Our Chairman, Paul Britton, gave this year’s lecture in memory of our benefactor John Briggs at St Mildred’s, Tenterden, on 15 October, speaking about the development of stained glass in Kent’s parish churches. The lecture was to raise funds for the church’s ambitious re-ordering project and was very well attended.
If one sets aside the magnificent exception of Canterbury Cathedral, which contains one of the finest and most complete sets of 13th century glazing in Europe, the history of medieval stained and painted glass in Kent has to be traced through numerous fragments and single figures of saints. Complete windows are rare. There is outstanding glass of the early 13th century at Nackington, closely related to the Becket miracle windows in the Cathedral; the splendid east window at Stelling, probably a memorial to Gilbert de Clare, who died at Bannockburn in 1314; and more-or-less complete 15th century windows at Nettlestead and Stowting.
Very little stained and painted glass was made in England from the Reformation to the 1840s. There is some heraldic glass in our churches, the best at Mereworth, and from the 18th century some glass painted in enamels, of which one window at Lullingstone painted by William Peckitt of York is the best. But, apart from small amounts of Flemish and Netherlandish glass imported in the 19th century, that is all.
The techniques and art of glass making had therefore to be relearnt by the Victorians. Kent has some excellent pioneering glass designed by Pugin and made by Hardman at St Augustine’s, Ramsgate. From the 1850s, the design and manufacture of stained and painted glass in England was dominated by a dozen or so major firms and the lecture illustrated the work of some of these in Kent – Heaton, Butler and Bayne, Lavers and Barraud, Morris, Ward and Hughes, Kempe and Burlison and Grylls. The county has outstanding examples of the work of all of these firms. For the lecturer, however, the highlight is not by any of these firms, but by a designer trained in North America, Arild Rosenkrantz, whose east window at Wickhambreaux of 1896 is a major achievement of the Art Nouveau.
Glass of the 20th century is more diverse both stylistically and in the techniques used. Most of the big Victorian firms disappeared between the Wars and since their demise, stained glass production has been in the hands of individual designers and makers. Most of the major names can be found in Kent: Christopher Whall and Douglas Strachan at Kemsing; Evie Hone at Downe; Patrick Reyntiens at Marden; John Piper at Lamberhurst and so forth. The most celebrated glass of the 20th century in the county is, however, to be found at Tudeley, completely reglazed by Marc Chagall between 1963 and 1985. Tudeley is, perhaps, the only Kent church apart from Canterbury Cathedral where the glass has a Europe-wide reputation.