Stained Glass

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The elder Lockwood's memorial window at St Johns. The symbolism is "masonic" - pillars labled "Boaz" and "Jachim" and a tiled "square" on the floor. As a rather clever touch, the plans which he holds in his hand are based on those of St John's drawm by Randle Holme. In Masonic myth Hiram was the architect of Solomon's Temple (notional dates 970 to 931 BCE). See the page on St Johns for a spooky story about this window.

The earliest manufacture of glass probably occurred in Mesopotamia during the early part of the third millennium BC. Early glass finds consist of relatively crude beads usually formed by winding softened glass around a metal wire. They are blue and green suggesting that the earliest glass was used to replace or evoke semiprecious stones such as lapis lazuli and turquoise.

Although glass is an ancient material, the Romans appear to have been the first to use glass in windows. Prior to this glass was known only in jewelry and articles like bottles, of which there was a significant use expansion in the early first century following the development of glass blowing techniques. Early Roman vessels were probably restricted to high value items like perfume and other cosmetic containers, with tableware only coming along when use became more widespread. Roman glass may have found its way as far north as Cheshire through trade during the pre-Roman period, although glass in Britain is virtually unknown before the Claudian invasion of 43 CE and appears to be a very rare novelty.

Stained Glass in Chester

The Romans could have used window glass in Chester although no local evidence of this has been discovered, the nearest being at Wigan. Roman glass, probably from vessels, has been found at Chester (including an ungeunt jar) and Poulton (including a bead) and there is some evidence that glass may have been made in the Weaver valley. There are some examples of Roman glass in the Grosvenor Museum.

The basic ingredients for making glass are sand (silicon oxide), lime (calcium oxide) and wood ash (sodium oxide, or soda). Hardwood produces particularly good soda and it is believed that glass was made from the wood of Delamere Forest in 1346/7 for the abbey at Vale Royal, such as at Kingswood which was excavated in 1935 and 1947. The mixture of ingredients is melted into a liquid which, when cooled, becomes glass. To color the glass, certain powdered materials are added to the mixture while the glass is still molten. Copper-bearing minerals can produce a red or sky-blue glass, manganese pink or purple, and iron various greens or a bright yellow glass. These colours were used to great effect by ancient glaziers, even though they had no inkling what caused them and must have discovered the techniques by trial and error or even accident. Minerals often made their way into glass as impurities in sand, giving faint colours such as green (iron) and purple (manganese) that can often be seen in "clear" cathedral glass and also seen in some lightly tinted domestic glass.

Molten glass can be blown into a sausage shape, then slit on the side before being flattened into a sheet on an iron plate; it can also be spun with a pontil iron into a round sheet (crown) from which smaller lights can be produced. The lack of any process to produce large sheets of glass before relatively modern times is the reason why older windows are made up of a large number of smaller "lights".

Yet another way of making flat glass appears to have been forming a bubble which is then allowed to sag. This leaves bubbles of air inside the glass and can mean that when the glass cracks the crack only propogates half way through. An example of such glass can be seen at Leche House and even has some graffiti scratched into it. Local folklore states that some of the graffiti - the words "Charming Miss Oldfield 1736" - are reputed to have been scratched onto the glass using a diamond ring by Samuel Johnson. Given the date of 1736, it is difficult to see how this could have been the case, and it is more likely that the "legend" was made up by an antique dealer who once occupied the building, and appears to have contributed to several local "myths".

Early Stained Glass

The Graffito scratched on the upstairs window at Leche House.

In the UK, fragments of coloured window glass dating to the 7th century have been excavated at sites of monasteries in Monkwearmouth and Jarrow in Northumbria. The Anglo-Saxons may have been making stained glass windows, using coloured glass and lead. Theophilus Presbyter (fl. c. 1070–1125) is the pseudonymous author or compiler of a Latin text containing detailed descriptions of various medieval arts, a text commonly known as the Schedula diversarum artium ("List of various arts") or De diversis artibus ("On various arts"), probably first compiled between 1100 and 1120. He describes the production of windows as follows:

  • "if you want to assemble simple windows, first mark out the dimensions of their length and breadth on a wooden board, then draw scroll work or anything else that pleases you, and select colors that are to be put in. Cut the glass and fit the pieces together with the grozing iron. Enclose them with lead cames….. and solder on both sides. Surround it with a wooden frame strengthened with mails and set it up in the place where you wish."
One of the few original bits of stained glass in the Cathedral. This shows a corpse being resurrected.

The panels would be made weatherproof by rubbing a putty-like mixture of lime, lead and linseed oil into the joints. If stories were to be told human images were required, including details such as hands, faces and the folds of drapery. These were added to the surface of the coloured glass sheets using a black enamel pigment based on copper or iron oxide. This mixture was painted onto the glass with different thickness and textures to give different shading effects, allowing control of light and providing artistic detail. After painting, the pieces were fired to fuse the paint to the surface of the glass.

The Romanesque architecture of the Normans had little space for glass. This form of architecture can be best seen in Chester at St Johns and consists of thick walls and massive supporting pillars and arches. Essentially, stained glass as we know it was a later medieval art form which was widely used in gothic architecture when the "clerestory" of "clear storey" was added. This required the solution of many structural engineering problems and in particular the development of the pointed arch. Such arches relieved the thrust caused by weight and allowed builders to reduce the size of the columns or piers that supported the arch

The term "stained glass" derives from the silver stain that after the 13th century was often applied to the side of the window that would face the outside of the building. When the glass was fired, the silver stain (a sulphide or chloride) passed into the body of the glass and turned a yellow color that could range from lemon to gold or even red. A common misconception is that the glass in these ancient cathedral windows has flowed over time, now being thicker at the bottom than the top. This is not true: Cathedral windows are sometimes thicker in one place than another because forming glass into perfectly flat sheets is a very difficult process that has only become practical in the recent past. One important development being the invention of the float glass process at St Helens by Pilkingtons. The availability of cheap float glass had a significant consequence for architecture.

Stained glass at Farndon as reproduced in Ormerod.

The earliest record of the Painters and Glaziers company in Chester is from 1482–3. While Embroiderers and Stationers collaborated for a pageant in the earlier 16th cent all thee groups were incorporated by the Assembly as Painters, Glaziers, Embroiderers, and Stationers in 1534, their charter being dated the 1st May. In the Chester Mystery Plays they performed the rather comic Shepherds play, which was the seventh in the cycle. It is not known whether the glaziers were engaged in the production of complex stained glass windows or merely did domestic glazing. Little glass survives in Cheshire from this period: there are a few examples in the Cathedral and a very small pair of damaged panels at Plemstall (St Peter).

The Reformation greatly slowed the development of stained glass in England, especially in religious contexts, and the Puritans would bring about its wholesale destruction with John Bruen, for example, removing the stained glass at Tarvin church as one of his many acts of iconoclasm. In the 17th and 18th centuries there was an increasing use of stained glass for heraldic purposes, with pictorial glass not being produced in any quantity until the 18th century. Among these later developments was the use of enameling to allow windows to be painted like easel pictures on clear rectangular glass. This reduced lead usage with the metal often being used merely to hold the large panes together, the designer's aim being to conceal the lead rather than integrate it.

One interesting local example is the "Barnston Window" at Farndon which dates from 1658. Ormerod describes it as follow:

  • "In the Barnston chancel …[is] a curious historical subject, which was rescued from a state of extreme decay, and repaired at the expence of the late dean of Chester. It is represented in the attached engraving, on a scale reduced about two-thirds from a fac-simile drawing, which was executed under the inspection of the dean, when the glass was in his possession."

The window shows several figures associated with Chester's Civil War history including Francis Gammul, Richard Grosvenor, William Mainwaring and William Barnston. There is a related glass at Poole Hall near Nantwich, and these "drill windows", or "drill quarries", showing military subjects seem to be peculiar to Cheshire where several others are known to exist, or have existed.

Gothic Revival

In the 19th Century the "Gothic Revival" led many artists and architects to investigate the methods and techniques of medieval stained glass, about which hardly anything was then known, and gradually the old skills were relearned. Applied mainly in the fields of architecture, interior design and painting, it was largely based on forms and patterns used in the Late Medieval period (about 1250 – 1500). Artists combined the serious study of historical examples with a more fanciful vision of medieval chivalry and romance. The "pot-metal" process which involved the production of coloured glass in the melt rather than by surface enamelling was re-discovered after very little use since the sixteenth century.

The stained glass at 55 Bridge Street fits windows, but not these windows.

Twin passions for the medieval "gothic" style and church restoration produced an enormous demand for glazing which exceeded the supply of glaziers. The stained glass industry was prolific during this period, and many new firms and studios were established who supplied local, national and international clientele. Much of the glass at Chester Cathedral dates from the Victorian period, with some being even more modern (see below). Frederick Anson (1779-1867) was appointed as dean in 1839. He won particular praise for reintroducing Stained Glass windows into the cathedral. At the time of his installation only a very few panes of the original coloured glass remained. Under his direction new windows were installed above the west entrance, in the nave, in the north and south choir aisles, and in the lady chapel. The designs were of Pugin, Wailes, the O'Connors, and Clayton and Bell.

The Cathedral cloisters a few years before restoration in the 1920's.

Another notable example of stained glass in Chester is found in the Town Hall: on the main stairs are stained glass windows (by Ralph Bolton Edmondson of Manchester). Edmundson (died 1864), had established the stained glass department at Pilkingtons. Starting his own studio in 1854 in Manchester, it continued as a family firm after his death. Under his son, James, it continued in business until 1890. The windows depict the Earls of Chester and while not entirely of historic accuracy are an interesting example of civic stained glass. Just across Northgate Street next to the Abbey Gateway Numbers 54 and 56 have shopfronts of c1900 with wood frames, leaded glazing above the transom bears the heraldic City Arms of Durham, Salisbury, Newcastle, London, Chester, Carlisle and York. The pargeted panels beneath the third storey windows to the street are inscribed ANNO DOM:MDCCCC. While these two town houses are dated C17 and early C18, they possibly comprise earlier elements - the cellars to both former houses have walls of bedrock and sandstone, with some brickwork, the party wall between the former houses is 18 inches thick. The stained glass in the leaded glazing presents something of a puzzle: this particular feature of a shopfront was characteristic of Dunn & Co, the most recognisable chain of men’s hatters throughout the first three-quarters of the 20th century. It was probably in the 1920s that Dunn’s developed a particularly distinctive form of shopfront which endured as the house style for many years. This had a mock-timber-framed surround, including open spandrels filled with leaded glass. Across the top of the doors and display windows, a band of transom lights was filled with stained glass, depicting the coats of arms of major British cities against a textured emerald green glass ground. When an old shop front was removed from a G A Dunn & Co shop the stained glass panels depicting the various Coats of Arms were typically returned to the Estates Department for further use. They initially had a supplier who made them at a reasonable price but in later years the price became so expensive that the newer branches had Coats of Arms printed on a single sheet of glass. The stained glass in the Northgate Street windows is either a very late example of Dunn & Co or (more likely given the low quality) someone else trying to imitate their house style.

Plegmund's window in the south side of the cloister at Chester Cathedral. It was dedicated in memory of Bellamira Frances Payne, spinster who lived at 4, Abbey Green Chester (died 26th July 1925) and her sister Letitia Albinia Payne, spinster of the same address (died 8th July 1925). Bellamira Payne was a noted botanist. This is one of the two sets of windows by by Trena Cox.

Both the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements included stained glass amongst other furnishings and interior design. The cultural promotion of medieval stained glass in Victorian high society no doubt had a huge influence on the work of the celebrated designer William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896). A man who began his career looking for more 'honest' forms of art, Morris was drawn to the intense colours and bold composition of historical church windows. In 1861, he established the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. – as well as supplying windows as part of interior schemes for a number of England's new ecclesiastical buildings, the firm also took private commissions for decorated windows, and was instrumental in the reintroduction of stained glass into domestic design. Stained glass with floral and geometric patterns was typically fitted in the upper panels of windows, in entrance panel windows and in front-door panels. Many examples of domestic stained glass can be seen in Chester. In some cases, where a street of housing was built in "blocks" over a decade or so, the transition of stained glass styles during the course of construction is particularly evident.

Post Revival

In April 1920 Frank Selwyn Macaulay Bennett (1866–1947) was appointed Dean of Chester at the Cathedral. He was installed on the 2nd June and only four days later he laid out his strategic plan for the Cathedral in the form of a sermon. An important part of his plan was the re-glazing of the cloister which was in a runinous state. The work was entrusted to two artists, Frederick Charles Eden (1864-1944), who was a pupil of William Butterfield and GF Bodley and Archibald Keightley Nicholson (1871-1937). Of the two, Nicholson was the better known and windows by him can be still seen in the cathedrals of Newcastle, Lincoln, Norwich, Southwell, Bradford, Worcester and Wells.

Staned glass at St Olave showing the Norwegian axe symbol derived from Olaf II.

One of windows was designed by a local artist, Gilbert P Gamon (1871-1941) as a memorial to his own family. Another local artist, Trena Mary Cox (1895-1980) designed two sets of smaller windows containing deveral images of historical figures relating some to the previous abbey, including Hugh of Avranches and Plegmund. Trena Mary Cox-was born in Lower Bebbington on the Wirral in 1895 and brought up near Birkenhead, mostly at Oxton. She was a student at the Laird School of Art and moved to Chester in 1924. by the end of that year her first designs had been realised in glass and installed in Chester College Chapel. At least one of the windows, of King David and St Theodore, was actually contracted to Williams, Gamon & Co (Kaleyards) Ltd. However, the window includes a monogram of two cockerels (or ‘cocks’) above an intertwined T and M, strongly suggesting Cox’s involvement. The design style is more traditional than any of her later windows, but can be related to two of her known windows. One of these, of Mary and the infant Jesus at St Mary Without-the-Walls, Handbridge, is also known to be a Williams, Gamon & Co contract, but is clearly designed by Cox. She set up her studio in or near the Kaleyards Works of Williams, Gamon and Co with whom she remained associated until the Second World War. Her headed notepaper lists Geoffrey P Gamon, one of the directors of Williams, Gamon & Co, as the other director of TM Cox & Co. Several authors give he address as Victoria Road, but this is some distance from the Kayeyards and was possibly in Victoria Place which is off Frodsham Street. She then moved to 96 Watergate Street which remained her home and studio until she retired in 1972, aged 77. She died on 11 February 1980.

Almost all the windows around the cloister at the Cathedral contain a dedication which suggests that the glazing was financed by donations with each donor being allowed to write the text. Many interesting details can be found in the cloister windows and at least one major blunder was avoided: the original cartoon of the E2 window exists in the Victoria and Albert Museum and shows that the designer (Frederick Charles Eden) had confused Thomas the Apostle with Thomas of Canterbury and originally placed a sword through the figure's head. There are other minor mistakes and clever additions: E6 has the zodiacal glyph for Aquarius and the figure of Sagittarius used for a saints day which falls in Capricorn. E7 is the single one designed by Gamon and commemorates Sidney Percival Gamon who was killed in a flying accident - it features both the RFC badge and a pig as a heraldic pun. E8 features St Patrick and lines from the Catholic mass - almost unique in an Anglican cathedral. Dean Bennet himself is represented on one window by the rebus of a bee and a net. The N3 window dedicated to Robert Yerburgh, a Chester MP who died in 1916, also features HMS Chester which took part in the Battle of Jutland the same year. The same window also features St Ælfheah (with axe) who may have been killed by a group of Vikings including the later Olaf II, who has his own church in Chester: St Olave - where the stained glass also features an axe!

After the Second World War, the gradual acceleration away from realism put a significant distance between new designers and the work of their Arts and Crafts predecessors. Some modern glass became quite abstract but there is a good example in the refectory of Chester cathedral of modern "semi-pictorial" glass. This is the "Creation Window" of Rosalind Grimshaw (3 March 1945 - 11 November 2020) which is considered her masterpiece. The creation story is reference both vertically and horizontally with the lowest part of the panes generally having a technology reference (city lights, the earth from space, genetic engineering, a brain scan, a hand pump and a human foetus).

Williams and others

"Leaded Lights" works at Gorse Stacks.

Stained glass manufacture seems to have been a significant industry in Chester, possibly due to the presence of the Cathedral and the use of stained glass in other commercial and domestic settings. As noted above Williams and Gamon were based in the Kaleyards, i.e. in close proximity to the cathedral as well as other suppliers of building trades including timber-merchants, sawmills and stonemasons. These benefitted first from proximity to the Canalside and later Chester Station. Gilbert Percival Gamon (1871-1941) trained with Shrigley & Hunt, working in their London office. He subsequently went into partnership with Godfrey Wood Humphry (who was originally a solicitor), and together they made stained glass at their studio in Fitzroy Square, London. He also worked under the name of Williams, Gamon & Co. in Chester about 1920, using the designer Bernard Rice among others. The Gamon's seem to have been a Chester family which possibly explains why Gilbert Percival moved to Chester in later life. He was apparently still with Gamon and Humphry in 1914 when he designed the large stained glass east window in the St John Street frontage of the Methodist church. In 1904 however, he was already working in the Wirral as he created some stained glass at Birkenhead Town Hall during rebuilding after a fire in 1901. Some confusion still remains about the location of the "Kaleyards" stained glass works as another Gamon (Geoffrey) turns up in the liquidation of the Neston Cottage Company in 1930 where a notice was issued that:

  • "..the creditors of the above named Company are required, on or before the 15th day of December, 1930, to send in their names and addresses, with particulars of their debts or claims, and the names and addresses of their Solicitors (if any), to the undersigned, Geoffrey P. Gamon, of Kaleyards Works, Victoria-road, Chester, the Liquidator of the said Company;"

Even more confusingly, early photographs of the Cattle Market at Gorse Stacks show the workshops of a glass casement and "leaded lights" company in the background, on the opposite side of the canal from the Kaleyards.

Williams and Williams was formed in 1910 and became a public company in 1928. They were based at the "Reliance Works" in Liverpool Road and the founders were the sons of the proprietor of Williams & Gamon. In 1934 Allan Williams broke away to found the Rustproof Metal Window and Engineering Co in Saltney. The Reliance Works closed in 1996 having stuggled on as Chester's largest industrial concern for some time. One curious legacy of Chester's window industry was the "Allan Williams Turret". Williams was the Managing Director of "Rustproof" in Saltney, Chester where the turrets were produced. The company had been engaged in war work since 1939, mainly manufacturing ammunition boxes for the Admiralty using a patented galvanising process. Nearly 200 Allan Williams Turrets were made and installed, but salvaging of the metal after the war means that only 33 remain. Known survivors include one on display at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.

Exploring Stained Glass in Chester

As with Norman architecture, a good way to explore the stained glass in Chester is to start at St Johns and finish at the Cathedral. The highlights at St Johns include the Lockwood memorial window if only because of the overtly Masonic symbolism and the curious fact that there is a surprise to be found by examining the point on the map to which the figure of Hiram is pointing - "Google Earth" contains an "artifact" of a person's shadow with no-one to cast it. At the other end of St Johns is the "Westminster Window" which illustrates a series of scenes from the history of Chester. A perambulation around the city will reveal other examples of stained-glass, in domestic, civic, commercial and religious settings. Ending at the Cathedral the detailed guide to the cloister windows (linked below) is very useful for a prolonged inspection of the 20th century windows there, but the "Creation" window in the refectory should not be missed.

Sources and Links


Related Pages



  • P. Hebgin-Barnes, The Medieval Stained Glass of Cheshire, CVMA (GB), Summary Catalogue 9, Oxford, 2010