Victorians loved stained glass in their country houses and rectories, not just because it was often a chance to show off your family coat of arms (however newly acquired), but also because of the pretty, dappled, coloured-light effect that it created in interiors a taste they shared with their Jacobean ancestors (adopted or not).
The religiously inclined also dappled their local churches and private chapels with stained glass. Many late-Victorian leaded window structures are now in need of some attention, as the lead in which stained glass sits usually has a life of about a century, and needs to be carefully renewed. The glass itself, if properly fired, should last for centuries.
One of the leading stained-glass restorers, and indeed makers of new stained glass in traditional styles, is John Hardman Studios in Birmingham. Thisremarkable company, which is the only company used by Pugin that survives today, has been in the ownership of the Phillips family for more than 30 years, and supplies and repairs stained-glass windows all over the world.
The studio is run by Neil Phillips (whose younger brother, Edgar, is one of a team of expert stained-glass painters that work there), as well as David Cowan, master glass painter, who has worked for Hardman’s for 42 years, and his son, Steven. Edgar Phillips says: ‘When making a replacement glass, you start with a design which is worked up into a full-size cartoon. This is used to produce a cut line on a pane of glass, and each piece of glass is cut out in turn.
‘With, say, a face, you start with a trace line and paint on and scrub off, before firing you might fire five or six times, to get just the right feeling of depth in the glass. It is the firing which fixes the colour.’
He adds: ‘We do a considerable amount of domestic glass, as well as things for colleges, chapels and the major cathedrals around the world. We have a lot of commissions for new windows in traditional styles from American churches.’ Mr Cowan joined Hardman’s straight from school at the age of 15. ‘I was very fortunate to be apprenticed to men whose skills took us back to the 19th century the last great Victorians, if you like. One master glass painter in particular, Billy Naylor, took me under his wing. I get a great feeling of pride working on stained-glass windows, knowing that they will last for centuries if we get it right.’
John Hardman Studios, Lightwoods House, Birmingham: 0121?429 7609;