We are fortunate to have some remarkable stained glass windows. Our greatest treasure is undoubtedly the Hoby Window (1609), but All Saints' Bisham also owes much to the skill of the Victorians and others - the colour and craftsmanship of the east window (1875) is breathtaking and, if you pause to look at it, you can't help but wonder who some of the figures represent, how the window came about and how it was installed. There are several articles in the Friends' Newsletters that look into the history and design of the windows in the church, specifically Nos. 1 and 5 (Hoby Window), No. 3 and No. 7 (East Window).
Hoby Heraldic Window
Possibly the most celebrated of Bisham's memorials is the enamelled-glass Hoby Window, which commemorates virtually all the male Hoby family members. It is of a six-light design, with two shields, one over the other with the senior members' in the upper panel. The two central upper panels relate to the two Hoby brothers (see Monuments for more information about Sir Philip and Sir Thomas Hoby).
It is impossible to put a price on the window, but it is obviously very precious, being unique. The date 1609, the year of Lady Hoby's death, appears in the bottom right hand corner. There is some debate as to its actual age. It is the opinion of one expert that the top part may be earlier, and of another expert that it may be later. The glass is enamelled, not stained, although it is possible that this applies only to the blue parts.
In 2002, the renovations which had been carried out in 1956 were found to have weakened the structure of the window and the entire window was transported to specialist workshops at Canterbury Cathedral, where this, and other damage, was rectified by a team led by Dr. Sebastian Strobl. Two-thirds of grants to cover the cost were raised locally. Contributors included The Council for the Care of Churches, The Glaziers' Company, The Manifold Trust and the Vicar, The Revd. Sue Irwin, who supplied some money which had been left for the use of the church.
In several places the bottom parts of the glass had been repaired by lead which, where possible, was replaced by araldite. Where the colour of the glass was worn away it was not replaced on the surface, but little 'plates' of thin glass were made and attached to the back of affected parts. The glass was replaced with ventilation, and a window of kiln-distorted isothermal glazing was placed on the outside to protect it from damage. This is held in place by ferramenta made by a specialist blacksmith.
The successful restoration work will ensure the window will be enjoyed by many generations and for several hundred more years. We have full records showing 'before' and 'after' conditions of each section, which are invaluable. In the past no records were kept of repairs or restoration of any part of the church.
Much greater detail concerning the window may be found in the companion booklet All Saints' Church Bisham - An Architectural Perspective available from the church.
Text adapted from newsletter article by Patricia Burstall, Church Historian, (December 2015) and The Story of Bisham Church (2018). Photo by Robert Frost
Entering the church on a cloudless morning, the sun shines directly through the chancel’s large east window, enhancing its colours and its design in a spectacular way.
The east window is, in fact, one of the newer features of the church, having been installed as recently as 1914. It was a gift from Miss Edith Vansittart-Neale to commemorate the members of the family whose names are recorded on the tablet to the left of the window, and was unveiled on Christmas Day, 1914. Its predecessor had had a relatively short life - donated by Vice-Admiral Edward Welby Vansittart in the 1850s from funds which were a farewell gift from the traders of Hong Kong, in gratitude for his ridding the seas of pirates around that coast.
We know that it had been a two light window, which had in turn replaced a four-light window of similar appearance to the heraldic window in the Hoby chapel, but unfortunately there is no available record of its design. For reasons unknown, it was considered by the Vansittart-Neale family (see Monuments) to be capable of improvement, and this three-light window was commissioned from the artist/designer James Powell.
He was given the theme ‘adoration’, and virtually all the figures depicted are kneeling in obeisance, looking towards Christ, who dominates the main central panel.
At the window’s apex, the familiar Paschal Lamb has been positioned.
Moving downwards, the symbols alpha and omega (‘I am the beginning and the end’) appear beneath.
Following the features downwards, we find a group of buildings which are presumed to represent the Celestial City. Immediately underneath, the depiction of Christ dominates the whole tableau, attended in both adjacent lights by worshipping groups of angels and archangels.
On the window’s right light, other historical figures have been portrayed. These include St Frideswide (patron saint of Oxford), Bishop Hugh of Lincoln, and St Nicholas (identified by the model of a ship he is holding, as patron saint of sailors). The inclusion of St Pancras, originally of Antioch, is something of a mystery, as he has no known connection with any place north of Rome where, as a Christian, he was martyred on the orders of the Emperor Diocletian. Finally, in full amour and kneeling at the lowest point in this section, we have the veteran of Agincourt, the 4th Earl of Salisbury whose family connections, the Montecutes and Nevilles, were in occupation of Bisham over a period of two hundred years.
At the window’s lowest level, we finally leave the sacred and celebrate the secular. In the middle can be clearly seen a depiction of Bisham Abbey, whose history has been so closely bound up with the church’s. On either side are found (on the left) the shields of Thomas Montacute (4th Earl of Salisbury) and Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury (father of Warwick the Kingmaker). On the right are those of the Hoby and Vansittart-Neale families respectively.
The impact of the whole window, in its resplendent colours, is a very appropriate tribute to both the glories of God, and his servants, as well as the many distinguished figures who have played such a dominant part - not only in Bisham with its church – but in the life of our nation.
Text compiled by John Harper for the Friends newsletter, September 2019 Photographs by Robert Frost