Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Colour and light

Here’s a rare survival. Victorian shop windows could be a riot of colour and lettering, and examples like Smith’s umbrella shop in London, subject of an earlier post, hold the attention of anyone interested in the history of lettering or retailing. This Norwich shop is different. Instead of the lettering, what remains to catch our eye here is some of the old stained glass. Victorian shop designers were aware that there was a ‘dead’ area of the window at the top. Goods displayed too high would not be noticed, so how did one use this upper area of the window? One solution was to divide it off with a horizontal glazing bar (called a transom) and glaze the upper section (known as the transom light) with stained glass. So it could glitter with colour, and catch the eye in a different way.

The Victorians used stained glass a lot – not just in churches, where we’re used to seeing it, but also in domestic front doors, in schools, and in shop windows, where it must have glowed beautifully at night. Much of this glass has vanished as features have been replaced and facades made over. What remains might not be the best of the Victorian glazier’s art (that usually was reserved for churches) it’s good to see this example still pleasing the eye. Pleasing it rather more, perhaps, than the rather routine display of stickers and notices in the main part of the window.

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Apologies to readers who saw a discarded version of an older post, which was here, briefly, in error. Those wishing to read this post, about a house in Stratford, can find it here.


The Vintage Knitter said...

Those are particularly lovely Victorian shop windows; I particularly like the font used for the number '20'.

All that stained glass is certainly eye-catching, especially with the vast number of bull's eyes used. I've been given a Victorian glass panel to restore, which I'm going to use in the house once I've completed it. However, its not as attractive as those panels!


P.S. I only hope that the local authourity has Listed the shop front!

Philip Wilkinson said...

I can't find a listing record for this building, which means it probably isn't listed, alas.

Good luck with your stained glass project. Stained glass can look lovely in a house.

Hels said...

I have honestly never heard of the transom light but what a clever way to fill in the top of a shop window. Gorgeous to look at from the outside, and glittering with colour from the inside.

I wonder if the concept was ever used in Australian shops during Victorian times.

The Vintage Knitter said...

RE: the listing, I think that is a complete oversight by the LA. So many of our historic shop frontages our being lost to generic high street chains that each high street looks more or less the same now.

bazza said...

Many of the front doors and windows where I live have Art Deco style stained glass designs. They days from the 1930's. My own door still has the original design.

Cat said...

MOSS Menswear have another lovely shopfront in Newcastle. It is of a much later date (though the building behind the facade is older), but is still stunning.

I posted a detail of it on my blog few weeks back if you're interested:


Philip Wilkinson said...

Vintage Knitter: I've not researched this, but my impression is that shop fronts in general are under-listed. I think there are various reasons for this, including: (1) there are quite a few old shop fronts about, but many of them have been altered and therefore, in the eyes of the listers, devalued; (2) shop fronts are seen by many as rather frivolous architectural ephemera, not of the same importance as, say, undistinguished medieval churches, which get listed just because they're old. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of medieval churches, but I'd like to see shop fronts valued a bit more highly too.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Art Deco glass can be stunning. Hope people round your way are hanging on to theirs.

Cat: Lovely shop front detail on your blog. Thank you. We have friends in Newcastle and mean to visit quite soon, but our trip keeps getting put off due to tedious work deadlines.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Philip-

Wonderful blog.
Your books look fascinating, too.
I am so pleased you are a member of
THE STYLE stay in touch. Would love to hear from you.


Peter Ashley said...

We ended up in Greenwich yesterday, where so much major refurbishment is taking place that the whole town looks shrink-wrapped, including Hawksmoor's parish church. Hopefully the old frontage of what is now Noodle Time (where we refuelled ourselves mightily) will survive, with its hugh bulbous brass stallboards and chequered paving.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Diane: Many thanks for your kind comment about the blog. I'm enthralled by your country-house explorations, especially of the stunning Bellamont.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: I have many fond memories of Greenwich, although the place was innocent of such delights as Noodle Time when I used to go there.

STAG said...

Greenwich didn't impress me near as much as the covered galleries in Leeds.

I think the galleries still work, even without tourists. But after paying 5 pounds 50 for a scone and tea, I won't be back to Greenwich.