Stained Glass in Anglo-Saxon England

This month’s feature supports the launch of a major campaign by the Wearmouth – Jarrow Partnership to have the remains of two Anglo-Saxon monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow declared a World Heritage Site.

Apart from playing a major role in the development of Christian culture and learning in the early medieval west, these sites are particularly well known for the significant amounts of seventh- and eighth-century window glass recovered by archaeologists over the past fifty years.

This article reviews these findings and brings readers up to date with the latest discoveries. 

St Peter’s church, Wearmouth. © YM Pictures. Fig. 1. St Peter’s church, Wearmouth. © YM Pictures.

Though used by the Romans during their occupation of Britain, window glass was rare in seventh-century Anglo-Saxon England. The technology seems to have been lost after the departure of the legions in the fifth century and by the time it was reintroduced two hundred years later, it was as if England was starting from scratch (see: Harden).

It is impossible to say where or when the first Anglo-Saxon glazing scheme was installed. Documentary sources refer to the use of window glass in English churches from the second half of the seventh century onwards and suggest that St Peter’s church, York (York Minster), followed shortly afterwards by the Wearmouth-Jarrow monasteries, were among the pioneers. [Fig. 1]  

Both schemes were commissioned by churchmen from the Christian kingdom of Northumbria (southern Scotland and the north-east of England). They had travelled together across Europe and had probably seen window glass in monastic churches in Gaul (roughly modern France, Belgium and Luxemburg), Germany and Italy.

The York scheme is mentioned in a twelfth-century manuscript, the Vita Sancti Wilfridi auctore Edmero (The Life of Saint Wilfrid by Edmer ) which credits the Bishop with repairing the church AD 669–72 after it had fallen into decay and, in the process, glazing the previously unglazed windows (see Muir & Turner): 

per fenestras introitum avium et imbrium vitro prohibuit, per quod tamen intro lumen radiabat

[He prevented the entry of birds and showers through the window openings with glass, through which however light would radiate inside].

The next documented example is directly linked to the Wearmouth site. For many writers it provides the introductory stepping stone to studies of stained glass in England. The story begins in AD 674, several years after Wilfrid’s renovation of York Minster, when Egfrith, the king of Northumbria, gave land for a new monastery dedicated to St Peter to be built at the mouth of the river Wear, now part of modern Sunderland. The inaugural abbot, Benedict Biscop (c. AD 628–90), was an exceptionally able administrator who was also instrumental in promoting a ‘twin’ monastery dedicated to St Paul, at neighbouring Jarrow on the river Tyne, a few years later, AD 681–62. Determined to equal anything he had seen abroad, Biscop brought books and panel paintings from Rome to equip and decorate his church and imported craftsmen from mainland Europe to build it in the Roman style. According to the Historia abbatum, a history of the lives of the abbots at Wearmouth-Jarrow written by the Venerable Bede, a monk at Jarrow, between c.AD 690–735:

proximante autem ad perfectum opere, misit legatarios Galliam, qui uitrifactores, artifices videlicet Brittannis eatenus incognitos, ad cancellandas aecclesiae porticusque et caenaculorum eius fenestras adducerent. Factumque es, et uenerunt; nec solum opus postulatum compleuerunt, sed et Anglorum ex eo gentem huiusmodi artificium nosse ac discere fecerunt artificium nimirum uel lampadis aecclesiae claustris uel uasorum multifariis usibus non ignobiliter aptum 

7th-century west wall of St Peter's church Wearmouth. © Sunderland city council.

Fig. 2. 7th-century west wall of St Peter's church Wearmouth. © Sunderland city council.

[When the work (at Wearmouth – Ed.) was drawing to completion, he ( Benedict – Ed.) sent messengers to Gaul to fetch glaziers, craftsmen who were at this time unknown in Britain, that they might glaze the windows of his church, choir and refectory. This was done and they came, and they not only finished the work required, but from this caused the English to know and learn their handicraft, one that was certainly most suitable (lit. ‘not ignobly apt’) for the lanterns of the church and for the vessels required for various uses. [Fig.2]  

Professor Rosemary Cramp explains the excavations at Jarrow to the Mayor, 1969. Image courtesy of Professor Cramp.

Fig. 3. Professor Rosemary Cramp explains the excavations at Jarrow to the Mayor, 1969. Image courtesy of Professor Cramp.

This passage repays careful study. The glass workers came from Gaul – but from where exactly? The distinguished archaeologist, Professor Rosemary Cramp, who excavated the Wearmouth and Jarrow sites between 1959 and 1988, has suggested Normandy in northern France as a strong contender. Apart from its proximity to England, recent archaeological excavations at several seventh- and eighth-century sites in that region have unearthed pieces of window glass similar to some of the finds at Wearmouth/Jarrow. Discoveries at Notre-Dame de Bondeville, for example, a late seventh-century church five miles north-west of Rouen and abandoned in the first half of the eighth century, included pieces of coloured glass, some still in their leads and cut into a mosaic of shapes (see Cramp 2006, p. 79). [Fig. 3]

Other interesting questions revolve around whether the imported craftsmen made the glass on site or brought ready-made sheets with them; what they actually did at Wearmouth; how many of them came, and how long they stayed.

A chemical analysis of the glass recovered from the sites has shown that it consists overwhelmingly of ‘soda-lime-silica glass’. The alkali, soda (a sodium compound) was mixed with sand to provide the flux to facilitate melting. In late antiquity the natron-rich dried lake beds of Egypt were a primary source of soda. Research by Professor Ian Freestone of Cardiff University, and Michael Hughes has found that the early Wearmouth glass consisted of cullet, recycled broken or crushed glass, and chunks of raw glass imported from the Levant (modern day Lebanon and Israel), where glass was produced on a huge commercial scale in this period. Although it is impossible to say how this glass arrived in Northumbria, the most likely possibility is as cargo brought to England by ship from Gaul after having already made its way from the Levant to Italy and then north. Although no large scale furnaces have been found at either Jarrow or Wearmouth it seems almost certain that that the glass must have been softened or remelted in the vicinity before being cut into small quarries. Lead cames and iron grills were also made. One of the often overlooked words in Bede’s account of the Wearmouth glazing is cancellandas  which, while used to describe glazing, also means ‘to create a grille’, with the emphasis on ironwork.

Some years ago, the historian C. R. Dodwell (1922–1994) asked why Benedict brought craftsmen from Gaul when, on the basis, of the earlier York glazing, some patience on his part might have enabled him to source his glaziers locally (see Dodwell). Cramp has suggested that the answer might lie in Benedict’s desire for coloured glass: a skill possibly unknown to local workers. A third possibility is that there were no local glass workers anywhere in England at the time and that, as in the Roman period, glassworkers were peripatetic and only ever came into Britain for relatively short campaigns.

Again, another often less explored passage, and one that is beyond the scope of this article, is the reference to the imported craftsmen producing not just window glass, but also other glass products required for the monastery, such as lanterns and vessels, again suggesting that there no indigenous glassworkers of any kind at the time.  

Escomb church. © YM Pictures.

Fig. 4. Escomb church. © YM Pictures.

How many workers came from Gaul and how long did they stay? Bede does not say. The text mentions them teaching their craft to English workers, implying that they may have returned home after completing their assignments. If so, the glass in our panel, like that in other windows at Jarrow made around eight years later, in the early AD 680s, could have been produced by English glassworkers who had learned their craft from their Frankish mentors. However, Cramp has implicitly warned against jumping to such conclusions by pointing out that the Jarrow glass is, ‘if anything, of better quality and more varied in colour’ than that found at Wearmouth, leading her to wonder if the Gauls had remained for a generation (Cramp 2006, p. 57). The continuation of glass making at Jarrow after the completion of the monastery may explain the discovery of window glass of a similar colour and composition elsewhere in the region, as at the Anglo-Saxon church at Escomb (Co Durham), thirty-five miles south of Jarrow, where some fragments dated to c. AD 730 are now displayed in the church ( Cramp: 1971). However if the Escomb glass does indeed belong to this tradition, it begs the question what else the Jarrow glaziers were making, and where, during the intervening fifty years. [Fig. 4]

Rosemary Cramp leading excavations at Jarrow. Image courtesy of Professor Cramp

Fig. 5. Rosemary Cramp leading excavations at Jarrow. Image courtesy of Professor Cramp

Recently published (and revised) figures have confirmed that 298 pieces of Anglo-Saxon window glass from Wearmouth and 1,756 pieces from Jarrow were recovered from the sites during Rosemary Cramp’s excavations (see Cramp 2006). Both in quantity and colour they constitute the most significant discoveries so far found in Britain. The scale of the finds has given archaeologists, scientists and stained glass historians a unique insight into the processes and working methods of late seventh- and early eighth-century glaziers, either Anglo-Saxon English or Gallic, working in this period. [Fig. 5]

Examination of the glass has shown that it was cylinder or ‘muff’ blown glass, cut along its length when hot and flattened into plate glass. Tell-tale signs such as the differences in the two surfaces of many fragments, the one shiny and the other matt and striated, a distinction caused during the flattening of the cylinder in the annealing process, are clearly visible in many samples. The thickness of the glass is also interesting. The thinnest pieces are about 0.7mm and the thickest about 4.7mm. Variations can be acute even in a single quarry, in one instance the thickness ranges between 1.5 and 3.0 mm. The most intensely coloured glass was the thickest, generally 2mm–3mm. All of the glass was markedly thinner than the later medieval window glass recovered from the same site. Many of the recovered pieces were unbroken and consisted of small quarries of geometric shapes: square, rectangular, triangular, and diamond. Some pieces of uncoloured glass had curved edges.

Coloured quarries in modern leadwork. © Bede’s World museum.

Fig. 6. Coloured quarries in modern leadwork. © Bede’s World museum.

Although most of the glass is technically uncoloured (actually often pale blue or greenish owing to iron compounds in the sand used in the manufacturing process), archaeologists also found blue glass of several hues together with examples of green, yellow green, greenish amber, brownish amber, reds and two-colour glasses including some with trails or streaks of red, and others with a red marble-like effect. Fragments of two-colour (dichroic) glass which changed from milky blue in reflective light to clear amber in transmitted light, were found to include minute quantities of gold and silver although it is not clear if this was a deliberately planned effect or an unintended product of an imperfectly controlled manufacturing process, perhaps involving the creation of red or purple glass. The colouring was produced by metallic oxides. Cobalt was found in some of the Wearmouth glass but not in the Jarrow blues. One possibility is that salvaged roman tesserae were used in the Wearmouth glass.

By contrast with the scale of glass found on the site, very few lead calmes were recovered, probably due to recycling. Some glass historians have suggested that H section lead networks were an eighth-century refinement.

Some of the coloured quarries are now exhibited in the ‘Bede’s World’ museum in Jarrow. [Fig. 6]   

Fragment of Christ, Ravenna, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, from San Vitale. © Dr Francesca Dell’ Acqua.

Fig. 7. Fragment of Christ, Ravenna, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, from San Vitale. © Dr Francesca Dell’ Acqua.

What was not found has also proved to be highly significant. Not a single piece of glass recovered from the Wearmouth and Jarrow sites shows any sign of fired paintwork. The history of firing paint onto glass is a fascinating subject, unfortunately beyond the limited scope of this article. Suffice to say that for many years the earliest example was thought to be a small clear glass roundel depicting an enthroned Christ blessing two individuals found during excavations at the Italian basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, a church built during the reign of the Byzantium emperor Justinian (d. 565). Initially dated to the 6th century, the discovery prompted suggestions that the technology may have been developed by Byzantium craftsmen. Recently, however, the Italian scholar, Dr Francesca Dell’Acqua, has challenged these conclusions, arguing that the original discovery was poorly documented and that the roundel was probably made between the ninth and the tenth centuries, after Benedictine monks had moved onto the site and possibly refurbished parts of the church. (see Dell’Acqua) [Fig. 7]

If Dr Dell’Acqua’s reattribution is accepted, it would seem that the of art of firing paint to glass probably developed somewhere in the mid eighth-century French/German Carolingian empire, where examples have been found at a number of sites, including Paderborn (Germany) and Rouen (France). The earliest known examples in England date from the mid-tenth century and were discovered by the Oxford university archaeologist, Professor Martin Biddle during excavations in Winchester.

At Wearmouth-Jarrow the unpainted quarries seem to have been displayed in several ways.

Mosaic of coloured glass set in a small 7th-century circular window (sIII) at St Paul’s church, Jarrow. © Bede’s World Museum

Fig.8. Mosaic of coloured glass set in a small 7th-century circular window (sIII) at St Paul’s church, Jarrow. © Bede’s World Museum

Some glass was probably formed into coloured ‘mosiac’ non-representational patterns, akin to the conjectured design that can be seen in a surviving seventh-century circular window (sIII) at St Paul’s church, Jarrow. Such designs would suit such relatively small window apertures. The three Saxon windows at St Paul’s Jarrow, for example, of which this panel is one, have openings of only 30 cm (12 inches) wide and 75 cm (30 inches) high. Similar coloured glass cut into geometric shapes has been found at other Anglo-Saxon sites in Britain such as Brixworth in Northamptonshire (see: Hunter). [Fig. 8]

Other windows in the complex could have been entirely, or largely, uncoloured.  

Reconstructed lead pattern. Image courtesy of Professor Cramp

Fig. 9. Reconstructed lead pattern. Image courtesy of Professor Cramp

There is also evidence of ornamental lead patterns. At Wearmouth, a recovered rectangular frame of lead cut from a single sheet and containing interlacing patterns shows evidence of being superimposed on the window glass. Rather than forming part of the lead matrix supporting the ‘colourless’ glass quarries behind it, the lead pattern was probably supported by a separate wooden frame. [Fig. 9]

Parallels for this approach are known from later centuries, as at Studenica monastery, a world heritage site 39 km southwest of Kraljevo in central Serbia, where a slender lancet window was enriched by a twelfth-century sheet of thin lead panels, pierced with tiny holes representing foliage and animals, being applied over coloured glass panes.

‘Nimbed figure’. © Bede’s World museum.

Fig. 10. ‘Nimbed figure’. © Bede’s World museum.

Based on the shapes of some of the Jarrow quarries, rather than any recovered lead lines, Rosemary Cramp and her colleagues were, in her words, ‘emboldened to think’ of yet another possibility. The well known conjectured scheme of unpainted quarries assembled to produce a nimbed figure in an arched frame, was the result. Together with some less disputed reconstructions, this panel can be seen in the excellent ‘Bede’s World’ museum at Jarrow. [Fig. 10]

Apart from the York and Wearmouth documentary records, two other texts recording early pre-Viking Anglo-Saxon glazing schemes are often cited.

The first appears in a description of a church built by the West Saxon princess, Bugga (sometimes Bugge) at Withington, (Gloucestershire) around AD 700 (see Ehwald). Written between AD 689–709 by St Aldhelm (c. 639–709), the Abbot of Malmesbury, Bishop of Sherborne, and a prolific poet and scholar, the description purrs:

Haec domus interius resplendent luce serena

Quam sol per vitreas illustret forte fenestras

Limpida quadrate diffundes lumina templo

[the church glows within with gentle light on occasions when the sun shines through the glass windows diffusing its clear light through the rectangular church.]

The second well known example which mentions pre-Viking glazing needs to be treated warily. It appears in the ninth-century Northumbrian poem de Abbatibus, (Song of the Abbots), written by Æthelwulf (Ædiluulf), and dedicated to Ecgberht, the bishop of Lindisfarne, AD 803–21. Among the verses describing the interior of an unidentified monastic church dependent on Lindisfarne, are the lines:

haec est illa domus, porrectis edita muris,

quam sol per uitreas illustrans candidus oras,

limpiad prenitido diffundit lumina templo’

[This is the house lofty and with long walls, which the shining sun illuminates through glass windows, diffusing soft light in the bright church.]

According to the late Dr Alistair Campbell, (1907–1974), one-time Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford (1963–74), these words are too close to those of the earlier poem to be accepted completely at face value. Aldhelm’s work was certainly known to Æthelwulf and some parts of it were borrowed wholesale by the Northumbrian monk. Could that ‘borrowing’ have also applied to the descriptions of the glass? As Dr Campbell explains, ‘when phrases are borrowed from older works, are the facts they demonstrate borrowed also, or were the phrases borrowed because the facts had repeated themselves?’

Roger Rosewell


Special thanks to Professor Rosemary Cramp; Professor Ian Freestone; Professor Martin Biddle; Dr Sonja Marzinzik (British Museum); Dr Sven Spiong, Stadtarchäologe, Paderborn; Dr Antonella Sveva Gai; Dr Francesca Dell’Aqua (University of Salerno), and Geoff Denford (Winchester City Museum service). I am also grateful to Dr Joseph Spooner for the first two Latin translations. Thanks also to Julie Heathcote and Anthony Hindmarch (Sunderland City Council).


List of GB sites with Anglo-Saxon window glass

Examples of Anglo-Saxon window glass from the seventh to the eleventh centuries have now been found at 17 sites. Those in England seem widely spread, with the notable exception of Kent. Twelve of the sites are ecclesiastical. The full list is:

Barking (Essex), a monastery founded in the seventh century; Beverley (Yorkshire), a monastery; Brandon (Suffolk) possibly an ecclesiastical site and certainly possessing a church; Brixworth (Northamptonshire), a monastery; Escomb (Co. Durham), a church; Dacre (Cumbria), a monastery existing by the eighth century; Flixborough (Lincolnshire), at one stage a monastery, at another a high status manor; Glastonbury (Somerset), a monastery; Hamwic (modern day Southampton) (Hampshire), urban site; Old Windsor (Berkshire), a royal palace; Repton (Derbyshire) a monastery; Thetford (Norfolk) urban site; Uley (Gloucestershire), a Roman shrine rather than an Anglo-Saxon church; Wearmouth and Jarrow a ‘twin monastery’; Whitby (Yorkshire) a double monastery; Whithorn ( Dumfries and Galloway) ecclesiastical site; Winchester (Hampshire) an episcopal site. Source: R. Cramp (2001 p. 69).

Further information about the Wearmouth Jarrow World Heritage Site bid

The Wearmouth-Jarrow partnership is a consortium of public bodies in the north east of England backed by the UK government and English Heritage. For more information about its campaign to have the monastic sites designated as World Heritage sites see the Wearmouth-Jarrow website.

For further Information about the Bede’s World museum (and its excellent shop) see the Bede’s World website.

Further Reading

The literature is extensive. For additional reading see: Marks 1993 and Cramp 2006.

  • M. Biddle and J. R. Hunter, ‘Early Medieval Window Glass’, in M. Biddle (ed.) Object and Economy in Medieval Winchester, 2 vols, Winchester Studies 7, Oxford, 1990, vol.1, pp. 350 – 386
  • A. Campbell, (ed), Aethelwulf de Abbatibus, Oxford, 1967, p. xxxi
  • R. Cramp, ‘Appendix 1: The Window Glass’, in M. Pocock and H. Wheeler, ‘Excavations at Escomb Church, County Durham’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 3rd series, Vol. XXXIV 1971, pp. 26–28
  • R. Cramp, ‘Window glass from the British Isles 7th-10th centuries’, in Il colore nel Medioevo arte, simbolo, tecnica la vetrata in Occidente dal IV all’XI secolo atti delle giornate di studi, Lucca, 23–24–25 settembre 1999, Dell’Acqua, F. & Silva, R. Lucca: Istituto storico lucchese. Collana di studi sul colore 3: 2001, pp, 67–85. Good overview article.
  • R. Cramp, G. Bettess, and F. Bettess, Wearmouth and Jarrow Monastic Sites, 2 vols, English Heritage, 2006. This includes an extensive bibliography, including the works of the author.
  • F. Dell ‘Acqua, ‘Enhancing Luxury through Stained Glass, from Asia Minor to Italy’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 59, 2005, pp. 193–211
  • C. R. Dodwell, Anglo-Saxon Art: A New Perspective, Manchester, 1982, pp 63–64; 263–4
  • R. Ehwald (ed). Aldhelmi Opera Omnia, Berlin, 1919, pp. 17–18. The volume contains Aldhelm’s collected writings.
  • V. I. Evison, Catalogue of Anglo-Saxon Glass in the British Museum, edited by Sonja Marzinzik, with contributions from I. C. Freestone, M. J Hughes and C. P. Stapleton, British Museum Research Publication 167, London, 2008
  • I. C. Freestone, ‘Glass production in Late Antiquity and the Early Islamic period: a geochemical perspective’, Geomaterials in Cultural Heritage. Geological Society of London Special Publication, 257, 2006, pp. 201–216
  • I. C. Freestone and M. J. Hughes, ‘Origins of the Jarrow glass’, in R. Cramp, Wearmouth and Jarrow Monastic Sites Vol. 2 English Heritage, 2006, pp. 147–155
  • I. C. Freestone, M. J. Hughes and C. P. Stapleton, ‘The Composition and Production of Anglo-Saxon Glass’, in Vera I. Evison. Catalogue of Anglo-Saxon Glass in the British Museum, edited by Sonja Marzinzik, with contributions from Ian C. Freestone, Michael J. Hughes and Colleen P. Stapleton, British Museum Research Publication 167, 2008: 29–46
  • D.B. Harden, ‘Domestic window glass: Roman, Saxon and Medieval’, in E.M. Jope (ed), Studies in Building History, London, 1961, pp. 44–52
  • J. Hunter, ‘The Glass’ in P. Everson, ‘Excavations in the Vicarage Garden at Brixworth, 1972’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, Vol. Cxxx, 1977, pp. 104–107
  • W. Levison, England and the Continent in the Eighth Century, Oxford, 1946, pp. 295–302
  • R. Marks, Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages, Toronto, 1993, pp. 105 – 140
  • B. J. Muir and A. J. Turner (eds), Vita Sancti Wilfridi auctore Edmero: The Life of Saint Wilfrid by Edmer, Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies., Exeter, 1998
  • C. Plummer (ed), Historia Abbatum auctore beda in Venerabilis Baedae Opera Historica, 2 vols, Oxford 1896
  • L. Webster and J. Backhouse, The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon Culture AD 600–900. Exhibition catalogue, The British Museum, London, 1991, pp 138–9, no. 105a

‘With a Little Help From my Friends’: The Restoration of the Fairford Windows

Over the past four years Vidimus has often carried stories about the stained glass windows of the parish church of St Mary’s at Fairford (Gloucestershire), the most complete set of any church in England and one of the most important glazing schemes in England, if not in Europe.

Last month saw the completion of a twenty-five year campaign by the people of this small parish to conserve and protect all twenty eight windows; itself another remarkable achievement.

To celebrate this event, Vidimus spoke to Denys Hodson, the chairman of the Friends of Fairford church, about the history and highlights of their campaign. 

Langley Berry with a fund raising ‘plate’. Image courtesy of Mrs J. Berry

Fig. 1. Langley Berry with a fund raising ‘plate’. Image courtesy of Mrs J. Berry

’The story began 30 years ago’, he said, ‘when the then vicar, Douglas Bell Richards, asked a local retired businessman, Langley Berry (1918–2009), if he would lead a fund-raising group for the care for the church. It was an astute choice as Langley was a remarkable man, serving as a Chindit in Burma during WWII before eventually becoming a director of ICI, then one of Britain’s largest companies. He was also the ‘recycling’ advisor to Margaret Thatcher; a prescient appointment. The Friends were formed in 1982 with Langley as chairman. The locally based Ernest Cook Trust donated £10,000 to get us off to a good start. [Fig. 1]

The generosity of the Trust on this, and subsequent occasions, can never be understated. Its founder, Ernest Cook (1865–1955), was the grandson of Thomas Cook of travel agency fame, and had been a one man National Trust during his lifetime, buying historic estates to protect them from inappropriate redevelopments and giving substantial donations to heritage projects. One of the best known examples of his philanthropy occurred in 1928 when the stained glass from Ashridge Park was put up for sale. Among its treasures were numerous early sixteenth-century panels from two German abbeys, Steinfeld and Mariawald. Acting anonymously until his death in 1955, Cook bought the entire collection at auction and gave it to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London where they can be admired today.  

John Malleson. Fig. 2. John Malleson.

Fortunately for us the HQ of the Trust is based in Fairford Park, just north of the church, and its chief executive at the time was one of the church wardens at St Mary’s. John Malleson was another remarkable man whose contribution to our campaign was enormous. In many ways he can best be described as the project manager for most of the restoration work. [Fig. 2]

At first the Friends thought they would do what all such organisations do – repair the roof!! But everything changed when the CVMA scholar, Hilary Wayment (1912–2005), came to Fairford to write the first modern study of the windows (See Further Reading, Ed). The Ernest Cook Trust subsequently financed the publication of his book. The interest Hilary aroused, together with a visit from Michael Archer, a specialist in stained glass from the Victoria & Albert museum who warned that the windows were in a fragile condition, prompted the Friends to stop pondering roofs and to start thinking about windows.

Armed with our seed-corn funding from the Ernest Cook Trust and some other gifts, we drew up a shortlist of conservators. Our choice was Keith Barley and his brief was unequivocal: ‘to make the windows legible again’. A subtext to this aim was the removal of the grey stippled glass which had been used by previous repairers to infill missing parts of windows and replacing them with painted inserts which restored the windows to something approaching their original appearance. The vicar was adamant. He wanted a church that worshippers and visitors could enjoy; not spend a fortune on preserving a ‘museum’ of unsightly repairs.

At the outset Langley thought the project would take ten years and cost half a million pounds. He was hopelessly wrong about the timings but absolutely spot-on about the costs!

I had lived in Fairford since 1970 but only formally joined the friends in 1992. My father, and his before him, had been Cotswold parsons and when I retired I was serving as the vice-chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain. I had also held a senior post in the local authority of Swindon (Wiltshire), so caring for glass came naturally to me. Among my responsibilities was the wellbeing of Lydiard Park, a publicly-owned country house and park with a fine church attached. Both house and church have exquisite windows by the seventeenth-century Dutch stained glass painter, Abraham van Linge, and I was involved in the conservation of a particularly beautiful example of his work in the main house.

Much of the history of our campaign involved fund raising. It is impossible to name and thank personally all the individuals who contributed money, time, and enthusiasm, but little could have been achieved without them. We tried everything: garden picnics, coffee mornings, plant sales, even brewing, selling and consuming home made wine! We produced mugs, bookmarks, Christmas cards, and plates. We held lectures, some chaired by the local best-selling author, Joanna Trollope, and musical concerts in the church, one famously supported by the Prince of Wales.

The more we did ourselves the better the chance that we could persuade corporate donors to contribute to our campaign. The Ernest Cook Trust remained generous. Other gifts came from various business contacts of Langley’s, the Worshipful Company of Glaziers, one of the Sainsbury family trusts, the Historic Churches Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the District Council and numerous local residents, businesses and visitors. But without the extraordinary generosity of two local residents who provided annual gifts totalling well over six figures the project would have taken far longer.  

Barbara Scott (left) and Pamela Dugdale (right) working for the Red Cross during WWII. Image courtesy of Mr Sam Dugdale

Fig. 3. Barbara Scott (left) and Pamela Dugdale (right) working for the Red Cross during WWII. Image courtesy of Mr Sam Dugdale

Until now the identity of these donors has remained anonymous. But now that they are dead I think it is time that their generosity should be publically acknowledged. Pamela Dugdale OBE ( 1911–2001) and her friend, Barbara Scott (1910–2006), were two very special women who appreciated beautiful things and made a superb garden at their home in Fairford. We will always remember them. [Fig. 3]

Keith Barley began work in 1987. The first window he restored was No 17 ( nIX by CVMA numbering – Ed) in the north west corner of the church. Here, and in every subsequent window, he also installed a protective internally ventilated system which allows air to circulate around the glass thus preventing the build up of condensation which can be so damaging to the paintwork of the windows. From this window he went to window 1 (nV) where the story of Adam and Eve launches an extensive cycle of picture windows encompassing the Infancy, Passion and Resurrection of Christ, thereafter methodically working his way round the eastern end of the church before tackling the clerestory, then the west window, and finally the nave windows showing apostles on the south side and prophets and evangelists on the north. For much of this time he was assisted by two superb glass painters, initially Harry Harvey, latterly Helen Whittaker. [Fig. 4 ]

The first window, window 17: St John, St Luke, St Mark, St Matthew

Fig. 4. The first window, window 17: St John, St Luke, St Mark, St Matthew

Many people deserve mention for their help at other levels of the campaign. Professor Richard Marks proved an invaluable academic advisor. A local resident, Kenneth Munn, a retired physics master from Haileybury school, immersed himself into the windows and wrote guides and reinstituted guided tours. Sarah Brown and Lindsay Macdonald edited excellent books about the windows.  

Helen Whittaker, Denys Hodson, Keith Barley. Image courtesy of Jonathan Stebbing

Fig. 5. Helen Whittaker, Denys Hodson, Keith Barley. Image courtesy of Jonathan Stebbing

On June 13 Keith took a Question and Answer session at the church to coincide with the completion of the campaign. Deservedly he received a standing ovation at the end of the evening. Like others I will never forget his skill, commitment and friendship. A possibility we are exploring is whether we can publish some of the discoveries that he made as he worked so intimately with every window. [Fig. 5]

Sadly Langley Berry died in December 2009 and so did not see the completion of the campaign he started. Pamela Dugdale and Barbara Scott were also missed.

But as some pass, others arrive. Today the church has a good rota of volunteers who ensure that we can open it to the public every day between 10 am and 5pm in the summer and 10 am and 4pm in the winter and be on hand to answer peoples’ questions about the windows. Geoff and Jane Hawkes, secretaries respectively to the Friends and to the Parochial Church Council of St Mary’s, are typical of those who came later but who will go further in cherishing these wonderful windows for future generations.”

Finally we asked Denys which of the windows was his favourite. 

Dioscurus (?), window 27.

Fig. 6. Dioscurus (?), window 27.

‘NIII, window 27 in the clerestory’, he replied. ‘Together with its neighbours it shows some full-length figures of ‘Persecutors’ of the church’. Among these figures is a man wearing a kettle hat and holding the severed head of a young woman with long blonde hair. I have always been intrigued by the colour of his face – there is nothing like it anywhere else in the church. According to Hilary Wayment, he may be a representation of Dioscurus, a pagan satrap or governor of the ancient province of Bithynia (approximately modern central-northern Turkey –Ed), who beheaded his daughter St Barbara for her Christian faith, whereupon he was immediately struck down by heavenly lightening and consumed by fire, hence his red face!’. [Fig. 6]


Additional thanks to Joyce Berry, Sam Dugdale, Alison Hobson, Jennifer Sandford, Elizabeth Scott and Jonathan Stebbing.

Further Reading

  • S. Brown and L. MacDonald, Fairford Parish Church: A Medieval Church and its Stained Glass, Stroud, 1997, revised edition 2007
  • H. Wayment, The Stained Glass of the Church of St Mary, Fairford, Gloucestershire, Society of Antiquaries of London Occasional Papers (new series), V, 1984
  • H. Wayment, ‘The Glaziers’ Sorting Marks at Fairford’, in P. Moore (ed.), Crown in Glory: A Celebration of Craftsmanship – Studies in Stained Glass, Norwich, 1982, pp. 23–28
  • The Fairford glazing is contextualised in terms of English medieval stained glass generally in R. Marks, Stained Glass in England During the Middle Ages, London, 1993


  • K. Barley (interview), ‘New Discovery of Rare Painting Technique at St Mary’s, Fairford’, Vidimus, 19

Heather Gilderdale Scott, ‘Christ Carrying the Cross to Calvary: east window, church of St Mary, Fairford, Gloucestershire (c.1500–1515)’, Vidimus, 9

Comments are closed.