Competition: Win Tickets and a Picnic to Legally Blonde!


London’s Best-Kept Secrets: Stained Glass

Image © Steve Lee via Flickr

We pick out the best places to see beautiful pieces of stained glass in London.

Well-endowed as London is when it comes to most expressions of art, it is perhaps surprising that it can be a bit of a challenge to find stained glass in the city. A lack of prominent older pieces is, among other things, due to the Blitz. But contemporary stained glass is not exactly found on every street corner either, so where should aficionados go for the real deal?

The first stop on any stained glass pilgrimage has to be the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. It has one of the biggest collections in the UK and features a wide range of styles and artists. The Sacred Silver and Stained Glass gallery on the third floor is a good place to start; it’s a rich source of medieval glass, although it features some more contemporary panels as well. This includes ‘The Apparition of the Sacred Heart’, which is the only work by 20th century master Harry Clarke on show in London. The Medieval and Renaissance galleries are worth a visit too, particularly for the beautiful collection of glass from the Sainte-Chappelle that’s on display on level zero. The truly dedicated can delve into the collection even deeper by making an appointment at the archive, which houses drawings by big names including the prolific Arts and Crafts artist Christopher Whall.

Around the corner from the V&A, the Holy Trinity Church is well worth a visit for lovers of the Gothic Revival style. The entire building, including its interior decoration, was designed by George Frederick Bodley and is a lavish, brightly-coloured affair. The exceptionally tall window behind the altar is especially eye-catching.

Staying in the Royal Borough, Bibendum Restaurant on Fulham Road is an amazing Art Deco building which many will know as Michelin House. The three large stained glass windows, all featuring the Michelin Man, are eighties replicas based on designer François Espinasse’s drawings. The original windows were removed in 1940 for safekeeping, but were sadly never recovered after the war.

Our last destination in the area is 18 Stafford Terrace, just off Kensington High Street. The former home of Punch cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne is now open to the public, and has some very remarkable stained glass panels incorporating birds, sunflowers and other natural motifs.

Those of more traditional tastes should venture into the City, were they will have a field day with the panels in the Guildhall. Although a fair few of its windows are 20th century, the recurring heraldic themes give them a nice medieval flavour, and you could easily while away an hour or two trying to decipher the panels representing the various guilds.

Right next door, St Lawrence Jewry’s windows are a unique mix of the old and the new; when the current panels were commissioned after the Second World War, they were designed to fit the wrought-iron pattern used by Christopher Wren, who rebuilt the church after the Great Fire. The nearby Temple Church is also worth a look, if only for the surprisingly self-aware panel that actually depicts the church itself.

Stained glass is not just the prerogative of the church, however. Both the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and Charing Cross Hospital boast striking contemporary glass; the former has eight windows by Johannes Schreiter, while Keith Grant’s design for the latter is not so much a window as a façade (it’s 18 metres wide). And if you’re feeling particularly wealthy, or you’re confident enough to pretend to be, pop your head into the reception of venture capital firm Apax Partners. Their office on Jermyn Street has a large panel by ‘the rock star of stained glass’, Brian Clarke.

All in all then, it only takes a little digging to find enough locations for a stained glass day trip around the city. Other options include the Tower of London, Freemason’s Hall, Covent Garden, Southwark Cathedral, St Mary-le-Bow, Westminster Abbey, St Martin-in-the-Fields, and the William Morris Gallery. While you’re at it, why not make it a weekend?