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“We’re working on significant, historic buildings so it’s vital we make the right decisions based on academic research and international best practice.”
It requires a whole host of skilled craftspeople to maintain, restore and conserve York Minster and its Precinct, and we’re incredibly proud to work with York Glaziers Trust for the upkeep of our stained-glass windows. Its talented team includes Matt Nickels, site team leader and glazier.
We caught up with Matt to learn more about the work that York Glaziers Trust does for the Minster, as well as finding out more about his varied career, which includes everything from television appearances to working on parliamentary buildings.
How did you become a glazier and what inspired you to take this career?
“I’m originally from Brighton, and my parents owned a stained glass business. When I was growing up, I’d always help out, not realising how specialist glazing actually was!
“I had always enjoyed art and photography, but never intended to pursue that as a career, so studied International Relations and Development in Manchester. When I came back home, I fell into helping my dad… and I really enjoyed it! I found my calling working with stained glass and continued working with my father, before moving on as a freelance glazier and running my own glazing business. I made sure however that I never lost ties with the family business.
“I was lucky enough to work with some incredible glaziers as I was starting out. Seeing their passion, sense of history, and determination to pass on the skills of this fantastic trade was special and I wanted to be part of that. Stained glass conservation, particularly at the level at which YGT operates is very specialist, so it is important we keep these skills alive for the proper upkeep of historical buildings like the Minster.”
How did you end up at York Glaziers Trust?
“I’d learnt a lot through working with my dad, but it came to the point where I felt it was important to get an academic qualification in stained glass. We’re working on significant, historic buildings so it’s vital we make the right decisions based on academic research and international best practice.
“I went to University of York in 2016 to complete my MA in Stained Glass Conservation and Heritage Management, which involved a placement at York Glaziers Trust.
“York Minster is the York Glaziers Trust’s most important relationship, and it was the major draw for doing my studies in York! A lot of my work in the past had been on Victorian churches, but I’ve always had a love for big cathedral stained glass, inspired by visiting the likes of Chartres Cathedral and Notre-Dame. After I completed my MA, I joined York Glaziers Trust in 2019.”
Can you tell us about your role at York Glaziers Trust and the Minster?
“It’s incredibly varied, there are many processes to follow when conserving windows, so projects can take months, if not years, to complete. From a York Minster perspective – having established the conservation need, we first survey the windows to understand how they’ve been fixed, so that we can plan how to safely remove them. We then transport the window to our studio close by and the conservation process itself can start.
“This is an extremely specialist job in many respects. The cleaning process, for example, which one might think is straight forward, is meticulous and painstaking, both in choice of materials and method of application, making sure there is no possibility of damage caused to the original design or glass.
“When reinstating windows at York Minster we now always introduce a secondary glazing system, which both protects the original and prevents condensation, which is the primary cause of window deterioration.”
“Our current work is really revealing the original beauty of the glass. Once it’s completed and back on the Minster, it’s going to look transformed.”
What projects are you working on at the moment for the Minster?
“A major project we’re working on now is the St Cuthbert window. This is a big task given how large the window is – 120 individual panels making up the main body of the window and around 32 shaped panels within the tracery.
“Currently, the St Cuthbert window is difficult to read from ground level because of previous restoration efforts, especially when compared to other windows like St William’s and the East window, which are remarkable to look at. But when you see the St Cuthbert window close up, the painting is absolutely fantastic. Our current work is really revealing the original beauty of the glass. Once it’s completed and back on the Minster, it’s going to look transformed.”
“I have a real sense and pride in being part of the fabric of the cathedral.”
What else have you been up to in your career?
“I’ve appeared on The Repair Shop since 2017. It’s great fun and a pleasure to be involved in, especially getting to work with incredibly talented people who are equally as interested in conservation as I am. I’ve also worked on windows at the House of Parliament and House of Lords – it was particularly interesting going through security!”
What’s your favourite thing about working on the Minster?
“Being part of its legacy and history. I had always wanted to work on York Minster, and even more so after I did my dissertation on two of its windows. I was lucky enough to have access to the Minster archives and learnt all about its history, the stories and the money invested to create and look after this amazing building. Interestingly, accounts from the 1500s describe how stonemason and glazing teams worked 600 years ago, and how they used equipment and techniques which are the same as we encounter today.
“I have a real sense and pride in being part of the fabric of the cathedral. The more you work at the Minster, the more immersed you are in its history, and there’s something very special about that.”
Find out more about other members of the team here.
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