New glass to replace window lost in war-time hiding place

by
03 December 2008

by Paul Wilkinson

Journey of life: Helen Whittaker’s de­sign for a new window at St Mary’s: Helen Whittaker’s de­sign for a new window at St Mary’s

Journey of life: Helen Whittaker’s de­sign for a new window at St Mary’s: Helen Whittaker’s de­sign for a new window at St Mary’s

STAINED GLASS is being fitted in a 19th-century church, nearly 70 years after the original window was lost down a coal mine.

In 1939, the great 20-by-12-foot neo-Gothic east window of St Mary’s, Bramall Lane, Sheffield, was removed to avoid bomb damage, and stored with other stained glass from the church hundreds of feet below ground in the south Yorkshire coalfield.

The precautions were vindicated a year later, when German bombers devastated St Mary’s with a huge land-mine. It was almost 20 years before restoration work could begin, and by then details of the windows’ hiding place had been lost. “When it came to it, no one knew where they had gone,” said the Vicar of St Mary’s, Canon Julian Sullivan.

“They had either lost the records, or they were destroyed in the bombing. The windows are still down there somewhere. Perhaps someone out there knows where they are, but we don’t, so it’s been clear glass ever since.”

Now, in an £80,000 project backed by the Arts Council, a modern abstract design is to replace the glass from the 1950s. Based on the theme of a journey through life, it has been crafted by the artist Helen Whittaker, who works in the studio in York. Installation began this week.

The glass reflects the changing life of the church, which was consecrated in 1830. It was one of the “million-pound churches”, built with money voted by Parliament to provide moral guidance for the thousands of workers flooding into the cities.

The restoration in the 1950s in­volved a then-revolutionary scheme, in which its huge nave, originally designed for 2000 worshippers, was cut in two to create a community centre and a smaller church. It was successful, and in the ’90s it under­went a £3-million modernisation.

Today, the church, which is next to Sheffield United’s football ground, has a congregation of about 60. The community centre has been con­verted into a conference venue, where up to 1000 people attend meetings each week.

Canon Sullivan described Ms Whittaker’s design for the window as “amazing”. “It’s not just church people who like it — it’s everybody. People of other faiths have been impressed, too. Muslims to whom the Haj is important have liked it — which is exactly what we wanted, as the building is used for much of the week by people who have nothing to do with our church.

“In a funny sort of way, if it hadn’t been for the Blitz, the work that goes on here now would never have been possible.”

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