All Saints North Street: Stained Glass Window Restoration and Preservation – Part 2

I was very pleased to see my first project update (posted 11.02.2021) was read by so many people directed through from Twitter. It isn’t surprising that the on-going restoration of the church’s medieval stained glass is of public interest, so as long as these updates keep being favourably received during lockdown, I’ll keep them coming. I’m now able to share a second update with the support of Dr. Alaina Schmisseur of Rook Heritage Consulting. Alaina is project managing the Heritage Lottery Fund grant for All Saints North Street and is working closely with the Steering Group and contractors to support the progression of the restoration and preservation project. We arranged a visit to the church last week to talk about the project at this stage.

The restored St Thomas window (2 on below plan) was reinstalled on Monday 15th February. The Corporal Acts of Mercy window (3) is currently off-site with Keith Barley at Barley Studios and will return in due course, as are the 15th century coats-of-arms (1). Barley Studios have been posting fairly regularly on their Instagram account with details of their work to conserve the medieval glass – for example, their post on 22.02.2021 shared how the St Thomas window was restored in the 19th century by prominent York based restorer J. W. Knowles. Looking closer at the St Thomas window, the overall impression is that it is notably cleaner and therefore more vivid – the coloured glass far crisper and near pristine in places. I found this most obvious in the rich red glass of Christ’s cloak in the central light, who faces St Thomas, presenting his wounds.

Also of great importance in this project is the associated cleaning and conservation of each window’s masonry. This work is being carried out by Matthias Garn and partner. Alaina explained their approach and what methods of conservation were used here. Ultimately the masonry has been sensitively cleaned from top to bottom to remove organic deposits and discolouration.  The stonemasons also reinstated missing pointing using breathable lime mortar and removed historic concrete repairs.  A programme of repair rather than replacement will be followed wherever possible.  One such repair was carried out to the surround of the St. Thomas window, where the line of the reveal was reinstated using lime mortar. The result of this is indiscernible. Along the stone sill of the window a protective lime shelter coat was applied to the surface as the stonework was very porous.  The shelter coat will serve as a sacrificial layer and inhibit ingress of organic deposits.

To look at the masonry of the window where The Corporal Acts of Mercy glass would ordinarily be, it was interesting to see the cross section of the mullions and their moulding, where they provide support to the glazing of the window. Something this offers is a true sense of the window’s depth as set in the wall itself without the obstruction of the glass.

Moving outside into the north area of the churchyard you can see further evidence of the masonry repairs. Immediately obvious in the surround of the two-light window (16 – images below) next to the north door is the removal of an earlier 20th century hard concrete render applied to the surface of the medieval masonry, likely in an effort to renew the appearance of the weathered stone. It is clear to see the indent marks where the render was keyed in to fix it – but evidence from the removal of the render as a part of this project suggests that the structure of the medieval window masonry is largely sound, and the render may have been a cosmetic addition.

In terms with of thinking ahead to when the rest of the medieval glass in the remaining windows will be removed and subsequently reinstalled after careful cleaning with Keith Barley – it is very much a case of it will take as long as it takes. Each window is unique and their individual materiality varied in that regard. It is hoped that The Corporal Acts of Mercy window may be back before Easter but this is not a date which is set in stone, so we shall wait and see.

Although my visit last week was primarily to view the ongoing conservation work, the Lottery Fund grant also supports an extensive interpretation programme with the goal of engaging visitors and members of the community with the rich heritage of the church.  A series of events are in the works to bring the windows and their story to a wider audience.

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