Medieval Stained Glass: How a Norwich business became the leading stained glass conservation firm in Britain

Stained glass in Norwich and Norfolk has a particularly rich and interesting history.  In 2004 thanks to a partnership with the Town Close Estate Charity, the Norfolk Record Office acquired the archive of G. King and Son (Lead Glaziers) Ltd of Norwich. The archive covers the firm’s history from 1924-2002 and includes administrative records, production records, a photographic archive and technical papers and research. Included in the archive are thousands of black-and-white and some coloured photographic prints, slides and negatives, and over 9,000 full-sized cartoons and cutline rubbings of glass which passed through the workshop. Rubbings are made from a panel before it is taken apart for conservation, so that it can be reassembled accurately.

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Detail of a stained glass panel at Lowestoft Town Hall. Norfolk Record Office catalogue number KNG 2/2/4/16

The firm of G. King and Son established themselves as glaziers in the Cathedral Close, in 1927. Dennis King, the firm’s founder, initially worked alone until he was joined by his father, George King. George had previously worked with a firm of decorative plasterers and mosaic-workers and specialised in gilding and the leading of windows. Much of G. King and Son’s early work was on pubs and cinemas, but by the 1930s, working from larger premises in King’s Lane Norwich, they started restoring ecclesiastical glass. Under Dennis’s direction the business became the leading stained glass conservation firm in Britain.

G. King and Son (Lead Glaziers) Ltd worked on stained glass in many of the parish churches of East Anglia, and also on many other key sites for surviving stained glass nationally, including Great Malvern Priory, Highcliffe Castle, Hampton Court Palace, Canterbury Cathedral and many Oxbridge colleges. They also worked on commissions internationally, in places as far afield as Athens, South Africa and Canada. In addition to this Dennis King acted as a consultant to conservation workshops at York and Canterbury, and he advised on the creation of The Stained Glass Museum at Ely. No other British studio has handled so much conservation work in connection with historic stained glass.

In the archive of G. King and Son (Lead Glaziers) Ltd it is possible to view the job files for a number of restoration and conservation projects the firm carried out. The job files include those from Blickling Hall, Dorchester Abbey, Lincoln Cathedral and Lowestoft Town Hall as well as many other churches, houses, abbeys and halls. The job file for Lowestoft Town Hall contains local press releases and photographs of a 12-month restoration project on their west window, it also contains background information on the history of the window itself.

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The West window at Lowestoft Town Hall, commissioned by Sir Morton Peto to commemorate the union of France and England during the Crimean War. NRO catalogue number KNG 2/2/4/16

The west window was commissioned by Sir Morton Peto of Somerleyton Hall in the 1850s, and was given to Lowestoft Town Hall after it was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition, 1855. The window commemorates the union of France and England during the Crimean war. In the centre is a representation of the tournament of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, 7-24 June 1520, with effigies of St. Denis of France and St. George of England. In the base are the retrospective shields of both nations, and the national flags. Above the tournament scene are medallion portraits of H.M. Queen Victoria and H.R.H. the Prince Consort, the Emperor Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie.

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Medallion portraits of H.M. Queen Victoria and H.R.H. the Prince Consort (left) and the Emporor Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie (right). NRO catalogue number KNG 2/2/4/16

Two smaller windows contain the arms of Sir Morton Peto bert. as lord of the manor, and the arms of the town of Lowestoft. The window was designed by architect John Thomas and painted by James Ballantine of Edinburgh.

In addition to information about the projects G. King and Son (Lead Glaziers) Ltd worked on, the firm’s archive also contains a newspaper cutting from the Eastern Daily Press (PD 604/23) telling the life of J.C. Hampp: a weaver and collector of stained glass.

J.C. Hampp came originally from Württemberg in southern Germany and was drawn to live in Norwich by the weaving trade.  He did so well that he became a Freeman of Norwich in 1793, and also took the title Master Weaver. However, it was for his hobby of collecting stained glass that he is most remembered.

Hampp bought continental glass for a song on the continent and sold it on at a good profit, sometimes making up to 500 per cent, back in Norfolk. The glass which so appealed to Hampp was medieval, which is when the art form is considered to have reached its peak.  Many medieval churches in France and Germany were either closed or ruined by the fighting during the French revolution and by the Napoleonic wars. Once Hampp realised the potential for profit, he targeted areas of Europe where he thought there would be rich pickings, such as Cologne, Nuremberg, Basle and Zurich.  On one visit he sent back 17 huge boxes of ‘belles vitres peintes’ (French for ‘beautiful stained glass’) from three churches in Rouen in France.

Sometimes the glass was bought from Hampp by wealthy families for use in their own homes, such as the window depicting St Brice, at Langley Hall, home of the Beauchamp family. The glass is from Rouen from about 1600 and was found in a carpenter’s shed in 1957 by glazier, Dennis King. The St Brice window is now in the chapel of St Andrew in Norwich Cathedral, where father and son installed it.

There are many books on this enchanting art form, but for more information about the glass in Norfolk churches, try Stained Glass Tours around Norfolk Churches by David J. King (Dennis King’s nephew), and Nineteenth-Century Norfolk Stained Glass by Birkin Haward, both available via Norfolk Library and Information Service.

Those interested in learning more about the archive of G. King and Son (Lead Glaziers) Ltd may also be interested in our exhibition guide ‘Leading the Way: the Archive of G.King and Son (Lead Glaziers) Ltd.

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