The Hereford Saga Part 1: The Mystery of the Terrified PR Executives

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Our Public Relations team looked shocked. Anyone would have thought that we’d dismissed them and moved to a different Agency.


“It’s the end of the world!”

Or (much the same thing) that a particularly terrifying prophecy in the Book of Revelation had come to pass.

What on earth had we done?

I checked that my hands were in full view on the boardroom table, still holding the architect’s crumpled drawing.

What on earth had we said to cause such fright?

Surely we’d only been describing our latest stained glass project?

David and I were actually quite excited about it: a massive stained glass window in a magnificent new building in the nearby city of Hereford …

The huge centre window in a row of five …

Hereford Crematorium

Architect’s drawing (crumpled)

The possibility that we would also be asked to design and make the other four windows

This was certainly news to celebrate!


“I’m a journalist and I’m hungry!”

Now I know these PR people can sometimes be a bit cautious, always imagining that the Press is a multi-headed Hydra which feeds on the blood of unsuspecting innocents and all that.

Personally, I don’t think they’re half as bad as some people make them out to be.

In fact, journalists have often said nice things about us, such as this and this.

And even the BBC said this about us. (And if anyone wants to know how even the BBC can transform Beauty into Beast, just click here!)

So what on earth had made our valiant team take fright?

No …

No, no, surely not …

I mean to say, our PR team is made from Stern Stuff, with a firmness of will and clarity of vision to make grown men shake.

But, sudden as a bolt of summer lightning, it had occurred to me that there could be only one explanation for their startled expression.

Stained glass designs by Williams & Byrne

“I promise not to eat much of you if you get it wrong!”

However improbable, it was …


Remember this: Williams & Byrne is a design and stained glass painting studio with a reputation to be proud of.

But what do you think it was that terrified our valiant PR executives?

You can write your ideas just below. Professional explanations only, please!

So … read or add to the comments … or, for Part 2, just click here.

41 thoughts on “The Hereford Saga Part 1: The Mystery of the Terrified PR Executives

  1. It can only be one of two things:
    a) Environmental concerns (after all a huge stained glasss window hardly has the same insulating properties as nice UVPC double glazing) or …
    b) Health and safety.
    I think it must be health and safety: that’s always the reason why I shouldn’t be doing something… like cleaning 19th century taxidermy (impregnated with arsenic) or handling mildly radioactive mineral specimens.

  2. Interesting suggestions from Matt. And, of course, since this is the 21st century, the window will in fact be mounted against secondary glazing, thus reducing energy loss (but, as will become apparent, also posing an interesting design conundrum). So it’s not (a).

    Now health and safety is a great idea. Indeed, if we allowed ourselves, we would live in fear that our legislators might one day decide that glass is too dangerous to work with, or that lead should be made illegal. (Never mind the fact that beauty can elevate the soul!)

    People seem to have forgotten Nietzsche’s dictum that we should build our houses on the slopes of volcanoes. (If anyone is reading this from the Department for Building Regulations, that’s a METAPHOR.)

    But no, it’s not health and safety either.

    In fact, much as our PR people absolutely adore us (!), they’d be happy with as much danger as possible for us: after all, danger = headlines!

    Great ideas, though.

  3. Could it be the timeframe for the job? Realistically, how long is the estimate to design and build a massive project from start to finish?

    I guess it could run into several years unless you take on extra staff.

    But I get the impression that the beauty of your work is because the 2 of you get on so well together and compliment each other’s skills … so it wouldn’t be an appropriate option to take on loads of extra people …

  4. You were not doing any scenes from the book of revelations, were you?

    The windows look like they are near the chimney: perhaps they thought the smoke going up heavenwards would be fine but any of the poor souls being taken downwards …

    After all the window is for a crematorium, isn’t it?

    All that fire and brimstone …. It appeals to my sense of humour (nuff said!)

  5. What ever it is I cannot wait to find out! And your Brittish humor makes me happy everytime I come to this site or communicate with all of you! I’ll be back to find out more.

  6. In this country, cold tea would definitely do the trick, yes: even the bravest executive would flinch. (And ours ARE amazing.)

    But no, it’s not the tea.

    This time …

    And it’s also a good notion that it would indeed be difficult simply to employ a lot of extra “hands” in order to design, paint and make a large window.

    We do indeed like to work closely with everyone, whether with people (like Caroline) who have spent time with us on a glass painting course and who know what we are like (!) or with people who come and work in the studio: the time together is important, the work is always better for it.

    But there’s a clear sense in which the size of the window doesn’t always matter. We all know that situation where someone asks, “How much will 4 square feet cost (and can I have it next week)?”. That is, it would be possible to make a large window very quickly, or to make a tiny window very slowly: it all depends on the design and the required intricacy of work (and I know Caroline knows this).

    Now we haven’t yet shown you our design: that’s the whole point of this blog – we’ll talk it through with you as we go along. But, for this window, it isn’t the size which is scares our wonderful P.R. team.

    But someone here is warm … yes, definitely and alarmingly and brilliantly warm!

    But who?

  7. I tend to think that you may have scared the poor people when they saw that your window design may take front seat to their building design … I can’t wait to read on this thriller …

  8. Joanne – I always knew you had a discerning soul!

    But to be serious (must I?): (yes!) there is such an important point here.

    You can contrast us with fashion designers.

    Not by the way we dress (oh, no indeed: we are exceedingly stylish) but in this respect: the fashion designer says, “This year, the colour of every garment MUST be taupe / framboise / capucine / jaune d’espoir” (or whatever), and everyone is supposed to do as they say, regardless of their personal taste: for otherwise they’ll be unfashionable.

    Rather, here we and you are, designing and making something that will last 100 years or more, which must fit not just the thoughts and emotions of the people who will live with it, but which must also ring a true chord with the building in which it is housed.

    Now haven’t we all been into churches and seen stained glass windows which, however magnificent, were moreorless the expression of an enormous ego, however talented – windows which show little consideration for the architectural setting which is the pre-condition for their existence?

    The Romantic philosophy certainly has a place in the history of our culture. But, like Joanne, we would, when we design, always place huge importance on the setting.

    David and I often feel that the design isn’t about us as people, except in so far as we prepare it.

    We reckon that good design requires both pride and humility; singlemindedness and schizophrenia; certainty and irresolution.

    And, right now, the main thing is for us to discover how to soothe the fears of our much admired P.R. executives …

  9. Well, I googled ‘new Hereford crematorium’, and it appears that the BBC think that the most newsworthy feature of the building is that it is equipped for the ‘more capacious coffin’.

    So do your PR people think that your windows featuring in the curvaceous people’s crem is the equivalent of a haute couture dress being modelled on the talented and lovely Beth Ditto?

  10. Dear Stephen and David,

    This is a high level english for me: it tooks me 2 days to read all the entries! So you have a huge new project! Congratulations! Now why don’t you call for volunteers? I would love to come and help you, and learn how to paint beautifully as you do.

    I want to see the design too!

    Adela, Guatemala.

  11. Hi Adela,

    You’ll soon get to see the design: what we’re going to do is show you how the design evolved, how it started as simple sketches, then jumped forward, then took a few steps backwards, then forwards again … and so forth. And we’ll also show you how we make the window – the techniques that we will use.

    All the best to you,

    PS Your English is amazing! And, so that you know, future entries will use a lot more pictures to narrate the story.

  12. Is it because the design has to be completely secular and take into account all religions and sensibilities? In which case, have you created a design which is “way of the beam” and could be misinterpreted … ?

  13. Indeed it is! The series is called “Evacuees Reunited”, and it’s deeply moving in places, especially when we’ve taken ex-evacuees back to their 2nd World War “reception areas” to meet up with old friends and the families they stayed with …

    I am off to London today to discuss the possibility of another television series.

    I’ve also had several books published this year, and, as you are aware, I retain my sanity by doing my glasswork so that I can switch my brain to something totally different.

    That is why your painting course was not only inspirational, but in my case genuinely therapeutic. For that alone, many thanks.

  14. Martin! It is you!

    I hope your day went well in London – I know your work and research makes a huge difference to many people’s lives.

    I completely understand the business of “switching my brain”. There’s a clear sense in which painting on glass is such a relief: when you’re doing it, it’s all you think about.

    This isn’t selfish.

    Actually, it’s a species of devotion whose experience can be enriching.

    It’s not that glass painting as an activity-in-itself is important.

    No, what’s important is the quality of attention / focus / concentration that glass painting can sometimes encourage in us.

    You know how I’ve got an ongoing interest in Philosophy: well, I’m sure that my the quality of my thinking has been improved by … glass painting. And I certainly feel more at rest.

  15. Actually … what do you mean? Calm, peaceful and relaxed may be different for different people. For example, my husband and I are very different on that point. When we go fly fishing, I find that it is all of the above whereas my husband (by contrast) gets excited and energized by it.

    So, please do give us your version of “calm, peaceful and relaxed”.

  16. Good question. But I need to explain that I’ve actually been running around like a headless chicken for the past couple of days, which I guess is why David made that humorous comment about me being “at rest” … So I haven’t at all been calm, peaceful and relaxed: but then, I haven’t been painting.

    I see there is a lot to say about this so I will speak personally here.

    I can’t paint well when I am bothered or flustered; whereas, whether bothered or not, I can speak and write well.

    Most glass painting is done from a design – it’s rarely done spontaneously: it’s rarely invented as the painter goes along – so, in this sense, it is always a kind of performance that can be rehearsed and rehearsed beforehand until the time comes to do it for real. (We’ll return to this idea.)

    At that time of actual performance, yes, it is possible to be excited (for example, because of the sheer pleasure and exhilaration of succeeding in something that we’ve rehearsed) or calm (for example, because we attend to nothing more than each brushstroke as we paint it, and thus we forget our outside worries).

    I also think that glass painting can’t be rushed. It has a pace, a rhythm of its own. There’s a sense in which we can’t paint “quickly” or “slowly”: that is, when it happens well, it happens at its own speed. This is a special quality. By contrast, we can all speak quickly or slowly, as we wish.

    Language isn’t easy here. You know that old question of whether glass painting is an art or a craft? Well, David and I had a long discussion about that idea today – a particular discussion that we’ve never had before (we were driving to visit a client). It’s so often the case that we think we have the answer to a question (“Art or Craft?”, “Calming or energizing?”), when, all of a sudden, a new event makes us see things in a different light.

    It might well be the “or” which causes all the problems.

    Anyway, we will soon reveal the stages of the design for this large window (as well as explaining the anxiety of our P.R. executives).

  17. Bravo! Well done on the explanation. I, myself, feel embraced by a warm/cool energy when I am painting some might say I am in some kind of trance … and it’s great!

    Back to the main subject: I can’t wait for the Revelation!

  18. Calm, peaceful and relaxed in our house means the two of us like book ends on the settee, with piles of books between us. (Sometimes the peace is shattered when we both want the same book and are at different pages: we usually have a couple of books – at least – on the go at the same time.) These books range from Glass ones (naturally!) and crime ( usually all pre 1950’s back to medieval) and history ones. Our tastes are Roman, Egyptian, Medieval, English civil war and, more up-to-date, the First and Second World Wars. I have got some real gems from World War I for my husband this Christmas as he collects Royal Flying Corp books, autobiographies etc.

    But back to “peace” and “tranquillity”: when we are sitting there, usually the only words which pass between us are “Another drop?”. So, passing the vino, we carry on … ahh!

  19. For calm, peaceful and relaxed there has to be some reference to glowing embers from a warm, crackling fire, a glass of port and someone rubbing your feet … especially on these winter days in New England!

    It’s sleeting down right now, and I have to go out and brave the crazies on the road: I must focus “golden moment thoughts” only on the peace that everyone is so eloquently describing.

    Stephen, when do we get the ‘revelation’?

  20. Hi Bonnie,


    The design is advancing well. David and I want to show you how it evolved through many, many stages. And it takes a while to summon up the words and images by which to convey this to you. And of course we want to get it right, because the process of imagining, then starting, then revising etc. the design is arguably as creative as the process of making the window.

    The whole business of using one medium (paper) to represent and explore a completely different medium (glass) is bizarre, to say the least.

    Yet it really must be done. On the one hand, the design is for our own sake, so that we get to understand what it is that we want to make; on the other hand, the design is also for the client, so that they know we understand the import of the meetings that we’ve had with them.

    And it’s rarely straightforward, which is why we want to prepare this narrative.

  21. I am going to be busy working these next few days, so I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

    • That would be problematic – to prepare a stained glass design that was inappropriate to a building and its space; and, if we ever committed such a sin, we would consider the resulting furore to be completely justified – but it’s not what we’ve done here.

      Also, as with health and safety, I reckon that our P.R. executives would be thrilled by such an error.

  22. We’re waiting … waiting … w-a-i-t-i-n-g!

    I wondered about the size of this stained glass window: will you tell us?

    I know how long it can take to prepare a project: last year it took me one month to design a window for my daughter … And then she went and changed everything!

    I take this opportunity to wish you happy holidays. I also hope we all will have a good year full of mystery and revelations – and also many opportunities to show our imagination, ideas, new concepts and innovations.

    Cheers! I am looking forward to reading more about the story of your design.

    Adela (Guatemala)

  23. I think it must be the owl: in Japanese culture it is a sign of death. Native Americans believed owls carried the souls of the deceased, that it was a death messenger.

    Others believe it is the totem of mystics and clairvoyants.

    Along the Northwest Coast of the United States, the owl is believed to hold strong supernatural powers. It is associated with wisdom, foreknowledge and perception, and is strongly associated with the spirit world. It’s also thought that the owl brings good luck to those born under the earth signs.

  24. Jeffrey,

    Often people write to thank us for making time to pass on ideas and answer questions. Equally often, we write back and say that it’s our privilege, because we, too, also learn so much.

    And here you are, from Norfolk, England, adding something so important to the energies with which we shall complete the design: thank you!

    For anyone arriving later, the reference to the owl is elucidated in Part 2 of the Hereford Saga.

  25. First, what a joy to find you!

    Second, I wish you all a wonderful NEW YEAR from the USA – in fact from Oregon in particular.

    Third, back to this intriguing problem-solving mystery …

    If the architect failed to consult with a glass maker in the initial stages of the building design, then it could be that the location of these windows were poorly placed for the beauty of painted glass to be taken advantage of.

    Depending on the design and the type of glass desired for that design, the outside environment could be a problem and perhaps a distraction from the windows.

    If I understand the architects drawing then the parking lot would be facing the windows. If the window design is intended for translucent painted glass there would be a lot of movement and changing colors in the background that could distract from the windows.

    A solution for this problem would be the use of opal glass because the outside environment would have little affect when viewing from the inside and could enhance the look from the outside.

    Thanks for the opportunity to puzzle this commission.

    Marlena Nielsen
    Troutdale Oregon

  26. Hi Marlena,

    You’ve certainly identified a difficulty that must eventually be resolved through the design and then the painting and making of the stained glass window: the parking lot is indeed apparent.

    So 10 out of 10 for spotting this from Oregon.

    For our own part, at the time of preparing the initial sketches for the client, R.C., we simply assumed (due to building regulations and the consequent legal imperative to limit wasted energy) that our stained glass window would be double-glazed against industrial glass of some kind.

    The initial sketches – see Part 2 – were simply a means of continuing our discussions with R.C. and of gaining a closer understanding of the kind of window that he wanted to commission and donate.

    Jumping ahead (to a point not yet reached by the narrative), we now know that the stained glass window will in fact be double-glazed against pre-textured glass whose joint-purpose is to insulate and also to obscure the sight of the parking lot.

    This complicates the design and the painting, but it’s all part of the highly specific adventure of every individual stained glass project.

    That is, lighting considerations are crucial: thank you so much for introducing this vital element into our narrative.

  27. Hi Guys!

    I hope the BBC interview goes well.

    If you do many more of these I’ll put you in contact with my agent!

    Very best wishes to you both and all contributors to this blog.


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