Listen to the Audio Guide and discover:
- What it would have been like to walk into the Abbey the day after the Bath Blitz and find the windows blown out
- How practically every glass maker in England said the East Window was beyond repair
- How father-and-son team, Harry and Ron Kirk, set about the mammoth task of restoring this massive window
- How the Bath Fire Service played a vital role in the restoration
- How one of the broken fragments from the original window is now in a church in Canada
Restoring the East Window 1942-1955
In April 1942, Bath was bombed as part of the ‘Baedeker’ raids. The Abbey wasn’t directly hit but the blast from bombs nearby damaged many windows. Those on the North and East sides of the Abbey were particularly badly affected. The East Window was blown out and many others needed to be replaced and restored.
Following the 1942 blitz, the Abbey could not be used for regular services for some time. Bits of glass were dropping from the broken windows and the wind swept through them.
Collecting up broken glass
Members of the Abbey congregation collected up thousands of broken pieces of stained glass and throughout the Second World War, these broken glass fragments were kept in sacks so that the window might be replaced when the war ended.
The windows were gradually boarded up with firewood and temporarily re-glazed with clear (green) glass.
A seemingly impossible task
When the war ended in 1945, the Abbey began to think about restoring the window as well as other aspects of the building. The glass from the window was so badly damaged that practically every glass maker in England said that it couldn’t be restored. Until Michael Farrar-Bell from the glass-making firm “Clayton and Bell” took up the challenge!
Clayton and Bell were based in London but the firm knew the East Window well: Michael Farrar Bell’s great grandfather was the man who restored the window during the 1860s and 1870s.
Reusing the broken pieces of glass
Clayton and Bell’s glass artists worked to piece back together all the fragments of glass which had previously been collected by members of the Abbey. When the pieces had been collected, a number was written on the back of the glass with a piece of chalk so that they knew whereabouts in the window it had come from. However, the force of the bomb that broke the window was so powerful that the pieces were so jumbled up that on a lot of the pieces there was just a big question mark chalked on the back of them. Every single piece that was reused had to be cleaned before it was put back into a new pane of glass.
Father-and-son team Harry and Ron Kirk
Clayton and Bell brought with them two “glaziers” (the men who fix the panes of glass into the building) called Harry and Ron Kirk. Harry was Ron’s father. In the Audio Guide, we find out from Clare Cook, Ron's partner, how father and son, Harry and Ron, came to be employed by Clayton and Bell to work on the Abbey’s East Window and why they were chosen for the job.
The panes of glass in the East Window and many other windows in the Abbey are called “lancets”. That is because they are pointy in shape, like the shape of a lance, which is a type of spear. Each lancet is positioned between two stone columns to its left and right, these are called “mullions”. If you look carefully at a lancet you will see that it has what look like black horizontal lines across it. These are called “saddlebars”. They are made of lead and help keep the rectangular panes that make up each lancet together.
One of Harry and Ron's jobs was to make sure that all the different pieces of each lancet fitted together in order to put the windows into the window frames. It was important to get it right and Harry went to great lengths to make sure everything was the right size. He even used the ladder on Bath Fire Service’s fire engine to measure the window frame!
Installing the new window 1952-1955
It wasn’t until April 1952 that the first stained glass lancet window was ready to go back into the window frame.
The panel shows the Bible story of the ‘Flight into Egypt’ in which Mary and Joseph flee into Egypt with the baby Jesus when they hear of King Herod’s plans to kill Jesus
This window was chosen as the first to go back in because it contained a mixture of glass that had been collected from the old window and new glass that had had to be made specially for the new window.
By 16 April 1953, the first tier of the window was completed and over 17 months later, at the end of October 1954, the bottom tier was in place. The team hoped that the window would be completely restored by December. However, in 1954, the stonework around the window was found to be in a dangerous condition which meant that the remainder of the window had to be put in in just five weeks in the winter months of January and February 1955. Imagine what the conditions would have been like for Harry and Ron Kirk - it was freezing cold and dark most of the time with the flickering flame of a hurricane lamp as the only light!
Unveiling the new window in 1955
Despite the set back the window was completed on the 10th of February 1955. Harry Kirk even sent a postcard home to let his wife Ethel and his other sons know they’d finished the job
The fully restored East Window was unveiled at a special dedication service on Sunday the 13th of March 1955.
60% of the original glass, collected by members of the Abbey congregation, was used in the restored window. That is amazing considering that the East Window is made up of 864 square feet (or 80 square metres) of stained glass!
One of the pieces that didn’t make it back into the window is now in a window in a church in Canada. It was given by a verger at the Abbey to Harold Appelyard, a Canadian soldier who was in Bath in 1943 and was collecting glass from churches whose windows had been blown out by bombs in the war. Harold took the piece of stained glass back with him and used it for a memorial window in his church back home. To this day, there is a fragment of the East Window in the memorial window of Christ Church, Meaford in Ontario, Canada.