Celebrating milestones (3): the 150th anniversary of a stained glass trailblazer

~ In memory of Charles Winston (1814-1864), stained glass expert ~

This is the third feature in our blog series Celebrating Milestones; here we extend its scope to highlight a publishing milestone – that of a fascinating book from our collections…

‘To… Charles Winston, is due what may justly be called the renaissance of English stained glass…’1

In 1865 an important book was published, Charles Winston’s Memoirs illustrative of the art of glass-painting (London: John Murray, Abermarle Street)

A century and a half later, it graces our Chapter Library collections.  This blog explores Winston’s life and work, and delves into this special book (all images are taken from the Memoirs, with plate and page numbers given).


Glorious Gothic reborn

Winston was arguably in the vanguard of the Gothic Revival in England, alongside such influential figures as author and architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812–1852) and art critic John Ruskin (1819–1900).  From around 1830, there was a flowering of enthusiasm for the art of the Mediaeval era, and a nostalgic wish to recreate some of the romance of chivalric times.  Stained glass was a hallmark of these stirring times; however coloured glass was no longer in vogue, and so British workshops’ output was limited, and often of inferior quality.

As the Gothic Revival crescendoed, demand for restored antique glass, and for freshly-crafted glass for churches in the Neo-Gothic style, outstripped supply.  Indeed, as Winston wrote to an associate, art administrator and educationalist Charles Heath Wilson (1809–1882): ‘If you could manage to found a school of art in glass, you would indeed supply a desideratum.  You will have no competitors…’2   He was as passionate about glass painting being respected as an art form, and therefore requiring the endeavour of a specialist artisan, as he was about the quality of the recipes and processes for glass manufacture.

Tragic luminary: an engraving (opposite page 1) of Charles Winston (1814–1864) by William Holl, after a photograph by Philip H. Delamotte (1821–1889), renowned photographer and book–illustrator. Winston seems to radiate a pensive brilliance (© Durham Cathedral Library)

So, it took Winston to satisfy this dearth and to enrich public understanding of Mediaeval principles of design: in 1847, his An inquiry into the difference of style observable in ancient glass painting especially in England: with hints on glass–painting was published.  The movement gained momentum: fourteen years later, William Morris (1834–1896) established a decorative arts workshop, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., near Bloomsbury, which focused on hand–crafted homewares, including stained glass.


A little legal lustre…

Born in the Hampshire seaside town of Lymington on 10th March 1814, Winston’s origins were prosperous: his father was a clergyman and his mother a baronet’s daughter, whilst his great grandfather was formerly the attorney–general of Dominica.  Sadly his mother died when he was young – so his paternal grandmother

Mrs Sandford helped to bring him up.  Winston was home–educated in Farningham, Kent, where his father was incumbent, and was later taught by the Revd. Weeden Butler; learning nurtured Winston’s great integrity, modesty, and an enquiring mind.  He went on to study law, entering London’s Inner Temple c. 1835; for a time a special pleader, he developed a thriving practice centred on arbitrations and specifications for patents and, being a member of the home circuit, frequently officiated as deputy judge at various county courts.

Marriage came late for Winston, only five months before his tragically early death; he resigned from practice after his wedding.  He chose for his wife Maria (1823–1900), daughter of Philip Raoul Lemprière of Rozel Manor – a prominent Jersey family – who befriended the Pre–Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais (1829–1896).


Never the dilettante: Winston’s versatile mind

Despite his noteworthy legal career, Winston is generally more celebrated for his enthusiasm for archaeology and his love of stained glass; he became a distinguished experimenter on glass of Mediaeval origins, undertaking assiduous research on its chemical composition.  He joined the Archaeological Institute soon after its foundation.  His interest in glass was longstanding: curiously, it seems that, aged sixteen, he was fortunate enough to handle some glass fragments from the late Middle Ages at home, his father having some renovations made to Farningham church: the drawings he was inspired to create symbolised his growing love of this art form.

Geometrical glory: examples from Salisbury Cathedral of ornamental designs in the precise Early English style, including foliaged scroll–work (plate I, opposite p. 109) – some of which came from the Chapter House. Reproduced by Philip Delamotte, from Winston’s original drawing (© Durham Cathedral Library)


Leaves of a luminary: Winston’s first book

In 1847 Oxford publisher John Henry Parker brought into print Winston’s book, An inquiry into the difference of style observable in ancient glass paintings especially in England: with hints on glass painting, by an amateur.  It was prominent as the first English publication on this art form: indeed, Raguin calls it ‘his most influential work’3 and ‘a remarkably even-handed evaluation’4 of the various eras of glass-painting design.  His modesty, evident in the title, and in his remark that he had ‘not ventured to do more than throw out a few hints for the consideration of artists…’5 is misplaced, as the book was praised as insightful and authoritative.


A stained glass swansong…

Memoirs illustrative of the art of glass painting was published posthumously, as declared in the Preface:

‘The present collection of Memoirs by the late Mr. Winston is published by some of his friends out of regard to his memory…’6

It offered a short biography of Winston, and various articles he produced during his career for the Archaeological journal.  There is also much heartfelt, persuasive correspondence between Winston and his friends and associates in the field.  Winston’s artistic conviction, and his deep knowledge of, and affinity with, his subject, shines through.  He identified a ‘halcyon’ decade of glass painting, from 1525–1535 – yet he ran the gamut of styles and periods in his writings.

There are some contradictions in others’ views of him…  Whilst it is stated in the preface that ‘To applications of this kind [giving advice on building projects] he seldom or never failed to give his cheerful and active assistance…’7, renowned architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811–1878) apparently found him – though very knowledgeable – sometimes brusque and inflexible.  The author of the ‘Biographical memoir’ at the beginning of the book is arguably somewhat scornful of

of Winston’s achievements, since his life was not coloured by particular glamour, extraordinary happenings, or notoriety.  However he does bestow praise, even if veiled:

‘Connection with the art from whose future history his name will never be separated is the only circumstance which can attract any public interest to his life…’8

And, through moving in increasingly exalted artistic circles, Winston succeeded in securing the friendship of that giant of the Pre–Raphaelite Brotherhood, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882).

‘German glass: from the collection of the late Lord Herbert of Lea’: depicting The Last Supper (plate 10, opposite p. 190). The Leighton Brothers are credited – presumably the Holborn printing firm – apparently trailblazers in ‘chromatic’ [colour] printing (© Durham Cathedral Library)


A tragic talent for the technical

Winston journeyed around southern England and Western Europe, visiting churches with the most significant examples of ancient glass and drawing, with great thoroughness, specimens favoured for quality.  He had observed a decline in the quality of glass since the Middle Ages: he felt that the varying thickness – and so varying tone and texture – of Mediaeval glass was far superior to modern formulas. He writes with eloquence of the delicacy of detail he finds, describing for instance the ‘walls of glass’9 that windows in the expansive Perpendicular style seemed to suggest, with their generous proportions and slenderer stone mullions.

He strove to educate and enthuse the public in his books, writing, for instance, that fourteenth century glass can be identified especially by its texture, which is frequently nearly opaque and sometimes pockmarked.  He also observes that plain glass is often of a deep sea–green colour.  In explaining the crafting of stained glass at this time, he writes that the process usually involved red and ruby glass being placed as a coating over a layer of white glass, creating an uneven texture.  A technique occasionally used to produce purple glass was sandwiching a layer of blue glass between two of ruby colour.

He studied European sources and influences, especially Venetian and Byzantine glass from antiquity, and communicated his visions of how best to restore glass to C. H. Wilson in lively terms:

‘I want no copying of the antique… no gods and goddesses… but I want to see the antique used as Raphael used it; as a means of representing the true Christian sentiment, in the most beautiful manner, and – because in the most beautiful – in the most winning and popular manner.’10

Winston never seemed to allow his engrossment in the details of craftsmanship cloud his overall spiritual belief in God and the sublime.


Colourful experiments…

In the autumn of 1849, in collaboration with Mr. (subsequently Dr.) Medlock of the Royal College of Chemistry, Winston undertook experiments focussing on the blue glass of the twelfth century.  The colouring was found to be of cobalt.  He devoted sterling effort to discovering how to synthesise glass to a recipe typically used in the Middle Ages.  Winston also studied ruby glass, defined as ‘Coated Red glass’11, and observed that ‘The red colour is clearly ascertained to be producible by copper in a high state of oxidation.’12

Messrs.  James Powell and Sons of Whitefriars (also known as Whitefriars Glass) also worked with Winston, who built a furnace especially and succeeded in producing genuine antique glass, in diverse colours common in the twelfth century.  This artistically distinguished glass manufacturer produced tableware and scientific glass, before immersing itself in the Arts and Crafts Movement from around the 1880s onwards.

In 1853, a new ‘antique’ glass was being manufactured by Powell and Sons for glass artists to work with; its quality arguably eclipsed any attempts of the last 200 to 300 years.  Indeed, Winston had rediscovered methods and recipes which had lain in obscurity for centuries.  To celebrate, Winston designed stained glass for four windows (sadly no longer extant) in London’s church of the Inner and Middle Temple, the Temple church.

The new ‘antique’ glass was also employed around the same time for restoration at Bristol Cathedral, as well as Gloucester Cathedral’s east window, c. 1860; and Lincoln’s north rose window in 1855.

‘Lincoln Cathedral: inserted in the North Rose Window’: one of a series of panels from this Early English window, with a distinctively shaped border (plate IX, opposite p. 77), and an elegance and vibrancy of design. A lithograph by Philip Delamotte, from Winston’s original drawing; Vincent Brooks is also credited, presumably the London lithographic printer (1815–1885) (© Durham Cathedral Library)

These projects brought Winston further into the limelight: William Burges (1827–1881), the Gothic architect and designer, apparently enquired as to whether Winston’s recipes might be vouchsafed to glass artisans to enhance the quality of glass production more generally.  Apparently ‘The coloured glass made for mosaic windows was for long known as ‘“Winston’s” glass’13, an affectionate tribute to his industry.  As his acclaim grew in the 1850s, Winston’s advice was sought for various ecclesiastical window projects, including the cathedrals of Norwich and Glasgow; and he also designed windows for the church at Bushbury, Staffordshire14.


Painstaking patternings

In the fourteenth century fashionable designs for glass–painting tended to be a ‘running scroll, formed by a tendril’15 with foliage – ivy, maple, vine or oak leaves.  Geometrical styles were also common in Gothic stained glass.  However, Winston favoured pictorial stained glass – including German creations, notably from Munich – and was of the opinion that fresh styles were appropriate for any current commissions.


A glowing legacy

The fruits of Winston’s outstanding flair and knowledge endure today; although his pioneering work met with some resistance from the Victorian artistic establishment, his prolific collection of published papers has stood the test of time.  The imaginative richness of the High Victorian epoch – notably the artistry of William Morris and his contemporaries – is all the greater through Winston’s work.  He also influenced other, allied crafts, such as the making of vases and table–glass.

Sadly, Winston did not live long enough to gain further fulfilment from his research: on 3rd October 1864, whilst alone in his chambers in the Inner Temple, he died of a heart attack.

A weekly newspaper, The Era, reported that the attending surgeon thought the cause of death was a ‘disease of the heart, produced by over–work and prolonged abstinence from food’16.

Following his death, over 700 of his watercolours were exhibited at London’s Arundel Society, an organisation formed to foster a heightened appreciation of painting and sculpture.

The preface of Memoirs… pays glowing tribute to this good–hearted, remarkably gifted man:

‘Few have passed a more blameless life, and few have united more of the qualities which can win confidence and affection, and command respect.’17


Footnote references

1 Wood, Henry Trueman. (1903) ‘Proceedings of the Society: Applied Art section’, The    journal of the Society of Arts, 51(2638), p. 640

2 Winston, Charles (1865).  Memoirs illustrative of the art of glass painting, p. 18

3 Raguin, Virginia Chieffo. (1990) ‘Revivals, revivalists, and architectural stained glass’, Journal of  the Society of Architectural Historians, 49(3), p. 320

Raguin, Virginia Chieffo. (1990), p. 321

 5 Winston Charles (1847).  An inquiry into the difference of style observable in ancient glass paintings especially in England: with hints on glass painting, by an amateur, p. v  

Winston, Charles (1865).  Memoirs…, p. iii

7 Winston, Charles (1865).  Memoirs…, p. 13

Winston, Charles (1865).  Memoirs…, p. 1

9 Winston, Charles (1865).  Memoirs…, p. 286

10 Winston, Charles (1865).  Memoirs…, p. 20

11 Winston, Charles (1865).  Memoirs…, p. 81

12 Winston, Charles (1865).  Memoirs…, p. 81, note 2

13 Wood, Henry Trueman. (1903) ‘Proceedings…’, p. 640

14 Chatwin, A. H. (2000) Bushbury Church.  Available at: http://www.historywebsite.co.uk/articles/bushbury/churchglass.htm (Accessed: 9 November 2015)

15 Graves, James. (1850) ‘Ancient Irish stained glass’, Transactions of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, 1(2), p. 213

16 The Era (1864) ‘Accidents and offences’, 9 October, issue 1359

17 Winston, Charles (1865).  Memoirs…, p. 17


Further reading…

~ Winston’s work ~

  • Allen, Jasmine (2009) Panel of the month: Adam digging and Eve spinning. Available at: http://vidimus.org/issues/issue-28/panel-of-the-month/ (Accessed: 9 November 2015)
  • Winston Charles (1847).  An inquiry into the difference of style observable in ancient glass paintings especially in England: with hints on glass painting, by an amateur. Oxford: John Henry Parker

~ Winston’s family ~


~ The glass–making industry ~

  • Marsh, Madeleine (2003) ‘A World of Glass at Whitefriars’, BBC Homes & antiques, August 2003

~ Stained glass: trends & styles ~

  • Cheshire, Jim. (2004)  Stained Glass and the Victorian Gothic Revival.  Manchester: Manchester University Press
  • Raguin, Virginia Chieffo. (1990) ‘Revivals, revivalists, and architectural stained glass’, Journal of  the Society of Architectural Historians, 49(3), pp. 310–329
  • Sewter, A. C. (1961) ‘The place of Charles Winston in the Victorian revival of the art of stained glass’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 3(24), pp. 80–91
  • Shields, Daniel (1952) ‘Design in stained glass’, Studies: an Irish Quarterly Review, 41(162), pp. 209–218
  • Wood, Henry Trueman. (1903) ‘Proceedings of the Society: Applied Art section’, The    journal of the Society of Arts, 51(2638), pp. 637–646

~ Stained glass: general history ~


~ The Gothic Revival ~


~ Colour printing & book production ~

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