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How to Look at Stained Glass, by Jane Brocket

17 August 2018

Nicholas Cranfield finds a short book a boon to the church-crawler

Detail of the window of the Nativity with children,1944, at All Saints’, Hereford, by M. E. A. Rope, the younger of the two cousins, both named Margaret Rope, who were stained-glass artists. An illustration from How to Look at Stained Glass

Detail of the window of the Nativity with children,1944, at All Saints’, Hereford, by M. E. A. Rope, the younger of the two cousins, both named Margar...

JANE BROCKET is something of a specialist in the decorative arts and domestic design, and, in this immensely useful little book, she brings that skill and her scholarship in Victorian Art and literature to bear on her professed hobby: visiting churches and looking, in particular, at the stained glass.

The book opens with a very straightforward recommendation to track down specific windows, glass artists, or styles, using any number of gazette listings such as Pevsner’s invaluable Buildings of England series or England’s Thousand Best Churches (Simon Jenkins), and a reminder that clergy, too, can be helpful.

The author also draws attention to the specialist publications of the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi, which list all the surviving medieval glass in England in situ.

A no-nonsense two pages of text describe how stained glass is manufactured. There follows an A-Z from Abstract to Zzzzz (she misses out my personal favourite of the three kings tucked up in bed together once their Bethlehem mission was accomplished, in Canterbury Cathedral) with nearly 90 individual entries, from Incense to Urine and Ermine to Tin legs. There are practical hints on how best to photograph stained glass (never easy and not always successful) and on typography.

Brocket has a telling eye for detail; the pair of Mary Jane shoes worn by a girl at St John’s, Hoxton (London); the Lincolnshire potato-sorters and -packers of St Mary and St Nicholas, Spalding (1964, Harry Harvey); but how did the Sainsbury’s shopping trolley (1984), stuck in to advertise the grocery store, in Christ Church, Southwark, get past the Chancellor?

There are entries for only two individual artists, which seems odd: one is Charles Eamer Kempe, and the other is John Piper, who, in fact, never made any glass, leaving that to the gifted Patrick Reyntiens; but there is no mention of Heaton, Butler & Bayne, Lavers & Barraud, Clayton & Bell, or of the many 20th-century artists.

The book has 32 black-and-white details and 79 colour illustrations.

If you venture out into the country, whether by car, bicycle, or train, it would be a good idea to tuck this book into the glove compartment, pannier, or rucksack: alongside a dictionary of saints with their emblems, this will make for hours of pleasure in church-crawling.


Canon Nicholas Cranfield is the Vicar of All Saints’, Blackheath, in south London.


How to Look at Stained Glass: A guide to the church windows of England
Jane Brocket
I. B. Tauris £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

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