The craftspeople at Devlin Plummer have finished repairing the four Victorian windows and will soon be returning to Stanhoe to replace the glass in its frames.
The glass itself was mostly in good condition but age and corrosion had weakened the supporting lead, said Terry Devlin, who runs the business with partner David Plummer.
“In fact some of the panels practically fell apart,” Terry said. “Really they should have been looked at 20 years ago.”
photos: Charles Butcher
A jigsaw in glass and lead
After recording the position of each of the dozens of pieces of glass making up each panel, the restorers removed the old lead, carefully cleaned the glass and used conservation-grade adhesives to repair any cracks.
Using techniques that have changed little since medieval times, they reassembled the panels using new lead strips soldered into place. Next, the joints are waterproofed with a cement made from whiting and linseed oil, David Plummer said.
The final step will be to pack the panels into rigid cases, transport them to All Saints’ and use copper wire to attach them to bronze supporting bars embedded in the masonry.
Dismantling old windows can reveal surprises, David said. Sometimes the glass pieces are cut raggedly, so fitting them together even when the window was new would have been a challenge.
Terry showed how a window from an Anglican church in Copenhagen, Denmark, was slightly too wide for its frame, so that some of the glass was hidden. The lead channels being used to rebuild these panels has a thinner core than usual, so that the finished window will be a couple of centimetres narrower than before.
Do not wash
Water is the main enemy of stained glass because over time it can damage the painted surface of the glass and especially the lead.
Some churches – though not All Saints’ – use direct gas heating, which releases large amounts of water vapour. Even breathing can produce damaging amounts of condensation, David said, so small congregations and infrequent services help to preserve the glass.
Outside a restorer’s workshop, stained glass should never be washed, David said, but only dusted occasionally with a soft brush. “Cobwebs are a good sign,” he said. “They do collect dust, but at least they show that the windows are dry.”
In their workshop at Great Moulton, south of Norwich, the small Devlin Plummer team restores Victorian and medieval stained glass and makes new glass for churches and private commissions.
Terry and David both trained at G King & Son, a now-defunct Norwich firm which had a national reputation.
Most of the glass painting is done by Pippa Blackall, who teaches glass painting at Ely Stained Glass Museum.
Stained glass was developed in the 12th century and refined through the medieval period, but fell out of favour in the 1540s. The Victorian Gothic revival produced some very fine stained glass. All Saints’ has examples by Burlison & Grylls, Charles Kempe, Henry Holiday and Ward & Hughes, all of whom were known for quality work.
Painter at work
It was a privilege to see freelance stained glass designer Pippa Blackall at work on a commission for a new church window in the Midlands.
Her design, measuring about 2ft x 3ft, in painted acrylics on paper, had been produced after consultation with the church. Now approved, it has been scaled up to full size and Pippa was working on it in sections. She paints and fires the coloured glass for each section and then the component shapes are cut, making sure that the lines and colours flow through the design.
She was working in her characteristic textured deep blues and greens, in an area of sea surrounding her trademark burst of light cascading from a central cross. Lead outlines will be added later. It will take several weeks to complete the work.
This window has a modern feel, and as a contemporary feature will be set into stainless steel rather than directly into stonework.
It was a rare opportunity to see new work being produced in an essentially conservation workshop, and to be able to speak to the designer.
An appeal for funds
Conserving stained glass is skilled, painstaking work – and it doesn’t come cheap. The work at All Saints’ will cost £16,500, says of the Parochial Church Council, and any donations will be appreciated.