February 22, 2021 3 min read
Erected nearly seven hundred years ago, the Great West Window of York Minster is a stunning feat of Medieval stained glass and stonework tracery, towering over the city of York. The central motif of the impressive window is an intricate heart design, carved by master masons.
In 2016, after opening a new store in York, we became intrigued by the captivating window, and resolved to create a jewellery collection that reflected this local heritage. Our 'Heart of Yorkshire' jewellery has since become one of our most loved collections, recreating the romantic stonework tracery in sterling silver and 9ct gold.
Here we look at some of the fascinating history behind the attempts to protect the spectacular artistry of the stained glass window.
For hundreds of years the Minster's stained glass was left vulnerable to the elements, with factors including smoke, moisture and pollution causing extensive damage. It was the late 19th Century before the new Dean of the Minster, Augustus Duncombe, started a concerted and ongoing effort to protect the historic building. A 100-year rolling programme of maintenance has been in place ever since.
In the 1860's, the craftsmen tasked with protecting the Minster's stained glass took up the policy of adding a layer of protective glazing in front of the original glass-work. In 1862 large plates of "Hartley's rough patent glass" were put in place to preserve the old glass from weathering further in the Yorkshire climate. The Minster was the first cathedral in Britain to instigate this cutting-edge technique of providing external protective glazing to its stained glass.
Unfortunately, this initial attempt at protective work caused damage of its own. The secondary glazing had been fixed in place around the windows by iron bars. These expanded, just a few years after their installation, and caused significant splits in the stone mullions surrounding the glazing. Several pieces of stonework were so damaged that they fell off the face of the West Window.
A later threat to the medieval glass was bombing raids in both the first and second world wars. In the First World War, after a Zeppelin raid in 1916, the Heart of Yorkshire stained-glass was removed and stored in bomb proof shelters around the Minster property. After the war, £50,000 was raised in a nationwide appeal in order to clean the glass and put it all back in place. The work was only finished just before the start of the second world war when glass in the Minster was removed to safety again!
Again, after the end of the war, the Dean of the Minster established a major project to restore all of the Minster's stained glass before putting it back into place. Between 1945 and 1967 all the Minster's windows were restored and reinstalled - the Great East Window was the first, and the Great West Window, including the Heart of Yorkshire, was the last. During this project the idea of the York Glaziers Trust was born. The York Glaziers Trust was set up as a centre of expertise in the handling and restoration of stained glass, and the very first undertaking of the newly formed trust was the re-installation of the Heart of Yorkshire in 1967.
The captivating Great West Window inspired us to create our Heart of Yorkshire jewellery collection.
The collection aims to recreate the iconic heart design in a choice of sterling silver or 9ct gold. You can view the collection online here.