Stained-glass makers in danger of disappearing from Britain — is there time for a renaissance?

James Fisher reports worrying news from the world of stained-glass window painters.

Historic stained-glass window-making is now on the Heritage Crafts Red List, it has been revealed. Those at the British Society of Master Glass Painters (BSMGP) have known that the craft has been threatened for some time, but this is the first official recognition that the skill is in danger.

‘Obviously, there are mixed emotions on receiving the verdict from Heritage Crafts that this important strain of our craft is endangered,’ said Steve Clare, BSMGP chairman. ‘On one hand, it confirms our view that, despite our efforts to encourage the next generation of artists and craftspeople to join, we are now at dangerously low levels of professionals to protect the UK’s heritage of stained-glass making.

‘On the positive side, we hope that this announcement will allow the society to shine a light on the problem and to galvanise others to help us create a renaissance in the use of stained glass and, therefore, to provide a future living for apprentices coming into the craft.’

The organisation has pointed out that a loss of skills, ageing practitioners, the decline in educational opportunities and courses and the scarcity and rising costs of raw materials have all had an impact on the craft. For example, skills in designing and cartooning for stained glass take time to develop and ‘traditionally, these skills are passed from master to apprentice’. The BSMGP and Heritage Crafts believe there are only a ‘handful’ of studios left in the UK capable of this highly specialised work.

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However, the BSMGP is determined not to let the skill die out. ‘In 2023, stained glass is seen by so many as an art of a bygone era and simply a median for churches or doors in Victorian properties,’ says Deborah Parkes, BSMGP council member and head of projects.

‘My job is to inspire homeowners, as well as architects and interior designers, to look again at its potential. The vision is for a virtuous circle — a renaissance in stained glass will create more demand for the skills of artists and associated craftspeople, allowing the dwindling number of accredited professionals to take on apprentices and encourage more young people to enrol on courses.’

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