London’s Unusual Stained Glass Windows

When you contemplate coloured windows, you’ll most likely conjure up an image of a church, religious figures of saints perhaps? However London has plenty of more unusual stained glass windows, in odd locations or featuring surprising characters.

These are my favourite 10 unusual stained glass windows…

1. Jazzy tights

Nestled in the grounds of St Bartholomew Hospital is St Bartholomew the Less, an 18th century church. The monastic complex of St Bartholomew was founded back in 1123 when a courtier to Henry I, Rahere, had a vision telling him to establish such a complex in Smithfield.

London Unusual Stained Glass

Rahere followed orders to the letter and established a monastery, a larger church (today St Bartholomew the Great) and a hospital. He’s shown kneeling below but beneath his cassock is a surprise. He is wearing some very colourful tights, a reference to the fact that he’s often referred to as a minstrel or jester as well as a courtier of Henry I!

London Unusual Stained Glass

Find out more about exploring Smithfield here.

2. When one Church Won’t Do

The City of London churches are amazing survivors. Most have histories going back centuries and have been rebuilt after fire and bomb damage. Sadly, stained glass isn’t as hardy as stone and so often you’ll find modern windows inside older buildings.

Inside St Mary Le Bow on Cheapside there are two windows celebrating the rebuilding of 52 City churches by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London.

London Unusual Stained Glass

Completed by John Hayward in the 1960s, this East window features St Paul, patron saint of London, surrounded by 11 Wren churches that survived the Blitz during the Second World War, with the eponymous cathedral visible in the top right corner.

3. A Global Outlook

On a similar theme, inside St Nicholas Cole Abbey on Queen Victoria Street there are three stained glass windows showing other buildings.

Designed by Keith new in 1962, the windows depict the spread of the Christian church overseas, with contrasting architecture like domes, igloos and tipis.

4. The Reconstructed Saint

The East window in St Ethelburga on Bishopsgate gets a bit meta. It’s subject is St Ethelburga collecting fragments of glass and it’s made from collected fragments of the 1878 stained glass window that was destroyed in the IRA bomb blast that exploded by the church in 1993.

St Ethelburga Stained Glass

It was designed by Helen Whittaker in 2002 and you can find out more about St Ethelburga Church here.

5. The Clown

Did you know that London has a museum dedicated to clowns? It’s connected to Trinity Church in Dalston, the home of the annual ‘Clown’s Service’ held each year on Joseph Grimaldi’s birthday. Grimaldi was a 19th century English actor and comedian who expanded the role of the harlequin, developing the white-faced clown character we recognise today.

when I visited the church it was closed and I couldn’t see the stained glass window showing Grimaldi in his full clowning attire.

London Unusual Stained Glass

However the brilliant museum blogger Tincture of Museum allowed me to reuse her fabulous close-up image! (Sorry in advance about the potential nightmares)

London Unusual Stained Glass

6. The Cat

Another stained glass window by John Hayward can be found in St Michael Paternoster Royal off Upper Thames Street.

The South-West windows features the famous Lord Mayor of the City of London; Dick Whittington. The real Richard Whittington (1354–1423) lived in this parish and though he was Lord Mayor there’s no evidence he ever had a cat. But, why let the truth get in the way of a good window design, eh?

London Unusual Stained Glass

7. The Double Decker

The 17th century Christ Church, Southwark was completing flattened during the Second World War. In its place is a 1960 church with some contemporary and unusual stained glass windows.

London Unusual Stained Glass

The 17th century Christ Church, Southwark was completing flattened during the Second World War. In its place is a 1960 church with some contemporary and unusual stained glass windows.

The theme of the stained glass is the world of work, designed by Kenneth Gordon Bunton. 10 were designed in 1959 depicting workers in the local area, and 4 from 1984, represent local businesses and organisations.

London Unusual Stained Glass

My favourite was spotting the double decker red bus in the bottom right hand corner below!

London Unusual Stained Glass

8. The Idyllic Landscape

The oldest windows in this post don’t necessary look it…

Stained Glass Two Temple Place

Designed in 1895 they were commissioned for the Great Hall of Two Temple Place, a riverside mansion for William Waldorf Astor, the hugely wealthy American politician and newspaper publisher.

Designed by Clayton and Bell, they’re known as Sunrise and Sunset, the East end (above) depicts the sunrise and shows a Swiss landscape while the West (sunset, below) represents the Italian Alps.

Stained Glass Two Temple Place

9. The Pub Heroes

Mostly associated with religious buildings, a pub isn’t the most obvious place you’d expect to spot exquisite stained glass. However The Champion pub in Fitzrovia is an absolute gem.

London Unusual Stained Glass

Although the pub dates from the 19th century and the windows show Victorians heroes, they only date from 1989.

Designed by Ann Sotheran, it’s an eclectic bunch of characters. In the red and white striped bathing suit is Captain Matthew Webb (1848-1883) first person to swim the English Channel who eventually died whilst attempting to swim across Niagara Falls. The man with the hat and stick is Edward Whymper (1840-1911) the mountaineer  and first man to climb the Matterhorn.

London Unusual Stained Glass

Also featured is the boxer Bob Fitzsimmons (1862-1917), the only Englishman to win three world titles at different weights and Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), founder of modern nursing.

London Unusual Stained Glass

10. The (Very) Fancy Shed

Along Porchester Terrace by Edgware Road is a glowing piece of art by Tony Heywood and Alison Condie.

London Unusual Stained Glass

Called Sacré Blur, it’s constructed from salvaged stained glass that’s been thrown out of churches up and down the country. It was supposed to be a temporary installation, ending in February 2019 but it’s still there almost a year later. I, for one, hope it stays!

London Unusual Stained Glass

Thank you to Erin from Heard in London for these two wonderful images, you can follow her on instagram here.

(A bonus) No.11!

It’s just so hard to narrow things down sometimes…

A special mention goes to the displaced domed windows of the former Baltic Exchange.

Designed after The First World War by John Dudley Forsyth, the 240 panels remembered the 60 members of the Exchange who died during the war.

Baltic Exchange London Stained Glass Window

In 1992 the Exchange was gutted by an IRA bomb. What was salvageable from the windows was then painstakingly recreated and can be seen inside the National maritime Museum. Find out more here.

Do you have another favourite stained glass window? Let me know in the comments!

More London Inspiration

7 Comments

  • Sarah McGinty

    Reply

    This is a fascinating set of pictures that bring the viewer’s attention to the small and interesting parts (tights, cats) that might go overlooked. As usual, Katie makes our eyes see. Thank you LOOK UP LONDON.

    December 11, 2019 at 10:09 am
  • Stewart Francis

    Reply

    I’ve only caught up with these brilliant photos. Thank you, Katie! I’ll add these to mY ever-expanding must-see list! I love stained glass – such a luminous, vulnerable and fragile medium.

    By the way, if you haven’t already visited it, I recommend Chartres cathedral with its 176 stained glass windows.

    December 15, 2019 at 9:33 am
  • The windows of the oratory in the Wakefield Tower at the Tower of London are a wonderful collection of… old glass scraps, I guess? For hours now I’ve attempted to discover more about their history but without the least success. Each of the six tall panels contains a large assortment of pieces, painted with ornament rather than figures or text, and as such the whole is abstract in a very modern fashion. Most people seem too distracted by the supposed fact of Henry VI’s death below these windows to more thoroughly note their unique beauty; I was not, so I managed a few photos.
    https://flic.kr/p/wrrHVW
    https://flic.kr/p/wpNKKG
    https://flic.kr/p/wszYh8
    https://flic.kr/p/waCpXn
    https://flic.kr/p/wpNLso

    March 15, 2020 at 5:26 pm
  • Katie, This is wonderful. It’s good to see that stained glass is still appreciated, and it’s interesting that pieces from deconsecrated churches are still collected and loved. Most windows are enhanced by even a little piece of colourful history, regardless of religion.

    October 6, 2020 at 10:53 pm

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