The stained glass of James Silvester Sparrow (1862-1929) tends to be dark and dramatic: not for nothing did he regard himself as "the Wagner of stained glass" ("J. Silvester Sparrow"). Martin Harrison describes his work as being "dense" too (67), an effect achieved by layering the glass, sometimes of different textures, and using wide leads to contain it. This "plating," although not a traditional technique, certainly allowed him to achieve some dramatic results (see Lambert 180-81).

With his unique style, Sparrow attracted some of the most famous designers of his day, including Walter Crane and Frank Brangwyn, and made up some of their most admired windows. When a correspondent for the Architectural Review went to see one of Sparrow's windows, made from cartoons by Frank Brangwyn for St. Mary the Virgin Church, Bucklebury, in 1912, he apologised for the quality of the image reproduced alongside in the journal (shown at the left here). But he was greatly impressed by Silvester's colours, which he found to be as remarkable as Brangwyn's composition:

as the window was set up in the drawing-room it was not at all equally lighted, which made an adequate reproduction impossible; so that the accompanying illustration is to that degree deficient, while, of course, lacking the translucent colour that gave the original such charm. The subject is Christ on the Cross, set between the two thieves, with figures of St. John, the Mother of Sorrows, and Mary Magdalene in the lower portion of the window. The glass is built up in varying layers, producing the purest of colours, the purple-blue of the veil of Mary Magdalene being especially fine. Altogether it is a very noteworthy window, alike for its colour and for its drawing. [231; emphasis added]

Another point Harrison makes is that Sparrow's work has a "brooding fin-de-siècle atmosphere to it" (67). — Jacqueline Banerjee.

Sparrow's Own Designs

Sparrow's Work for Walter Crane at the former Church of the Ark of the Covenant, Upper Clapton

Sparrow's Work for Frank Brangwyn at St Mary the Virgin, Bucklebury, Berks.


Harrison, Martin. Victorian Stained Glass. London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1980.

"J. Silvester Sparrow (1862-1929)." Gwydr Lliw yng Nghymru (Stained Glass in Wales). Web. 6 August 2018.

Lambert, Nick. Llandaff Cathedral. Brigend: Seren, 2010.

"Stained Glass." Brangwyn Bazaar. Web. 6 August 2018.

"A Stained Glass Window." The Architectural Review. XXXI (Jan.-June, 1912): 231.

Created 5 August 2018