Hawes & Harris, stained glass window makers

Harpenden craftsmen made RAF memorial windows in Westminster Abbey

Press cutting, showing Anthony Harper, brother of Geoffrey Harper. See Comment below by Francesca Stevens
Newscutting in LHS archives
Battle of Britain chapel, Westminster Abbey
The memorial panels designed by Hugh Easton

The unveiling of the stained and painted glass window at the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Chapel, which aroused countrywide interest, reflected in no small measure the accomplishment of two Harpenden firms, who were concerned with the construction of the window.

Designed by Mr Hugh Easton, the window was constructed by Messrs Hawes and Harris of Leyton Road, Harpenden, and the task of painting was carried out by Mr Robert Hendra, Mr Geoffrey Harper and colleagues, at their studio at “Little Gables”, Leyton Road.

The window forms the principal part of the Memorial, is composed of 48 lights, each measuring 4ft by 1ft, and extends across the entire east wall of the chapel.

Work on the window begun in the autumn of 1945 and took some eighteen months to complete.

When it is considered that the lower lights of the window contain the badges of the 63 fighter squadrons that took part in the battle, the extent of the task can be appreciated.  The window also contained the symbolic blue clad figures of a sergeant, a pilot officer, a flying officer and a squadron leader.

How it is done

The firm of Hawes and Harris is one of the few in Britain engaged on constructing memorial windows, and orders are received from all parts of the country.

From photographs of original drawings, full size drawings are made at the artists’ studio, and on these are planned the various sections of different coloured pieces of glass.  The plan is then sent to Messrs Hawes and Harris who select and cut the glass to the required size.

When the glass is cut the pieces are assembled on the plan at the studio, and the outline of the subject is “traced” on the glass.  Composite panels are installed in a vertical frame or easel, so that they are transparent to the artist who applies the various colours with a special paint containing iron oxide.

When painting is completed, the panels are dissected and returned to Messrs Hawes and Harris, where the pieces are “baked” in a kiln at a high temperature so that the glass absorbs the paint.  This ensures long life to the colour, a contrast to old methods, when enamel paint was used.

The pieces are finally re-assembled, permanently fixed together with lead, and the joins are sealed watertight with putty.

Founders of Hawes and Harris were Mr George Harris, who is still actively associated with it, and the late Mr Cecil Hawes, a well-known Harpenden personality who died a few years ago.

Note: The RAF website: www.raf.mod.uk puts our craftsmen’s work in context.

Westminster Abbey – the Lady Chapel – Royal Airforce Chapel

At the eastern end of the magnificent Lady Chapel built by King Henry VII is a chapel dedicated to the men of the Royal Air Force who died in the Battle of Britain between July and October 1940.

This chapel received damage from bombs that fell in that year and a hole made in the stonework has been preserved and covered with glass. The Tudor glass in the window had also been blown out at the same time.

The Dean of Westminster was approached early in 1943 by Mr N.Viner-Brady who suggested the idea of a memorial to “The Few”. Dean Labilliere chose this small chapel as one suitable for the purpose.

Lord Trenchard (Marshal of the RAF) and Lord Dowding (who led Fighter Command during the Battle) headed a committee to raise funds for the furnishing of this chapel and for a stained glass window. The English walnut altar was designed by A.E.Richardson with sculptured figures of King Arthur and St George (although an embroidered frontal usually covers them). The silver cross, candlesticks and rails were designed by J.Seymour Lindsay. The chapel was unveiled by King George VI on 10 July 1947.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Window

The stained glass window, by Hugh Easton, contains the badges of the fighter squadrons that took part in the Battle. In four panels are shown visions which symbolise the Redemption. In one a squadron leader kneels before the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. Below this she is represented in her sorrow with the dead Christ across her knees (a symbol of the sacrifice of the mothers and widows of those who died in the conflict).

On the opposite side a panel shows a sergeant pilot kneeling before the Crucifixion (a symbol of the sacrifice of the pilot himself). Lastly, above this, is the Resurrection seen by a pilot officer (representing the pilots’ triumph).

Seraphim, with six wings and with hands outstretched to paradise, are shown in the top row of the window.

In the central section are the Royal Arms, the badge of the Fleet Air Arm and the badge and motto of the RAF “Per Ardua ad Astra” (Through struggle to the Stars) together with the furled flags of New Zealand, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, and the United States of America.

In two of the bottom panels are words from Shakespeare’s Henry V “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”. Painted on the stonework below the glass are the names of six RAF war leaders (added in 1989). Trenchard and Dowding are buried in this chapel.

More images and information about the memorial window can be found at:



Comments about this page

  • I was brought up in St Albans and my father, Norman Hudson was a good friend of both Geoffrey and Tony – after whom I was named! I have a vivid memory, as a small boy in the early fifties, of visiting the studio in the High Street, and watching in wonder as Geoffrey showed how he stained and painted glass. Tony painted a portrait of my sister Penelope when she was seven – which would have been 1950 or there abouts. It hung on our sitting room wall throughout my life at home with my parents, and now hangs in my sister’s home in Montacute, Somerset.

    Fast forward to the mid-eighties, and I had bought a derelict farmhouse on the mountain of Foia near Monchique in the Algarve. Amongst the local ex-pats we became quite close to a couple from Blackheath named Stuart and Joyce Ross, who had lived on the mountain since before the revolution. One night they were entertaining us to dinner, and as we had our baby daughter with us she was put in Stuart’s study to sleep. On the wall was a portrait of Stuart’s daughter, unmistakably painted by yes, Tony Harper. The Blackheath connection! Sorry to ramble on, but at least Fran and Adrian can now know the whereabouts of at least two of their uncle’s paintings.

    By Tony Hudson (31/07/2020)
  • Along with all my family, I am very proud of my father, Geoffrey Harper, who shared a stained-glass studio with his partner, Robert Hendra, located behind the George pub in the High Street. Perhaps their most famous contribution to church windows was the Battle of Britain window in Westminster Abbey in London. It was designed by a Hugh Easton, but my father and his partner painted and constructed the actual window. My sister Fran Stevens has written a book about the huge amount of work they produced – copies available from her.

    By Adrian Harper (25/10/2019)
  • My uncle William Bruton (now deceased), was one of the glaziers who worked on the Battle of Britain windows. He lived in Harpenden and was in the Royal Navy during the 2nd World war.

    By Linnette Tedman (05/04/2017)
  • I believe my father Frank Chapman was recalled from East Africa (Kenya) to help construct this window: he was a Radio Operator in the RAF. I think Hawes & Harris needed staff and RAF was able to help, by flying back my father. This must have been a rare occurence to repatriate a LAC (Leading Aircraftsman) by air. I remember going to Westmister Abbey many years ago and handing over the full size diagram (I think it was called a Cartouche) with my Dad. The building manager said that it would be very useful, as it labelled each colour of glass used, if any damage occured to the window.

    By Steve Chapman (22/09/2015)
  • My uncle, Edward (Ted) Bigg worked for Hawes and Harris and was one of a couple of window makers who physically made the window; placing all the pieces in order and then lead-soldering them together. The combination of glass dust and lead fumes led to his early death, from emphysema, in 1972, aged 58.

    By Peter Bigg (31/10/2013)
  • The photo is of my uncle Anthony Harper. His brother Geoffrey Harper was the stained glass artist who worked with his partner Robert Hendra and the designer Hugh Easton. My uncle was a portrait painter and helped out when they had big commissions like the Westminster Abbey windows. My uncle lived in Blackheath, but my father had his studio at No 4 High Street and lived in Kirkwick Avenue. He tragically died young in October 1966 when he was only 53 years, at the height of his artistic powers. He had a long association with the glaziers Hawes and Harris in Harpenden.

    By Francesca Stevens (29/01/2013)

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