By Alison Gilchrist
In June 2017 the Barley Studio team completed the restoration of the West stained glass window of Stow Minster, Lincolnshire. The 2.4 metre wide oculus had been boarded up since January 2014, when the window was blown out of its opening during a severe storm, falling nearly 10 metres on to the Minster floor below.
The window depicts Christ blessing the children, and is probably by Kayll & Co. of Leeds (the two lancet windows below, although not linked iconographically, are signed by Kayll & Co. and are very similar in style). A plaque on the wall below states that, “This circular window is erected in affectionate remembrance of Joseph Haydn Skelton (late of Stow Park) who died 15 December 1922”.
The brief for the restoration project, agreed between the parish, its architect and insurers, was to restore the window, as far as possible, to its original appearance, without the addition of protective glazing. The reason for the failure of the window was found to have been the inadequacy of its structural support system (ferramenta), both in terms of the metal work’s inherent strength and the depth of its fixing into the surrounding stonework; therefore, the design of a new and improved support system was an integral part of the reconstruction.
Following the storm damage, the remains of the window (glass, lead and supporting metalwork) were collected together [Figures 1 and 2]. Remarkably, one of the nine panels making up the circle was almost intact, although others were so badly damaged as to be unrecognisable. We were fortunate to be able to source a high-quality photograph of the window taken before the damage from Gordon Plumb, which proved extremely useful to the restoration project [Figure 3].
The collected glass fragments were painstakingly pieced together, like a giant jigsaw puzzle, in order to save as much as possible of the original material, and to collate all available evidence for the original appearance. There were some remarkable survivals; a number of large glass pieces, including several of the heads and areas of drapery, were found to be complete and in perfect condition. Other areas, such as the head of Christ and much of the lower third of the window, were so badly damaged that only small sections could be identified from the tiny fragments remaining. [Figure 4]
The original cutline (leading pattern) of the window was reconstructed from the identified glass pieces, with the aid of the Plumb photograph. Where possible, broken pieces were edge bonded together using conservation grade (CAF3) silicone adhesive. Care was taken that all bonded fragments would also be supported within the new lead matrix, so that backing plates would not be needed, and discreet additional leads were introduced where necessary.
In areas where the original glass either could not be found or was too badly damaged to reinstate, new painted pieces were created. The glass colours were matched as closely as possible from our own glass banks of mouth-blown antique glass, as well as glass sourced from the internationally-renowned Tatra and Lamberts glasshouses. The painted detail was faithfully recreated by copying surviving fragments where possible and following the original style where reconstruction was necessary. [Figure 5] All of the new painted pieces are identified by the Barley Studio signature and date scratched into the external surface of the glass.
Each of the window’s nine panels were re-leaded following the reconstructed cutline, matching the size and profile of the original leading. The window was reinstated into the original glazing groove with the support of a new ferramenta system fabricated in stainless steel, and powder coated black for protection and aesthetic appearance. The original ferramenta had consisted of two vertical T-section iron bars, notched out (compromising their structural integrity) to take six horizontal square section bars. The new ferramenta system replicates the configuration of the previous bars, but in much more substantial square section bars, bolt fixed together at notched overlapping joints. [Figure 6]
This was a challenging but hugely enjoyable project for Barley Studio, requiring all of our investigative and restoration skills. We are delighted with the result! [Figure 7]
Following installation, the Vice-Chair of Stow Parochial Church Council commented “The restoration of the window has been hugely impressive. Prior to commissioning Barley Studio to undertake the restoration of the window, the Parochial Church Council, Architect and Insurance Loss Adjuster had discussed the options for replacing the window. Few of us believed that it was possible to rebuild the window to the existing image using more than a mere few token pieces of the original window. Our Architect, Churchwardens and Treasurer visited Barley Studio’s workshop on a foggy day in February 2017 to see the work in progress. They were amazed then at the skill of the whole team in using a far greater proportion of the original glass than we could ever have envisioned, and the dedication to matching the original design and colours when fashioning new pieces. The finished window is a testament to the restorers’ craftsmanship.”