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Stained Glass Conservation at Highcliffe Castle

Sarah Jarron MA, ACR

This summer, the conservation team at Highcliffe Castle will be undertaking work on the Castle’s internationally renowned stained-glass collection. A programme of cleaning, repair and stabilisation will culminate in a permanent exhibition of the collection in 2023. 

Built between 1831 and 1836, Highcliffe Castle is described as one of the most important surviving houses of the Romantic and Picturesque architectural styles.  It was the vision of Lord Stuart de Rothesay (1779-1845), a distinguished and widely travelled diplomat, who was a great collector of art and antiquities, with a particular passion for stained glass. 

Fig. 1: Detail of the Adoration of the Magi, c1520, from Mariawald Abbey, Heimbach, Germany © Highcliffe Castle

The stained-glass collection encompasses pieces from across Europe, as well as closer to home. There are small nineteenth-century heraldic panels from Christchurch, as well as older glass from France, Germany (Fig. 1), Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.  Most of the stained glass is a lot older than the Castle itself, with pieces dating between c1400 and 1840.  The entire collection comprises over 150 pieces, of which more than 100 require conservation. This glass was originally displayed in the Ante Library, Wintergarden, Drawing Room and the Oriel Window.  The highlight of the collection is the French sixteenth-century Jesse Tree Window in the Great Hall, which was conserved and reinstalled in 1999.

The Castle has experienced a turbulent history, culminating in two devasting fires and subsequent dereliction in the late 1960s.  The stained glass remained in situ throughout.  Fortunately, it was rescued by the Norwich glass studio of G. King and Sons, who kept it safely stored until its return to the Castle Collection in the late 1990s.

As a much-loved local landmark, Highcliffe Castle has been the focus of an ongoing repair programme since 1991, supported by English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Pilgrim Trust.  Although it no longer retains its rich interiors, it is now a unique, charming, partially-restored building and a member of the Historic Houses network.  Whilst the majority of Lord Stuart’s paintings, tapestries and sculptures are no longer part of the Castle’s collection, the stained glass has survived with comparatively few losses.

Fig. 2: The Stained Glass Studio at the Castle © Highcliffe Castle

Last year, a small stained glass studio was installed within the Castle (Fig. 2), where the conservation work is undertaken.  Visitors have the rare opportunity to see stained glass up close and can often observe our conservation team at work. The Castle is open Sunday to Thursday 10.00–16.00. For more information and to book tickets, please visit the Highcliffe Castle Website.

To celebrate the UN International Year of Glass, a temporary exhibition displaying select pieces from the collection will open at the Castle this autumn.  Illumination through Light and Glass is scheduled to run from 2 October until 24 November 2022.   Entry to the exhibition will be free with general admission to the Castle. 

The creation of the Stained-Glass Studio and associated engagement activities would not have been possible without generous funding from The Pilgrim Trust and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.