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Rare stained glass returns to Gothic 'tomb' at The Vyne

Specialist from Holy Well Glass looks at newly conserved stained glass at The Vyne, Hampshire
Stained glass specialist looks at newly conserved glass at The Vyne | © National Trust / Megan Taylor

Some of the rarest surviving 18th-century stained glass in the care of the National Trust has been fitted with environmental protective glazing. Known as ‘isothermic glazing’, this will protect the glass from the ravages of weathering intensified by the impact of increasing rainfall and heat from the sun.

Weather conditions had affected the fragile structure of the window, causing the painted detail to flake, leadwork to warp and leak, and cycles of condensation to eat away at the surface of the glass. The deterioration had accelerated in recent years because of extreme weather patterns caused by climate change.

The conservation process

Specialist conservators Holy Well Glass added a secondary glazing layer (known as environmental protective glazing) in lead and hand-made glass, replicating the traditional methods used. This was mounted in the original timber frame, with the stained glass contained inside a bespoke bronze frame. The space between the two layers was ventilated to avoid a microclimate developing, which could lead to condensation.

A conservator solders a section of lead matrix on The Vyne's Tomb Chamber windows
Soldering The Vyne's Tomb Chamber stained-glass windows. | © National Trust / Karen Legg

The new glazing will take the brunt of weather conditions, particularly heat and damp. It will protect not only the painted glass but also the surface of the magnificent marble tomb, which was eroding into small crystals, known as ‘sugaring’.

Jack Clare, Director of Holy Well Glass: “This highly significant glass is exceptionally fragile, and showed clear signs of deterioration due to its environmental conditions. We are seeing increasingly frequent extreme weather events, which are exacerbating the deterioration of our historical buildings. This is becoming a major consideration in caring for our nation’s historic buildings, with concerns affecting the approach of a wide range of works, from guttering to glazing.”

Why is Rowell's work so rare?

The jewel-like glass window is believed to be the most important surviving example of Rowell’s work. Originally a plumber, Rowell was a self-taught glass-maker and although accomplished, his paint was not durable enough to withstand the test of time and would ‘vanish’ from the glass. Very little of his work remains.

Rowell’s piece is one of two stained and painted glass windows in the tomb chamber to receive this specialist treatment. The second is by Rowell’s great rival and prominent glass-maker, William Price the Younger (1706-1765), which also features an interpretation of the Adoration of the Shepherds.

The elaborately decorated tomb chamber is a nationally important example of 18th-century Gothic. It was created as a family mausoleum by John Chute (1701-1776) and is the result of Chute’s great friendship with Horace Walpole, for whom he part-designed Strawberry Hill in Twickenham.

Two stained glass conservators in high vis yellow jackets and hard hats on scaffold in front of stained glass window, with marble tomb effigy in foreground
Conservators return the stained glass window by John Rowell to The Vyne's tomb chamber | © National Trust / Megan Taylor

National Trust curator at The Vyne, Dominique Shembry, said: It’s wonderful to see these two beautiful windows back in their rightful place, looking so clean and free from mould! They really bring to life the beauty of the Tomb Chamber memorial that John Chute created for his ancestors and showcase the work of two of the leading stained glass makers of the time.”

18th-century glass display and exclusive Tomb Chamber tours

From June, a first-floor display will shed light on 18th-century glass at The Vyne. Later this year, guided volunteer-led tours will take small groups into the tomb chamber to explore its story.