Westminster Abbey has very little medieval glass now remaining but there are good examples of glass from the 18th century to the present day.
Six panels of 13th century glass and some fragments of grisaille (shades of grey) glass are on display in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. It is not known where in the Abbey they were originally situated. Three heraldic panels showing the coat of arms of Henry III, Richard of Cornwall and Provence, are set in the window of St Edmund’s chapel. These originally came from the apse windows. The large figures in the apse, including St Edward the Confessor and St John the Evangelist, incorporate some pieces of early glass.
Around 30,000 small fragments of stained glass dating from between 1246 and 1520 were discovered in the vault pockets of the east triforium during work to install the new Galleries. Some of these are incorporated in the new donor windows there.
Unfortunately the majority of the Tudor glass from the windows of Henry VII’s Lady Chapel has been lost, most recently during the Second World War. Some small quarries (diamond-shaped panels) which survived have been set in the windows of the side aisle. Small dragons form the initial H for Henry. In the modern lower Islip chapel window is placed a 16th century panel showing the rebus (pun on the name) of Abbot Islip.
Sir James Thornhill designed the great west window of the nave which shows Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Dating from 1735 it was made by William Price. The north transept rose window from 1722 is also a Thornhill design. This depicts Christ and the Apostles but was altered in the late 19th century when the feet of the figures were cut off.
J.R. Clayton and Alfred Bell executed several windows in the Abbey and in the Chapter House – to HMS Captain wrecked in 1870, to Abbey organist James Turle, to poets George Herbert and William Cowper and US diplomat James Russell Lowell. Also a small window showing Biblical poets in the east aisle of the south transept and glass in the Jerusalem Chamber.
In the nave is a window to engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel by Norman Shaw, to Richard Trevithick, Cornish engineer, by Burlison & Grylls and, now in the north quire aisle, is a window by William Wailes to engineer Robert Stephenson. Messrs Powell made glass for Infirmarer's Hall in the Little Cloister, Windows in memory of Sir William Siemens and Joseph Locke, engineers, were removed in the early 20th century in order to accommodate a new series of windows in the nave by J.N. Comper.
Several windows were destroyed by blast during the 1939-1945 war including those to Vincent Novello, the Ashanti war, the Indian Mutiny, Dean John Ireland, Geoffrey Chaucer, the Queen’s Westminster Rifles, Marie Hora and Lady Augusta Stanley. Fragments from some windows damaged in the war have been re-used in the lantern windows, above Henry V’s Chantry altar, in the top windows in the east cloister and in Cheyneygates, a private room in the precincts.
The glass in the south rose window was filled with new glass in 1902, by Burlison & Grylls, replacing some dark 19th century glass. The YMCA war memorial window in the nave is by Dudley Forsyth. A memorial to the Royal Flying Corps 1914-1918, by Harry Grylls, is also in the nave. After war damage in 1940 much of the Chapter House glass had to be replaced by Joan Howson but she was able to salvage and re-set quite a lot of the 19th century panels in alternate windows between her new designs. She included small quarries showing war time scenes in the south west window here. Four figures of monarchs above the entrance survived the war. Brian Thomas designed six lancet windows in the north transept to replace war damaged glass. They depict acts of mercy with some brown monochrome figures. St Francis with the birds is shown in a small window, by Francis Skeat, in the Dark Cloister and forms a memorial to Canon Duckworth. Graham Jones designed a new window above Chaucer's tomb in Poets' Corner to allow memorials to poets and writers to be added to it. Currently these commemorate Alexander Pope, Robert Herrick, A.E. Housman, Oscar Wilde, Christopher Marlowe, Fanny Burney and Elizabeth Gaskell. Major donors to the Henry VII chapel restoration appeal in the 1990s have small windows around the chapel, by Alfred Fisher of Chapel Studios. The west window here contains coats of arms of other benefactors especially Sir John Templeton.
Comper’s first window in the Abbey was installed in 1912 in memory of John Bunyan in the north transept. He was then asked to do a series for the north side of the nave depicting Kings and Abbots of Westminster. Most form memorials to engineers: Sir Henry Royce, Sir Charles Parsons, Sir John Wolfe Barry, Sir Benjamin Baker, Lord Strathcona and Lord Kelvin. The series also includes windows to the Royal Army Medical Corps and British Prisoners of War 1914-1918. After the last war his window depicting Lady Margaret Beaufort and Eleanor of Castile was inserted in the east triforium.
One of Easton's best windows is that to airmen of the Battle of Britain in the RAF chapel at the east end of Henry VII's chapel, unveiled in 1947. A memorial to the nursing services of Britain and the Commonwealth was installed in the Nurses' war memorial chapel. His window in the lower Islip chapel below this shows St Margaret of Antioch with Abbot Islip. The Citizens of the City of Westminster who died during the Second World War are remembered in a window in St Benedict’s chapel, with large figures of Saints Michael and George fighting a dragon. Two smaller windows, including one depicting ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn, are in a private room in the precincts but the latter can be viewed from the cloister near the door to Cheyneygates.
The centre east window of Henry VII’s chapel was filled with glass depicting the Nativity in 2000. This was designed by Alan Younger and given by Lord and Lady Harris of Peckham. Two flanking windows in a blue and white design were added in 2013, designed by Hughie O’Donoghue and given by the same donors. In 2018 the new Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries were opened in the triforium. At the entrance can be seen windows with the names of major donors. These also incorporate fragments of glass of varying dates found during the conversion of the triforium. In September 2018 the new Queen's window in the north transept, designed by David Hockney, was unveiled. It celebrates the reign of Queen Elizabeth II with a Yorkshire country scene in vivid colours.
The oldest and best glass in the church is in the east window above the altar depicting the Crucifixion. Made of pre-Reformation Flemish glass, probably between 1515 and 1526, it was purchased for the church in 1758. It commemorates the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, whose kneeling images can be seen at the base. The original face of Catherine was taken out in 1906 and can be seen in the Queen’s Jubilee Galleries. The glass was removed during both world wars for safety.
The majority of the other stained glass was inserted in the 19th century when Frederic William Farrar was Rector. The west window was given by American donors in 1882 as a memorial to Sir Walter Raleigh, who is buried in the church. Glass in the west window of the north aisle was the gift of an American donor commemorating poet John Milton in 1888. He was married in the church. Both windows are by Clayton and Bell. The west window of the south aisle, by Henry Holiday, commemorates Lord Frederick Cavendish, murdered in Ireland in 1882. Three of Edward Frampton’s windows survived the last war in the north aisle, to Admiral Robert Blake, Edward Morris and Edward Lloyd. Only the lower parts of the Lloyd window remain, depicting William Caxton at his printing press. Two smaller windows by this artist are in the vestry area. The other remaining north aisle window commemorates W.H. Smith, M.P. with a depiction of Christ as the Light of the World, by J.P. Seddon. In the north porch is a memorial window to Sir George Bartley who died in 1910. Over the south east porch is a window to Speaker of the House of Commons Edward Fitzroy unveiled in 1946, replacing a war damaged window to William Caxton by Holiday.
All the stained glass in the south aisle of the church was destroyed by blast during the Second World War. These included memorials to Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, Lady Arbella Stuart, Lord and Lady Hatherley, the Trollope family, Sir Henry Arthur Hunt and Lord Farnborough. The windows now in this aisle were designed by John Piper and executed by Patrick Reyntiens and dedicated in 1967. Most form memorials to persons associated with the church – Canon William Carnegie, Peter Kemp-Welch, Clarence Fletcher and Richard Costain.
Stained glass of Westminster Abbey by Christine Reynolds, 2002
The Queen's window by David Hockney, co-ordinated by Susan Jenkins, 2020
Westminster Abbey Chapter House… edited by W. Rodwell and R. Mortimer, 2010 (see Chapter 13)
The glazing of Henry VII’s chapel by Richard Marks in The reign of Henry VII ed. B. Thompson, 1995
Medieval glazing in Westminster Abbey, new discoveries, by Richard Marks, Burlington Magazine Jan. 2019 vol.161
Re-appropriation of the Gothic in early 18th c. England – eastern apse windows, thesis by Emma Woolfrey, York, 2015
Account of the window…to Herbert and Cowper and window to Milton [gifts of G.W. Childs] within Story of the memorial fountain to Shakespeare…edited L. Clarke Davis, 1890
Glazing the clerestory: the east window of Henry VII chapel… by Alan Younger, in Journal of Stained Glass vol. XXIV, 2000
The east window of St Margaret’s Westminster by Hilary Wayment, Antiquaries Journal Vol. LXI, 1981
History and description of the windows of [St Margaret’s] by J.E. Sinclair, 1906
Paintings by Thornhill at Chinnor [north rose window] by June Cray, Burlington Magazine, V, 1990
Clayton and Bell, stained glass artists… by P. Larkworthy in The Ecclesiological Society, 1984
At different times of the day, or in different seasons, the light falling in the Abbey will light up something that you have walked past a million times and never seen before.