Restoring the windows of St Matthew’s Church

A SPECTACULAR stained-glass window from St Matthew’s Anglican Church in New Norfolk has been fully restored and is set to be reinstalled next month. Stained-glass conservators Gavin Merrington and Jarrad Robinson have spent the past three months painstakingly refurbishing the chancel window and anticipate the impressive glasswork will be back in place by the end of November.

The image of Nancy Hope Shoobridge

The window is a memorial to Nancy Hope Shoobridge who died at sea in 1898. Nancy and her mother left for England on the passenger liner Ormuz to visit the seven-year-old’s grandparents but the youngster died of scarlet
fever on April 6. Nancy was the daughter of Robert Shoobridge and Selina Alexander, who later commissioned the stained-glass window that includes imagery of their daughter.

Mr Merrington said the restoration included the removal and reparation of eight of the window’s large glass sections following the deterioration of leadwork that held them in place. “The lead usually breaks down after 80 to 100 years,” he said. “The windows at St Matthew’s are particularly large and have been there for about 130 years. They are 1127mm wide and 900mm high and have only survived because metal bracing was put into the sandstone to ensure they sat in place separately. But wind and cyclic stresses like the sun and temperature changes cause problems over the years.”

Removing the window for restoration

Mr Merrington said expansions and contractions over many years often left lead and soldered joints weak and the putty that sealed windows in place would fall out. “That means water ingress can migrate onto the internal glass pieces and degrade them if they haven’t been fired properly,” he said. “The water can also get into a building’s sandstone work.”

Mr Merrington said stained-glass windows were an integral architectural component in churches. “People often look at stained-glass windows and think they will be there forever but they are like roofs – they need to be fixed or there will be leaks. And if the lead starts to move, the glass can crack. That is what was starting to happen at St Matthew’s.”

Mr Merrington said strong winds could be particularly problematic and cause serious damage to stained-glass windows. “It’s not overly windy on that aspect at St Matthew’s but the windows get buffeted because they are so big.” He said protective glazing would cover the window when it was back in place. “We are going to use a low-iron glass to ensure that the colour of the stained glass doesn’t change when viewed internally and is less reflective and more sympathetic to the architecture of the building.”

Scraping off the old lead

The intricate process at Mr Merrington’s South Hobart workshop has included cleaning all the glass plates, pulling the windows apart, removing putty from the edges of each piece, repainting smashed and broken glass, and re-leading and soldering the restored sections. “The window is now in perfect condition and will be sound for another
150 years.”

Mr Merrington has been restoring stained-glass windows for more than 45 years. He has undertaken hundreds of jobs in Tasmanian and interstate since completing a traineeship at Evandale and has worked for renowned Australian stained-glass company, Cummins Stehn Pty Ltd. “I am passionate about what I do and I am passionate about restoring Tasmania’s heritage because once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said. “It is really difficult to repair glass when a window starts to break. That is why it is incredibly important that windows like the one we have been working on are preserved.”

The glass without its leadwork

Gavin and two of his colleagues expect it will take two to three weeks to install the refurbished stained-glass window at St Matthew’s Church. The project was funded from various sources including donations from the Shoobridge Family, the church congregation, and members of the community; a Derwent Valley Council grant; and the Restoration Concert Series.

The restoration of the large window follows the work done on three smaller sections two years ago. Donations to the window appeal are tax-deductible via the National Trust’s Community Heritage Program. Contact parish secretary Roger Brooke on 0431 605 013 for information about how to contribute.

Story by JOHN ANDREWARTHA
Photos supplied by GAVIN MERRINGTON

Tools of the trade
Some of the individual figures from the windows
Reassembling the pieces of glass
A start on the new leadwork
Work in progress
A completed panel of the larger window
The artist inspecting a completed panel
The restored window featuring Nancy Hope Shoobridge
The windows will soon be returned to their rightful place in St Matthew’s Anglican Church. The smaller windows at the top were restored two years ago.

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