Looking Through Berwick’s Windows

Posted · Add Comment

A Presentation by Annie Robinson

When did you last give more than a passing glance to any of the beautiful stained glass windows in many of Berwick’s Buildings? That was the question that we asked ourselves following Annie’s comprehensive, educational and fascinating talk about the history of glassmaking and stained glass, the stories of the glaziers responsible for such skill and craftsmanship over the centuries and finally a closer look at many examples of beautiful stained glass windows in Berwick today.

The earliest glass makers were the Mesopotamians a thousand years or so before the Egyptians and Romans who excelled in the making of small coloured glass objects. The basic methods of glass making have remained unchanged since then when glass was made by melting sand, potash and lime together in clay pots and fused at high temperatures. It was coloured by adding metallic salts and oxides during manufacture.

Stained glass windows, where small pieces of coloured glass are crafted into patterns held together by strips of lead in a rigid frame, were first seen in Italy, France and Germany. One of the first stained glass windows in Britain was created in 675 CE by French Glaziers in the monastery of St Peter in Monkwearmouth in ‘pre-Roman’ style. Annie described the development of techniques in the manufacture of glass over the following centuries which enabled glass to be produced with different qualities and different colours and styles reflecting the historic period. The medieval period was highlighted as a time of great glass manufacture. It became an art form initially used in biblical illustrations to inform a mostly illiterate population. The Victorian times saw a revival of glass making techniques widely used in the Arts and Crafts movement with names familiar to us e.g. William Morris, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Charles Rennie McIntosh.

With the Old Bridge in Berwick celebrating it’s 400th anniversary this year Annie next described the story of glass making from James 1 in 1615, who prohibited the use of wood as a fuel for glass as there was a shortage of timber at that time, to important Glaziers and their families in the North East with many illustrations of their styles and techniques.

Last, but not least, we were shown illustrations of the many stained glass windows in Berwick from the 17th century to modern times, and the impact of the window tax 1696 – 1845. Her research into the stories of the glaziers that were behind these windows was fascinating and good to know that she is producing a map of these sites in Berwick.

Finally, it was a privilege to be shown a preview of Annie’s work developing a stained glass window triptych commemorating the Old Bridge’s 400th Anniversary. Her passion and knowledge were evident throughout her talk and her display of glass objects and reference books collected over 30 years were all appreciated by the audience.

SYG 1/2024

Two of Annie’s favourite photo’s of stained glass windows to be found at the Castle Hotel in Berwick.