. 4. Example of panel view, Stained Glass in Context, German Corpus Vitrearum Website

A series of articles entitled ‘Scheibenweise’ (‘Panel by Panel’) – which is, admittedly, growing slowly, but continuously – was added to the ‘Publikationen’ tab in 2018. These short contributions present the results of research currently being undertaken by the German Corpus Vitrearum. The ‘Aktuelles’ tab, which was implemented earlier, in 2017, is used in the main to flag up new publications, including ones outside the German CVMA series, as well as to provide news about forthcoming events.

Uwe Gast, translated by Joseph Spooner

News from the Stained Glass Museum

Job Opportunity

Trustees of The Stained Glass Museum would like to invite applications for an experienced, pro-active, highly skilled and enthusiastic part-time Learning & Community Engagement Officer.

The appointed candidate will be responsible for developing and adapting, piloting and delivering the museum’s formal and informal learning programme. They will need to develop and adapt resources and session plans to help The Stained Glass Museum reach wider audiences and adapt to challenges presented by covid-19.

This challenging role will require a motivated creative thinker with outstanding communication skills, energy and the ability to inspire and engage others. Applicants should be experienced in successfully developing and delivering Learning programmes in a museum, heritage, gallery, interpretation or other similar environment. This is a unique opportunity to bring your experience and creativity to make a real difference to a small arts organisation.

This is a part-time post (22.5 hours per week / 0.6 FTE) subject to an enhanced DBS Disclosure with Barred list checks.

The deadline for applications is Midday, Friday 20 November 2020. Further details, including the Job Description and Application Pack can be downloaded from the Museum’s website.

Stained Glass Museum receives Cultural Recovery Fund

The Stained Glass Museum is delighted to have received a grant of £71,790 as part of the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund! This fund is to help organisations face the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and to ensure they have a sustainable future. #HereForCulture is a movement that unites the public, government and cultural organisations in support of our fantastic cinemas, theatres, music venues, museums, galleries and heritage & we are delighted to have received this grant.

The Stained Glass Museum is one of 1,385 cultural and creative organisations across the country receiving urgently needed support. £257 million of investment has been announced today as part of the very first round of the Culture Recovery Fund grants programme being administered by Arts Council England. The Stained Glass Museum will use the grant for core costs and importantly to help the museum adapt its learning offer for online and remote delivery.

Events and Exhibitions

Mel Howse on the scaffolding at Durham Cathedral during the installation of the Illumination Window

This autumn, the Museum has moved its lecture series online. The next lecture, ‘In the Light of Modernity’, by award-winning glass artist Mel Howse, will take place on Wednesday 4th November at 7pm.  

Tickets are £5 / £4 (Friends) + 95p Eventbrite booking fee.

You can book tickets and find out more about upcoming lectures on the Museum’s website.

Those able to travel to the Museum can click here for details of the Stevens Architectural Glass Exhibition (at the SGM until 28 November) and Rachel Mulligan’s forthcoming exhibition Tinker, Tailor…, featuring new works inspired by covid-19.

Appeal for Information

A visit to George Wigley’s workshop at Monastery Stained Glass was always full of unexpected discoveries. The sensory overload of jumbled fragments of stained glass was an exhilarating experience. From thirteenth-century borders to seventeenth-century Swiss armorials,
fifteenth-century heads to Victorian pressed glass, there was always something to attract the eye amongst the bewildering array of boxes and trays of broken glass.

On one occasion about 5 years ago, a number of damaged fifteenth-century English quarries were on the bench (fig 1). It is believed that a small number of complete quarries of this pattern were sold via Ely Stained Glass Museum around this time, although these were not photographed. They were possibly acquired from Kings of Norwich.

The quarries are slightly larger than typical, at approximately 120 x 215mm, made of a green tinged cylinder glass with variable corrosion. The unusual feature of these is that, in addition to the central stylised barley ear motif, they had a bold border, featuring a jagged tooth design. The teeth appear to align across quarries (fig 2).

Have readers come across similar quarry border designs and can a possible provenance be postulated for them? In addition, if any readers have further examples, they are encouraged to
get in touch with Simon Thomas via

Fig. 1. ‘Barley’ quarries, c.120 x 215mm, 15th-century (Image © Simon Thomas)

Fig. 2. Detail of ‘Barley’ quarries, showing jagged tooth border aligning across quarries (Image © Simon Thomas)

Stained Glass Damaged in Beirut Explosion

On 4th August, Beirut was rocked by the explosion of ammonium nitrate that was stored in a warehouse in the Port of Beirut. The incident killed at least two hundred people, injured thousands and caused widespread damage and destruction. Among the many structural casualties of the blast were numerous stained-glass windows, many of which had been created or painstakingly restored by local master glazier Maya Husseini. Their loss is particularly devastating as much of this glass had only been made or restored in the past thirty years, after the widespread losses during the Lebanese civil war. You can read more about Maya’s work and the impact of the explosion in a feature by Mylène Vigneron, who interviewed Maya earlier this month.

Discovery of Glass from St Mary’s Church, Bramall Lane, Sheffield

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”.((Martin Wainwright, ‘Miners asked to solve riddle of missing stained glass windows’, The Guardian, 1st December 2008, [Accessed 25 August 2020].)) 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.”((Martin Wainwright, ‘Miners asked to solve riddle of missing stained glass windows’, The Guardian, 1st December 2008, [Accessed 25 August 2020].))

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.((Good News Network, ‘Box of Stained Glass Bought at Auction Solves 80-year Mystery of Church Windows Gone Missing During WWII’, 9th August 2020, [Accessed 28 August]; Sheffield Telegraph 6th August, 2020)) 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.