Harry the glasyer of Rye: making and replacing stained glass in churches on the Kent and Sussex borders in the sixteenth century
Gill Draper, FSA, FRHistS
Events and Development Officer, the British Association for Local History
This paper was originally given at the Warwick Parish Symposium in 2012. The photographs were taken by Terry Burke and Stephen Draper.
Churchwardens’ accounts and a will reveal aspects of parish life in the work of a sixteenth-century glazier at Rye in East Sussex in the south of England whose existence otherwise seems barely known. These sources also provide contexts for the survival of striking stained glass in the locality where Harry worked, and for glass-painting as an expression of contemporary religious practice.
Rye, initially a limb and then a full member of the Cinque Ports federation, was a small but important regional market town until the mid- to late fourteenth century, and then again from the late fifteenth century. This role depended on its promotion by its Norman overlord, Fécamp Abbey; on its favourable location, with ease of access to its English hinterlands and locations on the other side of the Channel; and its proximity to resources for trade and craft activity [Fig. 1]. Rye lay close to the most important centre of glass-making in medieval England, the Wealden forest of Sussex, Surrey and Kent, with its abundance of materials: sand (the raw material of glass), beech wood ash (used to lower the temperature at which the sand become liquid glass), and charcoal (to fuel the furnaces). Glass was also made in Lyons-la-Forêt in upper Normandy from at least the early fourteenth century and was exported via Rouen or the port of Fécamp. The industry is well known in the western Weald, but hardly at all in East Sussex or at Rye itself. Nevertheless the bailiffs’ accounts for the town in 1343–45 reveal one Paganus le veriere among the assorted craftsmen working there. Veriers at this period were workers in glass or glaziers; they were usually to be found in towns and often originated from the Low Countries. Veriers are however not at all common in medieval urban records, certainly in south-east England; only three have been found for Kent and East Sussex a Paganus in Rye, and two who were admitted as freemen of Canterbury between 1299 and 1312. These three all fall into Richard Marks’s category of minor town glaziers and we certainly do not have any contracts revealing their activities at large or prestigious minsters, churches or royal chapels. Two points are worth making here however: since they were townsmen, they were not themselves manufacturers of glass in the Wealden forest; instead, they would have used the white glass produced by such forest glass-makers, together with imported coloured glass, lead and decorative techniques, to make stained glass. It is obvious why Canterbury, with its exceptional and early glazing schemes, had such glaziers, and in fact it is not surprising that Rye had at least one glazier in the fourteenth century.
Rye parish church was built after the Conquest by Fécamp Abbey, its architecture reflecting in a small way the magnificence of the abbey [Fig. 2]. It was a church befitting its urban location, quite different from those of the small surrounding rural parishes, and built to high standards, with a central tower, crossing and transepts, large aisles to both the nave and chancel, and clerestory windows. All the windows in the aisles were renewed in the fourteenth century, exactly the kind of work Paganus is likely to have carried out in this, his home town. In the early fifteenth century, the clerestory and east windows were renewed, but then no glazing work was carried out until the early years of the sixteenth century. This period of inactivity and the disappearance of craftsmen such as veriers from the Rye records is paralleled by the loss of all trades and crafts in the town from the late fourteenth century. Some crafts, such as leather-processing, ship- and house-building, were revived from the late fifteenth century. Glass-makers are similarly absent from the records for the fifteenth century in the western Weald, and many historians of the glass industry from the mid-twentieth century onwards were inclined to associate its revival with the arrival of immigrant Huguenot glaziers in the 1560s and 1570s.
Evidence from Lydd, a town and large parish in Kent seven miles to the east of Rye across the county border, shows that there at least the demand for new windows grew from the 1450s [Fig. 3]; by the 1520s this was supplied by a glazier from Rye, usually the Harry under consideration here. Like Rye, Lydd was a small town and a member of the Cinque Ports confederation [Fig. 4], as a limb of its head port New Romney. The lord and rector was the archbishop of Canterbury. Lydd’s exceptionally large church is known as the cathedral of the marshes. The nave and aisles were greatly extended, and the tower built, in the 1440s. Contributions towards this came from the wealthy butcher-graziers who lived in the town but had profitable interests in its marsh hinterlands; they had built up these interests during decades of controversial changes in landholding and agricultural production here after the Black Death (1348–49). These men formed the civic elite and marked out their contributions to the church with devices such as shields bearing their initials on the corbels of the new nave roof. The Lydd corporation and various individuals made bequests specifically for windows between 1451 and 1501. In 1494, John Aylwyn commissioned a striking new window in the chapel of St Mary featuring the names of eight family members. It was to centre on Sir Andrew Aylwyn, vicar of Lydd, who had been a key figure in helping Archbishop Henry Chichele (1364–1443) build up a substantial landholding around Lydd, which he then transferred to All Souls College Oxford in c.1440. Two further windows were made in 1526 and 1536. Regarding the building works and new windows at Lydd between the 1450s and 1530s, I would concur with Postles, that they may be an ambitious urban gentry’s expressions of ‘social display and social honour’, rather than with Duffy, that they represented a community’s efforts to throw ‘a mantle of holy peace and charity’ over a town that was divided from the mid-fifteenth century onwards by rivalries and strife, particularly between the Bates butcher-grazier family, the vicar Andrew Aylwyn, and the townsfolk.
Let us turn now to Harry the glazier. Between 1520 and 1559, the Lydd churchwardens’ accounts record substantial payments to glaziers. They fall into four categories: mending, new glazing, the removal of windows in 1547–48 and their replacement with plain glass, and finally the reinstatement of a small amount of glass during Mary’s reign. The glaziers were not named in every year, but the entries indicate that there were two, both effectively on yearly contracts. Until 1535, the glazier was George Slewse (or Sluys or Schlowsh), the various spellings of his name perhaps indicating an origin in the Low Countries. George is recorded as mending the church windows. In 1526 however the new glazing of two windows, needing 20ft of glass, was desired, and a different glazier, specified as coming from Rye, was called in. Nine years later, George, who had been doing the mending again, was ‘warnyd[?] out of service’ (given notice) with a 20d. pay-off, and was permanently replaced by the glazier of Rye, whose name is given as Harry or Henry. Harry spent the next two years (1536 and 1537) carrying out further expensive new glazing on various windows, including the west window, which also required some new stonework. One of the new windows, in the chancel, probably contained an image of the Virgin Mary, to which her fraternity contributed part of the cost of 13s. 4d. The replacement of George by Harry the glazier indicates quite clearly that the Lydd parishioners required a man who could supply expensive and important new windows and not just mend them. The wardens’ description of Harry as a glazier of Rye probably drew on the earlier tradition of glass-making there, but what was the extent of his role? He may simply have organized the provision of the materials (white and coloured glass, lead), design, glass-painting, and overseen coordination with the stonemason and installation of the windows. In addition, he may have had some involvement in making plain glass at a location in Playden parish, between Rye and Lydd, where his will, discussed below, records that his property included a pit, and where he sub-let part of one of his tenements to a mason.
Ten years later, in 1547, the windows of Lydd church were broken and Harry was paid to mend them, a simple statement in the accounts glossing over much in a deadpan style. In 1548, the wardens ‘received £7 8d for goods of the church viz. tabernacles Images tables bords brasse iron wex leade pewter old hangings and Curtaynis with diverse other thynges by them sold’. It is likely that the words tabernacles and images covered window glass, including saints depicted under canopies, which were known as tabernacles. In that same year, Harry and his three men were paid for three days’ work on the church windows, presumably taking out images; the windows were then boarded up. Over the next two years, Harry was paid large sums for what was described as glazing and mending the windows, undoubtedly the insertion of plain glass. The people of Lydd took a pragmatic approach to the changes to parish churches dictated to them. Although there was some attachment to traditional practices among the townsfolk, there was no apparent determination to pursue them when they were forbidden; the little anxiety expressed in the Lydd accounts about changes in religious practices is reflected only by the recording, in the 1548 accounts, of five old wills of the 1520s with provisions for repairs to the church. When instructions came to re-edify churches under Mary, the wardens simply asked Harry to set up the glass over the rood loft and renew it where broken, and put in 6½ft of (new) glass for the little windows of the steeple, at 7d. the foot. All this was in sharp contrast to Harry’s home town of Rye, which in late 1530s had become ‘the most precociously Protestant town in East Sussex’. There the churchwardens’ accounts of 1547 and 1548 include a rant about ‘the iii tables that the idolles stood [on] in the Hiegh Aulter’ and talk of cleansing the chancel of popery; the reintroduction of the mass in 1554 produced a riot in the church.
In 1549, Harry also removed the images in glass for the nearby Wealden parishes of Hawkhurst and Smarden. Hawkhurst was a large parish and church that lay at a nodal point on the route from Rye towards London, but Smarden was some distance further away, in the High Weald. At Smarden Harry was paid for putting in 103ft of glass, presumably replacement plain glass. At Hawkhurst ‘old glass’ was sold to two men, 8d. worth to James Donck, and 43ft to Robert Mercer. Harry was paid the very large amount of £4 5s. 8d. for all his work in replacing it, and Edmond Robert who supplied him with glass received £6 5d. ‘for 2 chests of glass containing 84 ‘bouches’ at 18d the bouche’. The antiquarian Richard Kilburne later said that his home parish of Hawkhurst had in fact retained much good glass until the Puritan iconoclasm of the 1640s. This was perhaps mostly the heraldic or family glass which was such a feature of Kent, a county of numerous ‘lesser landholders’. Some medieval stained glass in parishes on the Kent/Sussex border survived even this second round of iconoclasm, and may be seen, for example, at Sandhurst (Kent) and Ticehurst (East Sussex) [Figs 5–7].
Nearby Etchingham Church has a stylistically very similar fragment of a doom image, so it may have been by the same glass-painter, and the windows at these two churches may have been protected from destruction in both periods of iconoclasm because they were strongly linked to the knightly Etchingham family. Etchingham Church was the family mausoleum, and the parish was carved out of Ticehurst when Sir William Etchingham built his moated manor house there in the late fourteenth century. At Salehurst, another adjacent parish, there are exceptional examples of birds in stained glass, which, as Marks has pointed out, may have been copied from a glass-painter’s collection of drawings of the late fourteenth century. The birds may have escaped destruction both by being both inoffensive with regards religion and part of a window commissioned by a local patron. At any rate these images give us some idea of what iconoclasts broke or wardens had removed by men like Harry. The last we hear of Harry in accounts is that, with one Peter Glacier, he put some heraldic glass in the windows of Rye church in 1562, the year before his death.
Harry was named ‘Henry Harry glacier of Rye’ by the writer of his will and testament, which were made in February 1563. Harry had a wife, two daughters (one married, one single), and a son, Benjamin, who was under the age of 21. The bequests of his moveable goods and other property accord with other evidence that he was a man of some means in Rye. No mention is made of his Rye house, but he also had a house in the town of Hythe, another member of the Cinque Ports confederation, on the far side of Romney Marsh. This Hythe house was to be sold, and the profits divided between his wife Jane and his unmarried daughter Ellen. Jane was to bring up the son Benjamin, who was to receive £10 cash and Harry’s best and middle tenements, houses and gardens in Playden, together with two pieces of land in Halton Green in that parish. Playden was the next parish to Rye along the only road out of town, which then led on northwards through Peasmarsh to Beckley and Northiam parishes, where other people’s glass-making operations were based.
There are two surprises in Harry’s will: the first that he was French, and the second that it was not his son Benjamin who was followed him into the glazier’s craft, but his nephew, Andrew, the son of Harry’s brother Michael who lived in Picardy in France. Harry was in fact part of the 3% of Rye’s population who were aliens in the mid-sixteenth century; indeed, specialist alien craftsmen are documented in the town from 1436. But Harry, and subsequently his nephew Andrew, were the only glaziers there in the middle decades of the sixteenth century. They may have made the plain glass that Harry supplied to churches at Playden (where he had the property with a pit, and a tenement, of which part was leased to a mason), or simply bought in glass from the Beckley or Northiam glasshouses. As and when Harry and Andrew needed coloured glass for the houses of Rye’s thriving merchants, which were being updated at this time, they may have sourced it from glass-makers across the Channel.
Harry’s bequests to his son – who was not being brought up to be a glazier – included ‘a great orchard’ in Playden; this may suggest that Benjamin was going into the production of fruit, an important part of the bill of fare for the government officials and foreign ambassadors entertained in Rye in this period. Not all other members of the Harry/Henry family in Rye were glaziers: Harry had apparently had another relative in Rye: Allen Harry, otherwise known as Allein Henri (or Henry). Allen had been present since at least 1565 and was known as a French merchant in 1577. That same year, Harry’s nephew, Andrew, was recorded in the town assessment as a glazier and it was noted that he also was French. Andrew lived next door to Mathew Flory, a French surgeon and poticiary. Harry’s will reveals that Matthew was married to Harry’s daughter Mary. Members of the Harry/Henry family seem not to have sought to become denizens. Aliens from France and Flanders were in fact a very long-established part of the Rye scene: in 1563, around the time of Harry’s death, the first of the French religious refugees arrived in the town, to be followed by hundreds of Huguenots from Dieppe and Rouen in the 1570s. They found relatives and friends already settled there, their beliefs sat happily with the town’s lively Protestantism, and they set up a French church. The glass industry was a cross-Channel one, though not big in this locality; in the 1570s however cases of glass were being both imported and exported through Rye [Fig. 8], and broken glass was brought in, presumably for recycling in the local glasshouses. The fact that Michael Harry, who was Harry’s brother and Andrew’s father, lived just across the Channel no doubt facilitated the trade. Harry had been working at Lydd since about 1526, and his activities indicate that we cannot simply assume that glass-making and glazing were entirely separate in East Sussex, nor that it was the sudden arrival of immigrants in the 1560s and 1570s that changed and boosted the glass industry.
Lydd and Rye churches were not cathedrals or minsters like Canterbury and York, but they demonstrated the urbanity of the towns in the Cinque Ports confederation, which was vitally important to the inhabitants’ self-respect. Where the local lord was a major religious figure or institution such as the archbishop of Canterbury or Fécamp Abbey, his influence was expressed in its natural sphere, church architecture. The existence of a verier in fourteenth-century Rye and the surviving glass from surrounding parishes casts light on the ambitions of local knightly families, who also uses glass, stonework, brasses and architecture to express their status. At Lydd in particular this was re-expressed in the fifteenth century by the townsmen in ‘projects that adapted or replaced work of previous generations’. Furthermore, churchwardens’ accounts and the activity of the glaziers George, Harry and Andrew reveal how the changes wrought by the Reformation fit into a the general pattern in this area of church architecture.
1. G. Kenyon, The Glass Industry of the Weald, Leicester, 1967, p. 12.
2. D. Crossley, ‘Iron and Glass Industries’, in K. Leslie and B. Short (eds), An Historical Atlas of Sussex, with maps by S. Rowland, Chichester, 1999, pp. 62–63, here p. 63.
3. G. Draper, with contributions by D. Martin, B. Martin and A. Tyler, Rye: a History of a Sussex Cinque Port to 1660, Chichester, 2009, pp. 74, 216.
4. The term verier/verrier/vereour/la verriere is found occasionally in urban records from the late twelfth century, and defined by the online Middle English Dictionary as a worker in glass or a glazier, or (later) a member of the glaziers’ company; http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/m/mec/med-idx?type=id&id=MED50994, accessed 14 January 2013.
5. S. Thrupp and H. Johnston, ‘The earliest Canterbury Freemen’s rolls, 1298-1363’, in F. Du Boulay (ed.), Documents illustrative of medieval Kentish Society, Kent Records 18, Ashford, 1964, pp. 46, 174–76, 178, 182, 195.
6. R. Marks, Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages, Toronto/London, 1993, p. 41.
7. D. Martin, B. Martin, J. Clubb and G. Draper, Rye Rebuilt: Regeneration and Decline within a Sussex Cinque Port Town, 1350-1660, Romney Marsh Research Trust, 2009, pp. 64–65.
8. L. F. Salzman (ed.), The Victoria History of the County of Sussex, IX, London, 1937, p. 57. Although the stonework and leading of the west window were heavily repaired in the Victorian period and later, some of the tracery may be original medieval material; personal communication from Terry Burke, formerly Chair of the Friends of Rye Church.
9. Property transactions recorded in the town court books of 1651 to 1661 give occupations, including glazier; see Draper, Rye (op. cit. n. 3), pp. 83–85.
10. E. Godfrey, The Development of English Glassmaking 1560-1640, Oxford, 1975, pp. 31–34, 179; Kenyon, Glass Industry (op. cit. n. 1), pp. 113, 210–12; E. Edwards, ‘Interpretations of the Influence of Immigrant Populations in Kent in the 16th and 17th centuries’, Archaeologia Cantiana, cxxii (2002), pp. 275–92, here p. 286.
11. A. Finn (ed.), Records of Lydd translated and transcribed by Arthur Hussey and M. M. Hardy, Ashford, 1911, pp. xviii–xix.
12. T. Bellinger and G. Draper, ‘“My boddye shall lye with my name Engraven on it”’: remembering the Godfrey family of Lydd, Kent’, in M. Waller, E. Edwards and L. Barber (eds), Romney Marsh: persistence and change in a coastal lowland, Romney Marsh Research Trust, 2010, pp. 117–40, here p. 122.
13. G. Draper, ‘Literacy and its transmission in the Romney Marsh area c.1150-1550’, doctoral thesis, University of Kent, 2004, p. 196.
14. D. Postles, ‘Some Ambiguities Of Late Medieval Religion In England’, 1998, http://sas-space.sas.ac.uk/view/subjects/HIS.html#group_P, accessed 6 May 2012; E. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c.1400- 1580, New Haven, 1992, p.137; S. Dimmock, ‘English small towns and the emergence of capitalist relations, c.1450-1550’, Urban History, xxviii/1 (2001), pp. 5–24, here pp. 18–19; Bellinger and Draper, ‘My boddye’ (op. cit. n. 12), pp. 128–29; Finn, Records of Lydd (op. cit. n. 11), pp. xix–xx. The urban government of Lydd and the inhabitants of the surrounding rural area were antagonistic towards men such as Andrew Aylwyn, whose actions helped to bring about the changes in landholding and agricultural practices in the 1430s–1460s; Draper, ‘Literacy’ (op. cit. n. 13), p. 140.
15. The Lydd churchwardens’ accounts were printed by Finn in Records of Lydd (op. cit. n. 11), pp. 328–427. The printed version of the accounts were used here since the record office was closed for the construction of the Kent History Centre and Library.
16. Marks, Stained Glass (op. cit. n. 6), p. 49, figs 60, 82. Glass could be sold as whole windows if buyers were available, or in broken pieces for reuse in furnaces.
17. G. Draper and F. Meddens, The Sea and the Marsh: the Medieval Cinque Port of New Romney revealed through archaeological excavations and historical research, Pre-Construct Archaeology Monograph 10, 2009, pp. 56–57; cf. G. Mayhew, Tudor Rye, Brighton, 1987, p. 67.
18. Finn, Records of Lydd (op. cit. n. 11), pp. 400–402.
19. R. Lutton, ‘Geographies and Materialities of Piety’, in R. Lutton and E. Salter (eds), Pieties in transition: Religious practices and Experiences in transition c.1400-1640, Aldershot, 2007, pp. 11–39, here p. 19. This development provoked dispute among the members of the town council and body of freemen; Mayhew, Tudor Rye (op. cit. n. 17), pp. 60–68.
20. Mayhew, Tudor Rye (op. cit. n. 17), pp. 69–70.
21. F. Haslewood, ‘Notes from the records of Smarden Church’, Archaeologia Cantiana, ix (1874), pp. 224–35, here p. 227.
22. W. Lightfoot, ‘Notes from the records of Hawkhurst Church’, Archaeologia Cantiana, v (1863), pp. 55–86.
23. C. Councer, Lost Glass from Kent Churches: a collection of Records from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century, Kent Record Society, XXII, Maidstone, 1980, p. 63 (citing R. Kilburne, A Topographie or Survey of the County of Kent, London, 1659, pp. 126–30).
24. B. Webster, ‘The Community of Kent in the reign of Richard II’, Archaeologia Cantiana c (1984), pp. 217–29, here p. 217; Lightfoot, ‘Hawkhurst’, p. 59 n. 2.
25. Marks, Stained Glass (op. cit. n. 6), pp. 31–32, fig. 24b; R. Rosewell, ‘The Pepysian Sketchbook’, Vidimus, no. 54, accessed 14 January 2013.
26. Councer, Lost Glass (op. cit. n. 23), p. 79 (citing information from the local historian L. Vidler, who said that Henry Glacier and Peter Glacier appear in Rye churchwarden’s accounts in 1562 and Peter again in 1563 ‘for making two panes with arms in the glass and other work, at a cost of 8s 1d.’)
27. It was proved on 14 March 1563 (NS), TNA PROB 11/45.
28. In March 1579, the Beckley glass-house was the subject of a dispute, which suggests it was sold at this time. Two workers there (one a local man, the other a Huguenot immigrant from Lorraine) made depositions before the mayor of Rye in a suit between John Smyth, citizen and glazier of London, and Sebastian Orlanden of Venice. The two workers deposed that one Godfraye Delahay had sold John Smyth all the goods, materials and tools for making glass beads [bugles], amells and coloured glass at Beckley, and one Stephen Duvall, a Frenchman of London, deposed that Orlanden should have one third of these goods; East Sussex Record Office, RYE/47/20/11. The second of the glass-workers at Beckley, from Lorraine, was named Sondaye Exanta, his forename suggesting he was among the c.1500 Huguenot refugees in Rye between 1572 and 1590; Mayhew, Tudor Rye (op. cit. n. 17), pp. 82–83. Kenyon discusses these two glasshouses; Glass Industry (op. cit. n. 1), pp. 113, 210–12. Important points are the amount of wood they used, and how easily operations could be moved as wood ran out; it is perfectly possible that one also operated in Playden. There was a glasshouse near Rye that began shipping English window glass to London in 1574; Godfrey, English Glassmaking (op. cit. n. 10), p. 35.
29. In the Rye civic records the names are usually anglicised, as in the will.
30. Mayhew, Tudor Rye (op. cit. n. 17), pp. 33–34, 48, 277.
31. Kenyon, Glass Industry (op. cit. n. 1), pp. 112–13.
32. P. Binski, Becket’s Crown: Art and Imagination in Gothic England 1170-1300, New Haven (CT)/London, 2004, p. 289.