All Saints’ church is one of five impressive medieval churches in the historic town of Stamford, Lincolnshire. It’s rich and colourful stained glass presents a Victorian display of visual splendour, with some of the most prominent stained-glass artists of the period contributing to their design. A couple of years ago, I researched the stained glass of All Saints’, Stamford and wrote a detailed book. This post is a short introduction to what I discovered (and an almost shameless plug for my book).
The church and its history
All Saints’ church and its lofty spire is prominent in the town centre. A beautiful thirteenth-century stone arcade (pictured) is amongst the early surviving fabric. Most of the structure dates from the fifteenth century however, when John and William Browne, two wealthy wool merchants, paid for a major reconstruction. Two fragments of medieval glass survive from this period (or earlier?) in the tracery lights of a window in the south east of the church. One has decorative grisaille paint and silver stain. This forms the basis for the design of the tracery panels in some of the Victorian windows.
Aside from these fragments no other evidence of the medieval decorative scheme survives. But William Browne also paid for the almshouses in Stamford, at ‘Browne’s Hospital’ a few streets away. Some medieval stained glass panels survive in the chapel, the porch and corridors, so can we assume that the windows in All Saints’ would have been decorated in a similar way?
In addition to this some of the later ‘plain glazing’ in the church is still in situ. These windows are earlier than the Victorian glass and actually very pretty. They consist of geometric patterns in subtle shades and colours.
The Victorian Glass
All Saints’ benefitted from the Victorian approach of decorating and glorifying churches. Wealthy patrons and families began installing windows in memory of their loved ones again. This commenced in 1874 in All Saints’ with the installation of the East Window, continued through the later nineteenth century and culminated with the First World War commemorative window in the 1920s.
The wealthy patrons that paid for the windows include former rectors of the church, descendants of William Browne (the fifteenth century patron) and a managing director and members of the Stamford, Spalding and Boston Building Society (now owned by Barclays).
The quality in design and production of the windows represent some of the best work from the most famous glass artists of the time. Clayton and Bell, Heaton, Butler and Bayne, C.E. Kempe and Co., Shrigley and Hunt and A.K. Nicholson all created impressive windows for this church.
Now let’s look at a couple of windows in more detail…
Clayton and Bell
The west window was commissioned in 1888 by Edward Ingersoll Browne of Boston Massachusetts. He is a descendant of the Browne family who lived in Stamford in the fifteenth century and paid for the reconstruction of the church. This window is crammed full of images of angels, angels holding coats of arms, saints and scenes from the lives of saints.
The west window is huge and filled with so many figures it is impossible to picture them all!
Heaton Butler and Bayne
This window on the north side consists of one scene spread across the four light. I love the way that the figures interact across the stone mullions and are not confined to their architectural settings! The scene depicts Christ with his twelve disciples in the garden after the Last Supper. The scroll reads “I am the way, the truth and the life”. Christ is speaking to his disciples and they are clearly enraptured, leaning in to hear and see him better.
Some ending words…
There are far too many amazing details in the twelve Victorian windows of this church to picture here. All the windows have their own story of commemoration outside of the iconography displayed and link to the history of the building. This glass, the earlier geometric glass and the medieval fragments represent many periods in the church’s history and this is representative of most churches across the country.
Next time you are in a church building don’t underestimate some of the stories behind the glass and also some of the links to interesting people!
Can’t get enough stained glass? Read about enamel glass painting here.