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Conservation of Stained Glass in the North Transept


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

The two windows in the North Transept Gallery depict the Angels of Faith and Hope. Each Angel carries a shield bearing the appropriate symbol - a cross and an anchor respectively - they have eyed wings, richly decorated robes, they are placed on foliate red and blue backgrounds, and each is surrounded by a circle of briar stems and a pattern of Tudor roses. Each window is a cinquefoil with an overall diameter of approximately 2m with the inner circle measuring approximately 1m. These richly decorated and finely painted works were made by the studio of Charles Eamer Kempe and installed in April 1899.

Prior to conservation, these windows were suffering from serious structural instability, with severe bulding of the main panels, many pieces of glass protruding from the flanges of the lead and an alarming mobility which made one fear that the glass could actually be blown inwards during a gale.

Some glass had cracked with the stress of the deformation and there were various previous repairs including pellet holes filled with putty and insertions of wrongly coloured or poorly painted glass.

However, the structural problem was the one that necessitated urgent action, and naturally the opportunity was taken to effect these minor repairs at the same time, not to mention the careful removal of the accumulated grime of nearly a century. The conservation policy can be summarised as follows:

  • A - To make the windows structurally sound
  • B - To retain original glass wherever possible ( consistent with C )
  • C - To restore the windows to an attractive condition by replacing conspicuous previous repairs and shattered glass
  • D - To clean the windows for aesthetic reasons and to remove deposits which may in the long term contribute to the deterioration of the painted detail

The panels were removed to the workshop and wax rubbings made to record the original pattern of leads, carefully annotating the varying widths and other information needed for correct reassembly. Only then could the panels be dismantled by careful removal of the old lead, solder and sealant. Each individual piece of glass was then cleaned and each damaged piece of glass assessed to decide the appropriate treatment.

Where individual pieces of glass had simple cracks with no fragments missing, the pieces were edge-bonded using a silicon adhesive to give a flexible bond. Where glass was heavily shattered, a new piece was made using glass matching the original as closely as possible, in colour, texture and quality and with glass paint and silver stain applied in a style to match the original work. In some cases it was possible to retain one section of the original piece and replace only part.

Where previous insertions were conspicuous by the poor colour match and/or poor quality of glass painting they were replaced as described below. The panels were then reglazed in lead came to match the original in width and profile and were soldered and sealed with traditional putty cement. During installation a specially made support bar was introduced to give additional support at the join between the centre circle and surrounding petals. It is unusual for windows of this size to have no such support and the design was based on structural supports used in similar windows of the period.

unptd = unpainted bdr = border bkgd = background
Location New glass replacing
previous repairs
New glass replacing
broken pieces
Original glass bonded
Centre Circle 1 bkgd (red) 1 bdr (stems) 1 bkgd (red)
Five Petals 3 bkgd (blue) 5 bkgd (blue) 7 bkgd (blue)
1 bdr (foliate) 1 bdr (red unptd) 3 bdr (red unptd)
1 patch in bdr 1 bdr (foliate)
1 stem
1 leaf
Centre Circle 2 drapery 1 bdr (stems)
2 bdr (red unptd)
Five petals 3 bkgd (blue) 4 bkgd (blue) 8 bkgd (blue)
1 bdr (foliate) 2 bdr (red unptd) 1 bdr (red unptd)
1 bdr (red unptd) 1 patch in bdr
1 rose
2 stems with thorns

Totals: 14 22 21 bonded

Where new glass replaces breakages, these were approximately 50% multiple stress cracking and 50% shattering caused by pellets.

A total of 36 new pieces have been made and, from this analysis, it can be seen that the great majority (27) are in the background or border, 5 are parts of the decorative briar ( a rose, a leaf and 3 pieces of stem ) and only 2 are part of the main subject, i.e., two pieces of the drapery of Faith. These two new pieces ( and also the one new rose ) are dated by tiny numbers 1993 inscribed on the reverse with a diamond.

[ Plate 1 ]
Plate 1

These photographs show two pieces of glass from the shoulder area of the cloak of the Angel of Faith. The lower section in each is the same original piece of glass from Kempe's Studio, on the left the upper piece is a poor quality previous repair with painted detail already partially lost through incorrect firing. On the right, the upper piece is a 1993 replacement by Stained Glass Design Partnership. First the glass is matched for colour and texture and the required shape is cut. Then the linework is applied using a long haired sable brush and a pigment of iron oxide and ground which has to be kilnfired at the appropriate temperature. Then the shading is applied and fired, and finally the silver stain. This means that a silver chemical is painted on parts of the back of the gass and on firing imparts the golden yellow colour which Kempe frequently used for colouring hair, haloes and crowns. In these transept windows, stain is used for many details, including the cloak pattern detailed here, the angels' wings, the briars' thorns and most importantly, the anchor of Hope and the cross of Faith.

[ Plate 1 ]
Plate 2

The alarming report presented by Stained Glass Design Partnership in October 1991 on the poor condition of the two windows in the Transept Gallery stirred us into fund-raising activity. The Kirk Session diverted part of Mr. Alec Cadger's legacy, and Scottish Churches Architectural Heritage Trust awarded a grant. Friends ( and friends of Friends! ) responded well to the appeal in the 1992 autumn newsletter, and the target figure for one window (£3,384) was met. An anonymous Friend has made an interest-free loan of the amount of the second window, while we wait for Historic Scotland to pay out their agreed grant.

The two windows were removed during September 1992 and the holes were boarded up. The windows were rededicated at the morning service on 10th October 1993. The Secretary of the Friends, David Keddie, preached, and the windows were symbolically 'returned' by a council member, Dr. Douglas Murray ( the representative of the Principal of Glasgow University ) in the unavoidable absence of the Vice President.

On the 7th October, the Presbytery of Glasgow had consummated our first union - with Elderpark Macgregor Memorial Church. This special service provided an ideal opportunity for recommitment and rededication of the members of the United Govan Old:

Let us rededicate ourselves to God our Father,
and to one another in the united charge of Govan Old,
and recommit ourselves to serving our neighbours,
and visitors to this ancient place of worship.

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Last modified on: Tuesday, 09-May-2000 14:47:49 BST
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