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Ecclesistical & Heritage World No.99

Unique style revived - and the light shines forth

If you venture west from the coastal town of Berwick-upon-Tweed – on the border of England and Scotland – towards the gentle, rounded hills of the Cheviots, you will soon enter the small village of Ancroft in Northumberland. At the centre of the village is the small parish church of St Anne, from which the village may have derived its name.

The church dates from the latter part of the 11th century, built by the monks from nearby Holy Island. It was later fortified with a Northumbrian pele tower, a 13th-century addition that provided shelter against the continual Scottish border raids prevalent at the time. St Anne’s was restored in 1836 and again in 1870 – by Alnwick architect F R Wilson. During that time the nave was extended, the chancel rebuilt and the windows replaced: all in imitation of the Norman original.

The church now sits at the centre of a small rural community, surrounded by open fields and distant views. From the top of the tower the views stretch further towards the coast and to Lindisfarne Island and the distant Bamburgh Castle. It has therefore been a surprise to visitors in recent years to find the church detached from those surrounding splendours; for upon entering the church all reference to the exterior had been eliminated by large sheets of obscured textured glass fitted at some period during a previous restoration.

It was during a visit to the church in 2012 by Borderdale Stained Glass, to restore one of the 19th-century windows, that a thought arose to formulate a plan to replace the obscure flat glazing with windows more interesting and sympathetic to the building and its setting.

As one travels around many churches in Northumberland it cannot be ignored that many share a similar style of plain glazing that is thought to be unique to the county. These windows were inserted into churches during the restorations in the 1860s and 70s. All consist of elaborate, symmetrically patterned leaded lights and are often supported by decoratively shaped iron bar supports. Borderdale Stained Glass is currently surveying those windows thought the county in order to produce a record for their preservation.

Following consultation with the church members and wardens, the Parochial Church Council and the Newcastle Diocesan Advisory Committee, it was decided that a series of nine new windows should be designed in plain glass. They would be unique to the church and also reflect the traditional ‘Northumbrian’ style.

The objective of the project was to design new windows that would enhance the building and create a new, vibrant light within the building. The designs would seek to reflect the style, scale and proportions of the church, while contributing to the harmony with the surrounding environment.

Visits were made to a number of churches in the diocese that contained similar Northumberland glazing and sketches of proposed designs, depicting features and decorative motifs of Ancroft, were presented for comment and approval.

Now that the windows have been installed – thanks to the generous donations of the larger community of Ancroft – the results have been very well received by all. They will be further judged by future worshipers and visitors to the church, who are fortunate enough to discover this hidden historicalgem in the heart of the county.

The new windows were dedicated by the Bishop of Newcastle upon Tyne.

For further information visit www.borderdale.com