MEMORY LANE: Kempe stained glass is New Mills arts centre’s pride and joy

The Kempe stained glass window at Spring Bank Arts Centre, the former Church of St James the Less in New Mills.
The Kempe stained glass window at Spring Bank Arts Centre, the former Church of St James the Less in New Mills.

Charles Eamer Kempe (1837 – 1907) was probably the foremost designer of stained glass in the late Victorian era.

Kempe windows appear in cathedrals and parish churches throughout England and Wales, as well as in countries abroad.

There are some lovely examples in Chester and Wakefield Cathedrals.

How come, then, that the former Church of St James the Less on Spring Bank, New Mills, has five magnificent examples of Kempe stained glass?

We can only assume that John and Mary Mackie, in their desire to give New Mills the best, engaged the Kempe Studios to adorn the little chapel of ease that they planned for the Alms Houses and which was to be dedicated to Mary’s parents, James and Martha Ingham.

What is now Spring Bank Arts Centre is very proud of its Kempe stained glass.

The great double-panelled west window portrays the four Evangelists, each with his particular symbols.

These tie in with the four “blind” arches on the north wall, which depict the four Gospels (they are spirit frescoes, painted onto dry plaster but applied with spirits that help the pigments to soak into the plaster.)

All these were beautifully restored by stained glass experts and the conservators when the church was being converted into an arts centre.

Around the apse-shaped east end are three single-panelled windows depicting Christ on the cross, with his mother to one side and Saint James to the other.

These windows will also be in need of restoration in the not-too-distant future.

The trust that now owns the building is really pleased that the three-panelled window on the south wall of what was the chancel, depicting the nativity, (complete with shepherds) has just been re-installed after going away to be restored and re-leaded.

This work has been carried out by Charles Lightfoot Ltd who also undertook the work on the big west window.

The stained glass now looks magnificent, clear and beautiful.

Some remedial stone work had to be undertaken before the window could be re-fitted; a guard has been attached to the outside to preserve the precious glazing.

Secondary glazing that was fitted to these windows, probably in the 1950s, was a mistaken measure as it probably contributed to their deterioration by trapping moist air.

Funding towards the window restoration has been obtained in part from The Kempe Trust, in part from The Heritage Lottery Fund and the remainder from the trust’s own savings.

Visitors to Spring Bank Arts no longer have to look “… through a glass darkly”!