Recclesia - the stained glass experts from Chester
PUBLISHED: 17:00 16 August 2016
You could say that Jamie Moore's Chester-based company, Recclesia, is a glass act, writes Mairead Mahon
Espionage and a strong head for heights are two of the more unusual skills needed by Chester-based Jamie Moore, who owns Recclesia, the UK’s biggest privately owned stained glass studio.
Jamie’s skills are in demand throughout Europe, so why base himself in Chester? ‘Why not? Apart from the fact that I’m a Chester boy, the place is packed full of history and stained glass. It’s inspiring,’ says Jamie.
Today, Jamie works with a team of eighteen people, conserving, repairing and designing stained glass, whether its centuries old or contemporary. It often involves working with churches but he was surprised to be summoned to a top secret meeting in London to meet a billionaire who had an unusual request; even if it did involve a chapel.
‘He was obsessed with the Matisse chapel in France and wanted an exact replica in his London estate. He wanted me to make the glass and so, I went to see the original for myself. So far so good but I had reckoned without the famous ‘Security Nuns’ who guard it and who flatly refuse to allow any photography or filming. I reasoned, I smiled, I pleaded with them but to no avail, so I asked myself what would James Bond do? Armed with a camera on my head, hidden by a huge straw hat that I had spent the evening modifying, I secretly filmed it. It was pretty scary, as I was convinced that at any moment they would whip off my hat, discover all and I would be hauled before their Mother Superior,’ laughs Jamie.
Jamie Moore examining a badly damaged panel of stained glass on the lightbox prior to conservation work
Kat Walton copying an original section of glass for incorporation into a badly damaged window
Kate Ladyman leading up a panel
Creating a painted back plate for a damaged section of glass
Cleaning sections of glass under a microscope
Luckily, he got out intact and today, the billionaire has his chapel, complete with the most gorgeous stained glass.
Tatton Park may not employ ‘security nuns’ but repairing its famous Paxton Fernery, one of the most important glass houses in the UK, did require nerves of steel. The wonderful mouth-blown glass was beginning to fail, with splinters falling on people and plants alike. However, in order to carefully deal with each precious piece of glass in the enormous canopy; Jamie had to approach it in a cherry picker, which buffeted him about in the winds with as he says, his heart in his mouth!
But why does historic glass need such attention?
‘It’s like anything else. Over time it tends to fade and sag and if it isn’t looked after, a precious part of our history will be lost. I’ve worked on many historical buildings: from castles to cathedrals, including Chester, where some of the glass in the Chapter House was actually starting to bulge out from the frame,’ explains Jamie.
The first thing the team have to do is get the damaged glass back to the studio and Jamie has specially adapted vans to carry it and yes, they do drive very slowly and very gingerly! Each piece is then colour coded and a spreadsheet made of the design: up to now, no piece has ever been lost. It is then placed on a lightbox, so it can be carefully inspected.
‘All those hours spent completing jigsaws as a child weren’t wasted, as a lot of our work is like completing a giant jigsaw,’ says Jamie.
Every member of the team has their own tools and woe betide anyone who borrows one. ‘We’re all a bit precious about them but I can tell you that if a medieval stained glass craftsman walked in here now, he’d recognise many of these tools. We do have high-tech pieces of kit but there is something very satisfying in realising that over the centuries, many of the techniques remain the same. Cleaning is still done with water, although we do have the benefit of microscopes,’ says Jamie.
Sometimes, people try to save money by repairing glass themselves: Jamie has seen ‘repairs’ on centuries old glass, which involve bath sealant, car filler and superglue. In the end, not only does it damage the glass, it costs even more to save it.
So, is it only billionaires and custodians of important buildings who come to Jamie?
‘No. We have clients who live in homes that had glass ripped out in the 1970s, who want it replaced. Some clients want a bespoke piece, maybe for an anniversary. Mind you, it’s not every day that we get a commission to design naked ladies, as we recently did for one Cheshire bathroom,’ laughs Jamie.
Stained glass, with or without naked ladies, has become so popular that Jamie has been persuaded to hold open days: everything is transparent for this Chester craftsman with an international reputation.
More information: www.recclesia.com Recclesia Ltd,St Ives Way, Chester, CH5 2QS.