Thomas Willement

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Willements's arms, from his home, Davington Priory, show his mastery of heraldic glass. Thinke and Thanke Willement.jpg
Willements's arms, from his home, Davington Priory, show his mastery of heraldic glass.

Thomas Willement (18 July 178610 March 1871) was an English stained glass artist, called "the Father of Victorian Stained Glass", active from 1811 to 1865.

Stained glass decorative window composed of pieces of coloured glass

The term stained glass can refer to coloured glass as a material or to works created from it. Throughout its thousand-year history, the term has been applied almost exclusively to the windows of churches and other significant religious buildings. Although traditionally made in flat panels and used as windows, the creations of modern stained glass artists also include three-dimensional structures and sculpture. Modern vernacular usage has often extended the term "stained glass" to include domestic leadlight and objets d'art created from foil glasswork exemplified in the famous lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany.



Willement was born at St Marylebone, London. Like many early 19th century provincial stained glass artists, he began as a plumber and glazier, the two jobs, now separate trades, being at that time linked because both required the skills of working with lead. In 1811, Willement produced a window with a heraldic shield. It was from this beginning that he went on to become one of the most successful of England’s early 19th century stained glass artists.

Plumbing Systems for conveying fluids

Plumbing is any system that conveys fluids for a wide range of applications. Plumbing uses pipes, valves, plumbing fixtures, tanks, and other apparatuses to convey fluids. Heating and cooling (HVAC), waste removal, and potable water delivery are among the most common uses for plumbing, but it is not limited to these applications. The word derives from the Latin for lead, plumbum, as the first effective pipes used in the Roman era were lead pipes.

Architectural glass

Architectural glass is glass that is used as a building material. It is most typically used as transparent glazing material in the building envelope, including windows in the external walls. Glass is also used for internal partitions and as an architectural feature. When used in buildings, glass is often of a safety type, which include reinforced, toughened and laminated glasses.

Heraldry profession, study, or art of creating, granting, and blazoning arms and ruling on questions of rank or protocol

Heraldry is a broad term, encompassing the design, display, and study of armorial bearings, as well as related disciplines, such as vexillology, together with the study of ceremony, rank, and pedigree. Armory, the best-known branch of heraldry, concerns the design and transmission of the heraldic achievement. The achievement, or armorial bearings usually includes a coat of arms on an shield, helmet, and crest, together with any accompanying devices, such as supporters, badges, heraldic banners, and mottoes.

Window by Willement, 1845, at the church of Saints Peter & Paul, Harlington. Window by T. Willement, 1845, at church of S.S. Peter & Paul, Harlington, Middlesex. An Ascension, for Charles Louis de Salis.jpg
Window by Willement, 1845, at the church of Saints Peter & Paul, Harlington.


Bellona, part of a circa 1845 window by Thomas Willement for Captain the Hon. Charles Louis Maximilian Fane De Salis. Bellona part of a circa 1845 window by Thomas Willement for Captain the Hon. Charles Louis Maximilian Fane De Salis.jpg
Bellona, part of a circa 1845 window by Thomas Willement for Captain the Hon. Charles Louis Maximilian Fane De Salis.

The great period of stained glass manufacturing had been the period from about 1100 until about 1500. After that time, with the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII and the destruction of the Church’s artworks by Puritans in the Parliamentary Period, there was little stained glass manufacture. Those few windows which were produced between 1500 and 1800 were generally of painted glass in which process the colours were applied by brush to the surface of the glass and fired to anneal them, rather than the artist working with numerous sections of coloured glass and piecing them together.

Dissolution of the Monasteries legal event which disbanded religious residences in England, Wales and Ireland

The Dissolution of the Monasteries, sometimes referred to as the Suppression of the Monasteries, was the set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland, appropriated their income, disposed of their assets, and provided for their former personnel and functions. Although the policy was originally envisaged as increasing the regular income of the Crown, much former monastic property was sold off to fund Henry's military campaigns in the 1540s. He was given the authority to do this in England and Wales by the Act of Supremacy, passed by Parliament in 1534, which made him Supreme Head of the Church in England, thus separating England from Papal authority, and by the First Suppression Act (1535) and the Second Suppression Act (1539).

Henry VIII of England 16th-century King of England

Henry VIII was King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547. Henry was the second Tudor monarch, succeeding his father, Henry VII. Henry is best known for his six marriages, in particular his efforts to have his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, annulled. His disagreement with the Pope on the question of such an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority. He appointed himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England and dissolved convents and monasteries, for which he was excommunicated. Henry is also known as "the father of the Royal Navy"; he invested heavily in the Navy, increasing its size greatly from a few to more than 50 ships.

Puritans Subclass of English Reformed Protestants

The Puritans were English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to purify the Church of England of Roman Catholic practices, maintaining that the Church of England had not been fully reformed and needed to become more Protestant. Puritanism played a significant role in English history, especially during the Protectorate.

It has been claimed of Willement that through his observations of old windows, he reinvented the ancient method of leading coloured pieces and integrating the visually black lines created between the colours by the lead cames into the design of the window. From observing 14th century windows such as the West window of York Minster, Willement developed the artistic method of arranging figures one to each single light, surmounted by a decorative canopy.

Came Divider bar used between small pieces of glass to make a larger glazing panel.

A came is a divider bar used between small pieces of glass to make a larger glazing panel.

York Minster Church in York, England

The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York, commonly known as York Minster, is the cathedral of York, England, and is one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe. The minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the third-highest office of the Church of England, and is the mother church for the Diocese of York and the Province of York. It is run by a dean and chapter, under the Dean of York. The title "minster" is attributed to churches established in the Anglo-Saxon period as missionary teaching churches, and serves now as an honorific title. Services in the minster are sometimes regarded as on the High Church or Anglo-Catholic end of the Anglican continuum.

He was further encouraged after 1839 in the archaeological direction that his work took by the Cambridge Camden Society who promoted all things Medievalising in the structure of new churches and the restoration of old ones. Willement was encouraged by the society and also received the patronage of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, the most famous ecclesiastical architect and designer of Churches. Unfortunately Willement suffered a falling out with Pugin who accused him of being mercenary. (Pugin also had previously fallen out with his first stained glass artist, Willement’s pupil, William Warrington.) It is also possible that the style of Willement's figures was not sufficiently archaeologically correct to satisfy Pugin who was himself a meticulous and elegant draftsman.

Cambridge Camden Society

The Cambridge Camden Society, known from 1845 as the Ecclesiological Society, was a learned architectural society founded in 1839 by undergraduate students at Cambridge University to promote "the study of Gothic Architecture, and of Ecclesiastical Antiques." Its activities would come to include publishing a monthly journal, The Ecclesiologist, advising church builders on their blueprints, and advocating a return to a medieval style of church architecture in England. At its peak influence in the 1840s, the society counted over 700 members in its ranks, including bishops of the Church of England, deans at Cambridge University, and Members of Parliament. The society and its publications enjoyed wide influence over the design of English churches throughout the 19th century, and are often known as the ecclesiological movement.

William Warrington British stained glass artist

William Warrington, (1796–1869), was an English maker of stained glass windows. His firm, operating from 1832 to 1875, was one of the earliest of the English Medieval revival and served clients such as Norwich and Peterborough Cathedrals. Warrington was an historian of medieval glass and published an illustrated book The History of Stained Glass.

Willement's bookplate in a copy of Remarks on the Seals Attached to the Letters from the Barons of England to Pope Boniface the Eighth in the Year 1301, Respecting the Sovereignty of Scotland, by Nicholas Harris Nicolas, FSA, London, 1826. Thomas Willement bookplate signed 1828.jpg
Willement's bookplate in a copy of Remarks on the Seals Attached to the Letters from the Barons of England to Pope Boniface the Eighth in the Year 1301, Respecting the Sovereignty of Scotland, by Nicholas Harris Nicolas, FSA, London, 1826.


The break with Pugin did not set back Willement's success. He had been the armorial painter to George IV (reigned 1820–1830) and became, by Royal Patent, "Artist in Stained Glass" to Queen Victoria, making much armorial glass for St George's Chapel, Windsor, and restoring the ancient windows there. In 1851 he was one of the 25 stained glass artists who exhibited at the Crystal Palace Exhibition.

George IV of the United Kingdom King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of Hanover

George IV was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and King of Hanover following the death of his father, King George III, on 29 January 1820, until his own death ten years later. From 1811 until his accession, he served as Prince Regent during his father's final mental illness.

Queen Victoria British monarch who reigned 1837–1901

Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. On 1 May 1876, she adopted the additional title of Empress of India.

The Crystal Palace Former building originally in Hyde Park, London, 1854 relocated to Bromley, South London

The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and plate-glass structure originally built in Hyde Park, London, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. The exhibition took place from 1 May until 15 October 1851, and more than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in its 990,000 square feet (92,000 m2) exhibition space to display examples of technology developed in the Industrial Revolution. Designed by Joseph Paxton, the Great Exhibition building was 1,851 feet (564 m) long, with an interior height of 128 feet (39 m). It was three times the size of St Paul's Cathedral.

In 1846-1847, Willement made eight stained glass windows with heraldic designs for St Michael and All Angels Church, Badminton. They all feature blue borders and badges in the yellow of the Duke of Beaufort's livery. [1]

Davington Priory, as it appeared to the water colour painter Henry Petrie, in 1807, when the Norman church was in use as a stable. Davington Priory by H Petrie FSA 1807.jpg
Davington Priory, as it appeared to the water colour painter Henry Petrie, in 1807, when the Norman church was in use as a stable.

Davington Priory

By 1845 Willement, aged 59, had become wealthy and looked around for a home with a suitable resonance in which to spend his later years. He purchased Davington Priory near Faversham in Kent, an ancient nunnery established in the 12th century and complete with its own church (the buildings had been spared in the Dissolution of the Monasteries because by 1527 there were only three elderly nuns remaining). Willement restored and extended the buildings to make a comfortable home, and installed his own heraldic glass with the motto, "Thynke and Thanke". Since he owned the church as well, he refurbished it with stained glass and had Taylors of Loughborough install five bells, each cast with the same motto, in the bell tower.

Thomas Willement married Katharine Griffith, who died in 1856. He died in 1871, aged 85, and was buried alongside his wife in a vault in the church he had restored.

Davington Priory has since 1983 been the home of Bob Geldof KBE.


See also

Other Early 19th century firms


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  1. St. Michael and All Angels, Great Badminton (webpage), 19 July 2013