Stained glass windows are an iconic part of any building, each one telling a story or representing key moments in history.
They are often centuries-old pieces of art, perhaps seen as irreplaceable by the communities which appreciate them.
But in Horsham, father and son team at Clifford Durant run one of the country’s 25 accredited stained glass conservators, whose everyday job is restoring them to their former glory.
Based in New Street, Cliff and Simon work on windows across Sussex and beyond. The methods they use to clean, stain and paint can be as old as the glass they are mending.
They are currently working on a year-long project at a church in north east London and the County Times visited their workshop while they were cleaning one of the seven foot lancet windows.
Acid rain, candle wax and candle smoke are just some of the things which need cleaning off.
Cliff said: “Everything we do is traditional. Some of the glass is just beautiful. It’s undulating on its surface.
“People say stained glass windows are only coloured glass, but it’s not. It’s a dirty job and heavy work. You put your own scaffolding up and cut the glass out, clambering around.
“These are 1880s windows and we are reusing all the glass. When there’s something missing we have to match that glass. It’s the leading that deteriorates.”
Cliff has been working in the industry since 1972 after training in London. “I saw this man and he had a piece of glass. It was the Queen of Sheba,” he said. “I held it in my hand and to think you could do that out of glass.
“We enjoy what we do. We are asked to do English Heritage, National Trust Buildings. You couldn’t ever walk away from that job without it being 100 per cent. You think ‘Wow, they have asked me to do it’.”
One of the most notable sites for stained glass windows in Horsham is St Mary’s Church.
The main east window comprised of seven lancets tells the story of Jesus Christ’s life and above it are the 12 apostles and four major prophets.
The current one was installed in 1865 as a copy of a 15th century earlier design, but beautiful as they are, churches are often the target of criminals.
St Mary’s church warden Steve Benson said: “The south west window had to be replaced twice in six months because it was vandalised. It’s £10,000 to repair them. It had a grille and they moved the grille. That was six or seven years ago.”
Back in the workshop Cliff said: “We do get the more sinister side. On Armistice Day Nuthurst church had a brick through a window.”
Cliff and Simon have been asked to work at numerous local churches for these repairs and also create new designs in newly built church buildings.
People will have seen their work in places such as Swan Walk Shopping Centre, South Lodge Hotel, the Horsham District Council chamber and reception, Heron Way Primary School and Lloyds Bank in Horsham.
As an accredited conservator he is also asked to create windows for markets abroad, for example in America, Poland, France and Germany. They even spent a month in Barbados for one job.
Projects large or small, they take them on using traditional methods. For more information go to www.clifforddurant.co.uk or call 01403 264607.