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Grantham Civic Society column: A look at the windows in St Wulfram’s Church

The window depicts the Sacraments.
The window depicts the Sacraments.

After the visitor has admired the soaring tower and spire of St Wulfram’s Church, on entering, as with most of our parish churches, it is the windows with their coloured glass that catch the eye.

Large church windows are strengthened by stonework: vertical columns called mullions divide the lower part of the window and there are more elaborate patterns in the tracery above. (Tracery will be the subject of a later article.) This stonework divides the area into smaller sections but most of these were still too large for mediaeval glaziers to fit with a single sheet of glass so the small pieces of coloured glass are arranged like a mosaic and held together by strips of lead. Details of the picture may be painted onto the glass: stained glass. Even plain windows are created of hundreds of small pieces; at St Wulfram’s these are ‘diamond’ shape and the glass is rippled so that the windows are not fully transparent.

Following the Reformation and the ravages of the English Civil War there is virtually no mediaeval glass left here. So through the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries the windows would have been largely plain. The effect can be experienced in the chapel behind the organ where the three windows still have no coloured glass. This is the lightest - and plainest - part of the church.

Two further windows in the nave also remain plain but, from the middle of the 19th century, coloured glass began to reappear in the other windows. In 1867 the Archdeacon of Stow produced a scheme for St Wulfram’s whereby the windows, clockwise in order around the church, would illustrate the Gospel stories of Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection and later appearances. Examples of such schemes, with parallel stories from the Old Testament illustrated at a lower level, are still to be seen at Fairford, Gloucestershire (c.1500) and King’s College Chapel, Cambridge (begun 1517).

At St Wulfram’s, apart from a few of the earlier designs that were installed, the Archdeacon’s scheme was abandoned as donors made their own choice of subject to be depicted, resulting in a set of windows where what is shown in one often bears no relation to the themes of its neighbours. Most windows are in memory of a member or members of the family of the benefactor. The list of these is a catalogue of prominent Grantham families over the past 150 years: Clarke, Wyles, Hall, Eaton, Catlin, Glaister, Hutchinson, Maddison, Porter, King, Pinchbeck, Bradley.

The stone mullions and tracery are in effect frames which put constraints on the design of the glass pictures. In medieval times this usually led to the main pictures appearing in separate compartments, with decorative motifs such as stars and angels filling the smaller openings above. This arrangement is used in several of the Victorian designs at St Wulfram’s. More modern designs tend to be freer; the picture may spread right across the width of the window and even into the tracery.

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