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Elizabeth the Second


Susan Bradbury, F.M.G.P, F.R.S.A.

When I first visited Govan Old my heart sank as I caught the first glimpse of the Baptistry windows. They were dark and dirty, with odd bits of distorted lead and shards of glass poking out at unusual angles, pieces of board and card covering holes and little piles of broken glass sitting on the window sills. Because the openings had been bricked up no light was coming through the remaining fragments and so there was little indication of colour or quality.

But as I clambered about the sills taking details and measurements I gradually realised that some areas were not too severely damaged and also that among the fragments were gems of very fine glass painting, delicate detailing with exquisite brushwork. So I left feeling quite hopeful that after careful conservation five of the windows could be reinstated with backlighting. These five tell the story of Christ's Incarnation, and from left to right they depict Simeon with a small scene of the Presentation in the Template, Mary & Child with the Nativity below, Gabriel with the Annunciation, John the Baptist with the naming of John below, Zacharias and a scene with the Angel. The sixth window had contained a figure of Elizabeth but so little remained that we only knew this from written evidence - too little of the glass remained to indicate anything other than an ornate canopy and a red curtain to match the areas behind John.

So we set to work on the five. Things seemed to go backwards at first, when we discovered that during the original boarding up of the windows boards had been quite literally nailed to the stained glass and the nails were still embedded in the panels.

At the workshop the old deformed leads were carefully removed and the glass laid out so we could evaluate what we had. Fragments were bonded together to recreate original pieces, and missing pieces were replicated wherever repeat patterns or mirror images enabled us to deduce exactly what was missing. Lettering was carefully drawn up to complete partial inscriptions and where we had insufficient evidence glass was lightly shaded to make the infill less conspicuous. And then Tom Davidson Kelly came to see progress and he suggested that if we could make the five damaged windows look this good then maybe the sixth could be restored also...? ( The pressure was very gentle! )

But we were sure. So little of the Elizabeth window remained that it seemed unethical to recreate so much. Then along came Sally Rish ( art historian and stained glass enthusiast ) who showed us photographs of other work by the same artists, Shrigley & Hunt of Lancaster. In St. George's Church in Stockport are figures of Simeon and Mary which were clearly made from the same drawings as the Govan windows, along with a third figure of St. Ann. Also, after completing our "jigsaw" of other windows from the assembled fragments we had some pieces left over, which could only have come from the St. Elizabeth window and among them was a hand. A hand identical to the hand in the Stockport window of St. Anna. Now we knew that as suspected Shrigley & Hunt had indeed used their Stockport St. Anna cartoon two years later when they created the Govan St. Elizabeth.

Tom now increased the pressure and we were soon persuaded to continue our detective work in order to restore St. Elizabeth, using Sally's slides of the Stockport window and the selection of fragments from Govan - which turned out to include a few pieces of drapery, to give us our colour scheme, much of the inscription and a shoulder. Two fragments of the halo and another of the veil confirmed that the faces were in fact taken from the same drawing but that Elizabeth had a golden halo unlike Anna's blue one.

So eventually the series of six windows was complete and the Baptisty again is a whole and peaceful environment.

Those who remember the derelict state of this stained glass only a couple of years ago are always amazed at the difference. Hopefully soon the dereliction in the vicinity of Govan Old will also be restored to a whole and peaceful environment, and maybe one day it will be safe to remove the bricks from behind these windows and allow sunlight to show us their full glory.

The Baptistry

From the birth of the Friends in 1990 the fully restored Baptistry has been seen as the kernel of our Ministry to Visitors. As we were planning how best to use the limited space in the Baptistry as an exhibition area, legacies and donations to restore the Shrigley & Hunt stained glass windows began to come in. These windows are part of the window scheme in which Dr. John Macleod was involved at every stage, apart from the installation only months after his death in August 1898. The 7 windows encourage reflection on the significance of the incarnation and the meaning of Christian Baptism.

The first act of vandalism to the Baptisty was recorded in the Kirk Session minute for 5th June 1900:

Mr. Black [ an Elder ] intimated that the damaged windows in the Baptistry had been repaired by the Insurance Company.

We optimistically finished The Stained Glass Windows of Govan Old Parish Church with these words:

By 1990 the windows have become dirty and damaged. Hopefully, soon it will be possible to begin a programme of conservation, and where ( as in the Baptistry ) too much of the original glass has been lost, restoration.

Stained Glass Design Partnership had submitted a report on the Baptistry windows as early as April 1990. By the time the First Annual Report was distributed in March 1991, sufficient funds were available to conserve the 5 more complete windows. Local showmen, and in particular the Stringfellow family, helped mount the First Govan Easter Carnival. Over £2,000 was gifted to Govan Old Parish Church to distribute among 7 other local charities. The Church's share and a couple of donations later, and we could afford to have Elizabeth remade. You have just read the story of how Susan Bradbury and Paul Lucky and their team tackled the whole project. Meantime our own fabric team had prepared the six window openings for backlighting, and made the frames for them, using a template provided by Stained Glass Design Partnership. Minister and Architect were given the arduous task of devising the inscription recording the project.

The rededication service, which was used as an opportunity for church members to rededicate themselves, was held on Sunday 9th June 1991. The Minister was assisted by two Friends, the Reverend Charles Inglis, formerly Minister of our daughter church of St. Bride's in Partick, and the Reverend David Keddie, a member of Council. The Senior Vice-President offered the windows back to the congregation, using the following words:

Reverend Sir,
On behalf of the Society of Friends of Govan Old
I invite you to receive back these six stained glass windows
beautifully restored through the skills of the Stained Glass Design
Partnership, Kilmaurs. The inscription added to the base of the
St. Elizabeth window reads:

ON 9th JUNE 1991.

After rededicating the windows the Minister offered prayer as follows:

Most glorious God of our Fathers.
We give you our thanks for all those who first beautified this Baptistry:
Minister, Artists, Craftsmen and Benefactors.
We give you our thanks for the skills of Artists and Craftsmen today,
and for the generosity of Friends in life and in death,
who have caused light to shine from these windows once more.
Inspire us with the eternal truth of the Incarnation of your Son.
May these windows lead us to grasp more firmly the truth of the Word made flesh,
full of your grace to help us, and your divine truth to guide us:
through Jesus Christ, born at Bethlehem to fill us with your divine life.

The Baptised members of the Congregation rededicated themselves, saying:

Let us rededicate ourselves to God our Father,
and recommit ourselves to serving our neighbours,
and visitors to this ancient place of worship.

The next stage will be the conversion of the Baptistry to accomodate a permanent exhibition telling the history of the Christian centuries ( including the present! ) in Govan Parish.

[ Plate 1 ]
Plate 1: Outline of the head of St. Elizabeth. The dotted lines show the positions of the three existing fragments of the original head. A & B confirmed the halo design, C confirmed that by using the evidence from the Stockport window we had the correct pattern of drapery folds in the veil.
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Last modified on: Wednesday, 03-May-2000 00:48:06 BST
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Friends of Govan Old