It started in early 2018 with a friend saying ‘I have some glass in my shed, would you like to have a look?’ Being curious by nature I went to have a look. What I saw was tray upon tray of small pieces of old glass, the lead removed. There was also one complete circular panel with some obviously high quality workmanship.
The beautiful paintwork was obviously by a master of my craft. I was told it was the glass from All Saints Church in Pontardawe consisting of 17 panels. It was very carefully removed when the church was sold (around 1999) by another local stained glass artist. She had restored the centre panel plus two more but was unable to continue with the project. It had ended up in this open shed for quite a few years.
Realising that it was an important piece of stained glass, I decided to take the glass to my studio and have a good look. I was unsure about taking on the restoration as I could not see where it would go or who would pay me for the hundreds of hours work and the materials it would take to do it. I then became involved in the set-up of the Pontardawe Heritage Centre and here was an opportunity to have it displayed.
At this point I knew nothing about the maker, about religious symbolism, or the church itself. The only photo I had was a very poor photocopy. So please imagine the puzzle of rearranging trays of glass fragments which had to fit into a seventeen paneled circular window. Like a massive jigsaw.
R. J. Newbery
After considerable research I discovered that the maker was London based R. J. Newbery. He features on the ‘Stained Glass in Wales’ website which documents 70 important windows around Wales – but not the rose window in Pontardawe. I contacted them and sent the photo to them and they confirmed that it appeared to be Newbery’s work but probably his first and only rose window and had never been recorded. The result was that they added it to the website stating that it was in the process of restoration. When complete I will update this information.
I did establish that the window was installed in around 1895 and that the church was built by the local wealthy steel owner Arthur Gilbertson. I continued to research and arrange the bits of glass and began the job of re-leading them. The glass fragments were tricky, ranging between 1 mm and 6mm thick, also with the panels being pairs it meant each individual fragment had to be the right way up, so did the images!
In January 2019 I was delighted to have contact from the present owner of the church who had seen it on the Stained Glass in Wales’s website. He then provided me with a clearer picture of the panels in place. That did make the work a bit easier. I was also in touch with the lady who removed the window so carefully and was able to fill in a few gaps.
I also learnt about the religious symbolism. The eight triangular panels depict the crucifixion. The four panels which look like a face with ears are Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. The centre is not an Angel as I first thought, but a winged man. May be just a bit holy!
The last bit of information I discovered was that the window was made in memory of Ellen Gilbertson; this lady had fourteen children and sadly passed away aged just 44.
I have completed this work in order to save this important piece of local history. I was not paid for the hundreds of hours it took me, but I was never out of pocket. It was all made possible by the many kind donations of money for the materials I used. As promised, I have made a further thank you circular window with the names of the people who have donated. This will be displayed in the Heritage Centre when we reopen.
Huge thanks to Mynydd y Betws Community fund. which provided the funding for the amazing light display box made by Trebanos man Jon Harris. Jon is an international set builder of great talent. He was grounded due to Covid and able to complete this amazing project.
Jane lives locally, studied stained glass in Swansea College of Art over forty years ago. She was trained in the traditional methods of glass painting and creating leaded panels. In more recent years she has experimented with glass fusing and copper foiling. She also runs classes in working with glass and loves to share her skills. The reconstructed window will be on permanent display at the Heritage centre when it re-opens.
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