Stained glass exhibition is a window on Calder Valley’s industrial past

Telling the story: Glazier Karl Theobald (pictured) and designer Phil OFarrell follow The Journey of Alum
Telling the story: Glazier Karl Theobald (pictured) and designer Phil OFarrell follow The Journey of Alum

A new exhibition will showcase a key part of the Calder Valley’s past using the medium of stained glass when it opens next week.

The Dyeing Trade is a free exhibition in stained glass with live demonstrations at the Northlight Art Space at Northlight Studios in Hangingroyd Lane, Hebden Bridge, and is being staged on Saturday and Sunday, January 27 and 28.

It will be open from 11am to 4pm each day following a launch event at 7pm on Friday, January 26.

The work, which will then be installed in the historic Dyers Hall at Dowgate Hill in London, began following a suggestion from designer Phil O’Farrell, who was working on some interiors in the London building’s basement.

Phil, knowing glazier Karl Theobald’s skills, pitched the idea of picturing in stained glass “The Journey of Alum”, a key part of the clothing industry in the past, and the Worshipful Company liked the idea.

The exhibition, also showcasing finished images, will explain the strange story of alum production and its use in the dyeing trade in Yorkshire.

Karl will be physically constructing the leadwork of one window in person over the course of the weekend, and he and Phil will be talking about the commission as well as demonstrating their craftsmanship.

Phil said Calderdale once produced more fustian clothes than anywhere else on earth, but over the past century many of the mills have been converted into homes, offices, workshops and, particularly in Hebden Bridge, into artists’ workshops.

But echoes of the industry can still be found in artwork produced under those same roofs, and “The Journey of Alum” will illustrate part of that.

“This exhibition continues that theme. Commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Dyers and designed and produced by us, it commemorates the vast Yorkshire textile dyeing industry that dominated our valley 150 years ago,” he said.

“Shown through a series of large stained glass panels, visitors will learn how North Sea kelp, Yorkshire shale and London urine were combined to form alum, the essential fixative used for dyeing clothes and, indeed, stained glass windows.

“You will also be able to see stained glass manufacture in person as Karl constructs the final window of the series in the gallery itself.”