Established in 1838, William Wailes's stained-glass firm in Newcastle-on-Tyne became one of the largest in the country. It followed Thomas Willement's, already established in London, and preceded two other big studios that sprang up soon afterwards, as churches and cathedrals were restored, and many new churches built. John Hardman and Co. in Birmingham were persuaded to start stained glass production in the next decade, while Charles Eamer Kempe started his own business in London in 1866.

Wailes himself had been a tea-dealer and grocer with an interest in landscape painting. When he set up his business for painted or stained glass, his rates were modest. A. W. N. Pugin found him considerably cheaper than Thomas Willement, so in 1841 he started sending his designs to Wailes instead, writing to his patron Lord Shrewsbury on one occasion in March 1843, "I sent Wailes £50 and he writes for more. I do not believe he has a shilling to pay wages from week to week. perhaps this is so much the better. I can keep him to it" (Letters II: 31). A couple of years later, Pugin took his custom to Hardman's instead. He had more control of the process there, since his assistant John Hardman Powell was Hardman's nephew.

But Wailes was well-established by now and continued to thrive even without Pugin's orders. In 1850, The Ecclesiologist referred to him as "the eminent artist" (19), and by 1851 he had 76 men working for him, a size of operation "unprecedented in the history of English glass-painting" (Cheshire 40). His windows, very much in tune with the times in their Gothic Revival style, shimmered with colour, and were popular. Wailes must have had plenty of shillings by 1862, when he built a Gothic/Elizabethan extravaganza for himself, with French touches: Saltwell Towers, in Gateshead, set in beautiful parkland. However, he had overreached himself: business declined, and in 1876 he had to sell his estate to the council, leasing it back for his lifetime (see "Saltwell Park").

Inevitably, Wailes's style changed with the years, later becoming more narrative in composition. After he died in 1881, the firm continued under his son-in-law Thomas Rankine Strang, now as Wailes and Strang, probably with Wailes's daughter Margaret Strang taking over the design side. Recent restoration has made his house and park one of Gateshead's premier tourist attractions: the house is used an exhibition centre and events venue, and the park is open to the public. But, like Kempe's, his name is still not as widely known as it ought to be, considering the number of churches and cathedrals in which his windows can be found.




"Architects and Artists W-X-Y-Z." Sussex Parish Churches. Web. 17 May 2013.

Cheshire, Jim. Stained Glass and the Victorian Gothic Revival. Manchester: Manchester Univerity Press, 2004. Print.

The Ecclesiologist. Vol. X (New Series, Vol. VII). Google Books (free book). Web. 17 May 2013.

Pugin, A. W. N. The Collected Letters of A. W. N. Pugin, Vol. 2. 1843-45. Ed. Margaret Belcher. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.

"Saltwell Park." Web. 17 May 2013.

Further Reading

Scaife, Pat. The Stained Glass of Lichfield Cathedral. Much Wenlock, Shrops.: R. J. L. Smith, 2009.

Torbet, Ronald. The Wonderful Windows of William Wailes. Lancaster: Scotforth, 2003.

Last modified 12 March 2020