As life in the UK at the start of 2021 cruises quietly from one sombre month to another under lockdown 3.0, I expect that such a genuinely exciting piece of heritage news as the beginning of a major restoration project to preserve some of our country’s best surviving medieval stained glass may have been lost on some under a blanket of snow and Bernie Sanders memes.
Work on a major restoration project began last week on Thursday 4th February with conservator Keith Barley MBE of Barley Studios (Dunnington) leading the team on a 3 year project to restore 12 historically significant stained glass windows at All Saints parish church on North Street in York. The project has been a decade in the making and it received its first round of funding in 2018. Last summer the church was awarded £531,000 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund towards the project.
At the time of writing these introductory words (11/02/21), most Anglican parish churches in England are currently closed for public worship. I’m only aware of a small handful of buildings which are open for private prayer at this time. All Saints on North Street is one such building. In fact I’m told that All Saints NS is currently the only parish church in York city centre to open for private prayer during the present lockdown – whereas it remained closed throughout much of 2020 when numerous other churches (mostly those on the other side of the Ouse; Pavement, St Michael-le-Belfry; St Deny’s; St Clement’s; HTG (CCT)) gradually opened in the second half of last year. Mass is currently held at All Saints North Street once a week, with the church open for an hour before and after the service.
I thought that because so many of us are missing visiting historic churches at the moment, and since I have an opportunity here to observe the on-going reinstallation of a series of important 14th and 15th century stained glass, that I might create a series of blog posts as an active record to update anybody who is interested in how things are moving along.
For an introduction to the medieval stained glass windows in this church you can read this free .pdf produced by Dr Allan Barton.
Today I walked down to the church and had a look at the on-going work. I haven’t stepped a foot inside this wonderful building in over a year and it was a pleasure to see all its wonderful features again. The church was just as warm and quiet as I remember. The larger part of the north-eastern end of the north aisle is an active work site full of tools and window level scaffold. The stained glass in the Thomas window was removed first and is off-site undergoing restoration, now along with its neighbouring windows. A stonemason on site spoke to me about what is going on day-to-day and he said that whilst he couldn’t speak much for the cleaning and repair of the glass, the stone repair to the masonry was going well. It certainly looks a lot cleaner. He said that the windows are all being installed with ‘double-glazing’ – perhaps this is the ‘ventilated external protective glazing’ (often termed isothermal glazing) deemed to ‘be a priority for all windows containing stained glass’ in the specifications of the window appeal.
It looks as though the works will move N >E >S > W around the church, although I could be wrong. At this moment in time the stained glass of the Pricke of Conscience window remains in situ, and if my assumption that the maintenance will progress clockwise then it should be the next window to be dismantled. A churchwarden was pottering about and seemed happy to chat with me about the works as well. He told me that every window in the church was being restored but I don’t believe this is the case. There are 16 glazed windows in total in the church, but I believe only the 12 with medieval glass (the remaining have clear glass – these are marked on one of the ground plans above – although the west window (no.14 in my plan above) has small fragments of medieval and 20th century glass) are to be restored as a part of this project, as has been reported in various press pieces. His enthusiasm was nonetheless in full flow and he was quick to invite me down again soon to see how progress was coming along.
Dr Robert Richards, the church’s Fabric Officer and PCC Secretary has since kindly pointed out to me that the west window will be treated the same as the other windows being restored – and also suggested corrections to my annotated ground plan, as I had originally misidentified some windows in the south aisle.
If I’m able to get in next week then I’ll try and take more photos and update how the work is getting along.