Susan Bradbury F.M.G.P., F.R.S.A.
No one who has been inside Govan Old this year can have failed to notice the enormous scaffold in the Chancel, which has been there to allow access for Stained Glass Design Partnership to conserve the Great East Window.
Sadly, the window, especially the oculus, was peppered with pellet holes, each causing a bright spot of light often with a surrounding star crack to the glass. A few had been repaired in the past by sticking pieces of glass on the outside, but unfortunately, these were in odd colours, for instance, St. Kentigern held a salmon with a bright turquoise head.
The most conspicuous damage was a hole in one of the Seven Lamps which surround Christ. Fragments of glass had already fallen and more were threatening to descend. Less conspicuous, but possibly more serious, was the deformation of the area at top centre which shows the lovely rejoicing angels, which, if left in position, wold have very gradually collapsed over the next few years. It could even have "popped out" in a storm.
But, because the circular window is made in 12 separate panels, we were able to take only the problematic one to the Studio for remedial action. It was a heart-in-the-mouth job to bring the lovely angels down the scaffold tower, and later to lift them up again.
Conservation of the panel involved carefully dismantling the deformed area by removing the old lead, solder and sealant. Each individual piece of glass was carefully cleaned, taking care of the delicate painted detail and then the panel was reglazed with new lead calmes in exactly the same style and pattern as the original lead work. We took the opportunity to insert a few new pieces of glass to replace unfortunately coloured previous repairs and heavily shattered blue background.
Back on site, many other pellet holes needed to be repaired. We inserted a few new pieces of glass, carefully matched for colour and texture and carefully painted in the style of the original artists. The new lamp was shaded to match the other six and silver stain was applied to create the golden light emanating from Christ. This single piece of glass needed to be fired in the kiln 4 times.
Glass was bonded, sometimes with a clear sealant or sometimes with an opaque sealant, and missing details of the design were touched up with oil paints. All these techniques are reversibles so that future conservators can repeat work if improved techniques or adhesives are developed. Pieces of hardboard had been stuck over holes and were removed, varnish was dissolved from the face of John the Baptist and new green glass leaves were made for one of the trees. Finally, the entire window was cleaned, using non-abrasive cleansers, several pounds of soft cotton cloth and oodles of elbow grease. We were covered in cobwebs and in an embarrassingly filthy state when we came down from the scaffold on that evening. But it was worth all the dirt and all the effort to conserve this wonderful window.
It was made almost a century ago by Charles Eamer Kempe and his craftsmen. It was installed in September 1899 and dedicated to the memory of John Macleod, who the inscription at the bottom right describes as Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord. The story of Macleod and the commissioning of the stained glass can be found in the booklet The Stained Glass Windows of Govan Old Parish Church by Sally Rush.
From the scaffold, we could see details that are hardly noticeable from below, and after cleaning and conservation, the glass had a lovely sparkle. We especially enjoyed the small cherubim and seraphim and in varying rich shades of red and blue, and the beautiful faces of Saints Margaret and Cecilia.
It's worth bringing binoculars to examine these and other high details:
In the lancets, look out for finely dressed Magi on the left, Adam and Eve and a fearsome devil on the right, and a truly moving "Via Dolorosa" in the centre. So don't forget: bring binoculars and spend some time enjoying the highlights of Govan Old's stained glass.
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