Why Do the English Destroy so Much Stained Glass?

When you visit Arley Hall in Cheshire, you may wonder whatever happened to the second of six magnificent stained glass windows which tell the story of a medieval hunt

See right below:

Missing stained glass window

What happened to the missing stained glass window?

Any guesses about what happened?

Well, this time it was not the fault of Thomas Cromwell, because that was the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, and these windows (and the Hall itself) are nineteenth century.

But this time – as then – it most likely was an English soldier.

Yes, this time – which is sometime during the Second World War – the Hall was requisitioned by the Army.

Whose soldiers needed target practice …

All six windows originally came from France and were made by Andre Lusson: exquisite quality – look at this:

A scene from the 5th window

A scene from the 5th window

Lusson – who spent so much of his life designing and making stained glass for churches whose windows had been destroyed by French Revolutionaries: somehow these windows of his arrive in England where one of them is shot to pieces by an English rifleman.

Credo: the five’s survival must be down to intervention from On High (not bad shooting – the English are good shots; they just don’t take much care of their stained glass, is all).

And the missing window?

Well, by a miracle, Lusson’s sketch survives. I have seen it with my own eyes.

You’re in for a treat here.

Look at this historic document and marvel:

Andre Lusson's water-colour sketch for "Entry into the Forest"

Andre Lusson’s water-colour sketch for “Entry into the Forest”

Lusson was a consummate master of his craft – he knew exactly where he would go with this sketch. When someone has real confidence, less is always more.

Best,Stephen Byrne

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31 thoughts on “Why Do the English Destroy so Much Stained Glass?

  1. Hi guys,

    Thanks for putting the sketch by Andre Lusson on the website – amazing to see. Perhaps you could offer to do the window for them – it looks so odd without that piece!

    As you say, it’s a miracle the sketch still survives (it seems natural it should be complete again).

    Hope you are both keeping well.

    Best wishes,
    Fiona

    • Hi Fiona,

      This is a tale from the archives – of which we have many, and all of them are fun and also useful, so me and David will certainly be sharing them with you. And there’ll be lots of other gems like this sketch by Lusson which you’d never find elsewhere.

      As for re-painting the missing window: Arley Hall is wonderful and absolutely worth anyone’s time to visit, but the estate has so many calls on its money (- imagine just the cost of maintaining the roof).

      All the same, and I don’t mean this immodestly, I know if we were there with a temporary studio, we’d pull the crowds.

      All the best,
      Stephen

  2. Intriguing! These costumes are still in style – on women.

    I wonder what it is in human nature that compels destruction of lovely things, particularly in times of war. Just because someone else owned it? Class warfare when soldiers are stationed in fancy places? It’s kind of sad. I imagine a superior officer making them stop and rescuing the remaining ones from destruction when he heard the sound broken glass!

    Thanks for these beautiful images!

    • Hi Victoria,

      I think boredom and fear can do bad things to people. It’s hard for empathy and imagination to flourish in such circumstances. But five windows survived. So like you say, it’s very likely some Guardian Angel intervened …

      Best,
      Stephen

    • Ah, Nina, I wish there were a commission to be competed for. But, even with my legendary powers of imagination and positive thought … But who knows? One day, and one day soon, I hope – of course I do. The sequence is so lovely and vivid.

      All the best,
      Stephen

    • Hi July! I imagine there’s many a whitewashed church in Italy which once boasted a lovely medieval fresco …

      The things people do when they don’t understand.

      Myself, I don’t usually have much time for restoration and conservation “humbug”, but then I think about the kinds of things some people do when they’ve other things on their mind.

      All the best,
      Stephen

  3. I’m such a lover of history that I always groan when I hear stories like this … it makes me sad. I think that’s why I look at Vidimus often (I just love to see all those beautiful windows). I LOVE the water-color sketch …

  4. Well, it’s a beaut. sketch, but this example also shows the immense value of always archiving your original artwork! I have a few boxes of folded up old designs, sketches and cartoons, which sometimes cause me to mutter at the amount of valuable shelf-space they hog. But every now and again I’ve found it useful when I’ve had to go back and cut a replacement piece for a repair, or create a duplicate panel for somewhere else in that client’s house. Yes, always keep a copy . . .

    • Yes, and not just a digital copy; I understand that best practice “back-up” procedures for our national libraries is now not digital but … you guessed it … good old paper.

    • Or, indeed, when someone else might need one’s work. We erase things at our peril. And maybe the slowness and relative permanence of working with paper (or indeed glass) should act as a reminder to work slowly and work well.

  5. Any news on dates for your summer glass painting workshop? Any info. would be appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Janae

    • Hi Janae – it won’t be long before we fix dates for an intensive summer-school like the one we ran last year. Most months we can also work 1-to-1 (while other projects continue here). I’ll be in touch.

      Best,
      Stephen

  6. Thanks for sharing that story with us, and the sketch. And yes – when do you start completing the set? We’d all love to be watching your progress!

    • Many years ago, I did suggest it would be not just a very good idea but also a crowd-puller, Pat, but they have so many urgent things to think about …

      Why oh why must beauty nearly always wait?

      Best,
      Stephen

  7. Hello, and nice to hear from you Stephen – I hope you’re doing great. Hope David is also. I hope this window will be your next commission and shall wait for the story of the new window.

    Regards
    Hassan

  8. Greetings, Stephen!

    Are you sure it wasn’t a Yank. We’re really good at destroying beautiful things i.e. Teddy Roosevelt destroying all the Tiffany glass at the White House.

    John

    • Hello John,

      I’m sure all our nations have great creative strengths as well as enormously destructive skills. Thankfully, the glass painter’s life is pleasantly simple: keep the palette tidy, shape and load the brush, apply the paint and … repeat.

      Best,
      Stephen

  9. The importance of keeping designs on file cannot be overstated. I have numerous flat file units brimming with 30 years worth of designs, patterns, cartoons, etc. Woe to my survivors, after I am gone, who shall have to sort all of it out!

    • “Woe” … ?

      As with glass painting itself, so too with designs: when things are well done, they are a joy and a tribute.

      For ourselves, as each of us grows older, things may seem to us as Gibbon said – “the abbreviation of time, and the failure of hope, will always tinge with a browner shade the evening of life” (Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life).

      But, if we leave behind us things which are well done, it is possible we will inspire the young, or at the very least: set a fine example.

      I am sure you will.

      • My “woe”comment was made with tongue in cheek. With all the sketches, studies, scale drawings, full size patterns, etc., I have generated over the years, I wonder if I should endeavor to transfer this archive to a digital format? I’m afraid that would require more computer expertise than I possess! But at times I do feel overwhelmed with the volume of paper material occupying more and more space. I do feel my designs have merit and do hope they may inspire others, but are they going be considered dated (Rhetorical question)? A lot of them are just re-interpretations of earlier design conventions (they are what tend to sell around these parts) and may provide a quaint look back in time, while others are original designs that are more contemporary in nature and more a comment on the nature of current cultural conventions. At any rate, when the need arises for remedial work to be done on my creations, my patterns can be a resource for those involved in that effort, which is enough justification for saving everything.

        • Idle and unanswerable speculation: if Lusson had “backed up” to digital, would we even have his sketch today? (“Zut alors – jettons ces desseins dans la poubelle car j’ai toujours les versions électroniques …”)

  10. Thought you might enjoy this passage from Dickens, Barnaby Rudge:

    “It was spacious enough in all conscience, occupying the whole depth of the house, and having at either end a great bay window as large as many modern rooms; in which some few panes of stained glass, emblazoned with fragments of armorial bearings, though cracked, and patched, and shattered, yet remained; attesting, by their presence, that the former owner had made the very light subservient to his state, and pressed the sun itself into his list of flatterers; bidding it, when it shown into his chamber, reflect the badges of his ancient family, and take new hues and colours from their pride.”

    Geoff

  11. Thank you I really enjoyed that little tale.

    The sketch is beautifully done – we know exactly what direction he was going in with the line and colouring.

    Sad about the stained glass being shot – will it be replaced by you guys? It would complete the set. (I have just read below; it seems I have the same line of thinking as others! – It’s true that a roof comes before the decoration in the windows …)

    One day I will visit this place in Cheshire.

    Thanks again for enlightening my morning with your interesting findings.

    Best,
    Annie