I have always thought that Norfolk’s medieval stained glass is an underrated legacy of the middle ages. It has a distinctive style and high quality craftsmanship as well as deep rich colours and some superb draftsmanship.
This was brought home when I first visited Martham, St Mary church where there is a superb collection of fifteenth century Norfolk glass, probably made in one of the workshops in Norwich. It has been restored to a greater or lesser extent and reset in the east windows of the north and south aisles. I hope the photo gallery below gives testament to this.
But what links the glass here to the glass in Mulbarton, St Mary Magdalen? It’s Adam and Eve. Eve spinning and fully clothed is portrayed in Martham and Adam delving and fully clothed is in Mulbarton , along with them, both naked with fig leaves on their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
The story goes that a vicar moved from Martham to Mulbarton (about 20 miles) at the beginning of the nineteenth century bringing with him the two Adam and Eve panels from Martham and setting them in the East window at Mulbarton.
In his notes on Mulbarton, David King (the authority on Norfolk’s medieval glass) detects the work of William Mudesford, a Dutch immigrant who worked for the main glazing workshop in the city from panels depicting the Passion in St Peter Mancroft (Norwich)
Apart from this connection, the glass at Martham is (in my opinion) of outstanding quality – many angels including St Michael the archangel weighing souls and a number of saints, including East Anglian favourites, St Edmund (holding the arrow of his martyrdom) and St Margaret of Antioch (spearing the dragon). One of my favourites is Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist in his camel hair. And in the scourging of Christ I wonder if we see the faces of the men of mid fifteenth century Norwich and Norfolk?
One problem with looking at medieval stained glass in situ is that you often can’t get very close to it. When you see whole windows (as in St Peter Mancroft and East Harling, Norfolk’s best known examples) it is hard to see individual panels and easy to be overwhelmed by the effect of the whole, beautiful as that may be. You really need a long lens or a pair of binoculars and the best way to see the glass (apart from being up on a ladder or scaffold or seeing it when it is being repaired in a workshop) is probably through photographs. Even then a protective grill can take away from its beauty. In most of these photos of Martham I have got rid of the exterior protective grill by using Photoshop – a rather tedious process.
There are other issues with looking at medieval stained glass. Much was lost during the iconoclasm of the Reformation both in Edward vi’s reign and the period of the Civil War (1642-1660). A lot of glass simply deteriorated over time and was lost that way. It’s rare to see windows as they were, when they were created which means that interpretation of the glass is often problematic and speculative. As David King says most of the glass we see today in many churches is a “patchwork of miscellaneous fragments.” But the skill and artistry of those that made them shines through.
Further Norfolk stained glass sources:
Stained Glass Tours around Norfolk Churches. David King. Norfolk Society 1974
https://hungate.org.uk/downloads/ a series of trails leading to much of the best of medieval Norfolk stained glass.
another excellent site including Victorian and modern examples
There is much on Norfolk stained glass here including this index and an incomplete guide but exhaustive research by David King.
The Rose window site by Painton Cowen an exhaustive guide of English and French stained glass. The Norfolk section now includes about 40 churches (largely updated by me)
Simon Knott’s excellent guide to Norfolk churches