The Heart of Yorkshire: The Hidden Story of the Stonework Tracery
March 18, 20213 min read
Erected almost seven hundred years ago, the Great West Window of York Minster is a striking feat of Medieval stained glass and stonework, overlooking the city of York. The central motif of the remarkable window is a detailed and flowing heart design, carved by master masons.
In 2016, after opening a new store in York, we became intrigued by the alluring 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, reproducing the sinuous stonework in sterling silver and 9ct gold.
As part of our design process, we have researched the heart window and its story in detail. There is so much fascinating history to learn and we love sharing the tale of our local landmark. Here we look at the story of the constant upkeep of the historic window and a surprise hidden in the grounds of the Minster.
The Upkeep of the Window
The Heart of Yorkshire and the Great West Window of York Minster was completed in 1338. Not many records of work at the Minster exist from before the 18th Century but archaeologists think that occasional remedial work undoubtedly took place ever since the window's installation.
The first real historical record of work to repair and restore the West Window comes from diaries written by a York artist, historian and contemporary expert on the history of the Minster, John Browne. He noted in his journals that from 1802-1816 there was a major restoration of the West Front:
"a gradual and general repair of the west front, beginning with the battlements and pinnacles of the bell towers and descending thence to the grand western entrance"
In the 1890s the stonework of the Heart of Yorkshire window needed repairs thanks to damage caused by previous repairs to the stained glass. Iron bars which had been inserted to support protective secondary glazing had expanded and caused sections of the carved limestone to crumble. Stonemasons were employed to make repairs, which were completed by 1906.
In the 1960s surveys were undertaken on all stonework and stained glass in York Minster. Reports concluded that the West Window tracery was in very poor condition and stonework was eroded and even dislodged. However, no remedial work took place at this point because more drastic structural repairs were needed to the cathedral - the famous central tower itself needed underpinning in order to save the entire building from collapse! This major project took precedent and it wasn't until the 1980s when attention could finally turn to the stonework of the West Window.
In 1984 an archaeological survey declared repair of the window to be "a matter of great urgency". Despite major works ongoing to the South transept and vault after the devastating fire of 1984, work began in 1986 to inspect and repair the great West Window. The distinctive limestone tracery of the Heart of Yorkshire was found to be so decayed that simply patching or repairing the heart was not a viable option. The difficult decision was made to replace the stonework in its entirety.
Extensive survey work and research by archaeologists and masonry experts had concluded that the window being removed was dated from the 13th Century. Although it needed to be removed and replaced, it was so historically significant that the archaeologists were keen to keep the original stonework together. So what should happen to it? This is one of the little known secrets of the Heart. Due to the extensive work taking place around the Minster in the 1980s there was an old archaeological cutting that would make a perfect home for the stonework, protecting it from air pollution and further degradation.
After all survey work on the original window was complete, the stonework was painstakingly placed back together, like a giant and intricate jigsaw, into the cutting in the grounds of Dean's Park. Carefully covered over and preserved, the original window remains there today with no sign of it from above ground. So next time you are visiting Dean's Park you can share the secret that you may actually be walking over the spot where the original 14th Century Heart of Yorkshire window is safely buried.
Photograph reproduced with permission from Derek Phillips
The captivating Great West Window inspired us to create our Heart of Yorkshire jewellery collection.