Last remaining painted window by York's Henry Gyles to go on show in Denton as the famous artwork falls into disrepair

Prolific Architect John Carr may have been famed for his works – which are among the finest in Yorkshire – but when it came to a picture window near Ilkley his ideals were splendidly upended.

A scene from the left hand panel c 1700 of the Gyles window commissioned by the 5th Lord Fairfax showing his Arms and monogram.
A scene from the left hand panel c 1700 of the Gyles window commissioned by the 5th Lord Fairfax showing his Arms and monogram.

So important was the painted glass at St Helen’s in Denton he is said to have abandoned his classical style to build the church, instead creating a gothic frame to showcase its brilliance.

Now, as the famed window falls into disrepair, conservation efforts are stepping up with the church to open its doors under Heritage Open Days 2021.

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The painted window, the only one surviving of its kind by celebrated artist Henry Gyles, is to take centre stage while experts stage a stained glass exhibition with well-known conservators.

St Helen's Church Denton near Ilkley which houses The Gyles window

“The beautiful stained glass is quite uplifting, it’s so important not to lose it,” said churchwarden Ann Chadwick, ahead of the heritage showcase and exhibition this coming weekend.

“It’s a piece of work that is of artistic and heritage significance. It’s of great importance because it is so rare, there is only this one in the world.”

The window is the only extant picture window by York’s Henry Gyles, who is credited with the revival of the art of pictorial glass painting in the late 17th century.

Based on an engraving by Johann Sadeler in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, it shows King David playing the harp and is believed to be the earliest surviving example of a religious picture window since the Civil War.

Noted antiquarian Ralph Thoresby, a contemporary of Gyles, is said to have described it in his diary as “the noblest painted glass window in the North of England”.

While first commissioned by the Fairfax family, the window and estate was passed to Sir James Ibbetson after they fell into misfortune and it was sold in 1716.

Under a scheme for a new estate the Ibbetsons appointed the most noted architect of the time, John Carr, to build the new church known as Denton Chapel, which would house the window.

And while Carr, best known for settings such as Harewood House, was fond of the Palladian style, he created Gothic style pointed windows to accommodate the Henry Gyles glass in 1776.

“When the older chapel was demolished and the new one was built, John Carr designed the build around the window’s gothic shape,” said Mrs Chadwick.

“That is how important it is considered to be. It’s interesting in itself, but as a painted window it’s very important because it’s the only surviving large window by Henry Gyles.”

Environmental surveys have been commissioned, with a grant from ChurchCare, to see what work may need to be done.

It is thought that better ventilation and heating may be required.

“Taking part in Heritage Open Day will bring the importance of the window to the forefront,” said Mrs Chadwick.

Under Heritage Open Days, St Helen’s Church will open its doors this Saturday and Sunday, with a stained glass exhibition entitled Journeys – Teithiau. It features works from six artists and has now successfully toured Ely Cathedral and St Mary’s in Barnard Castle, celebrating each artist’s interpretation of Journeys. One of the artists, Jonathan Cooke, will be on hand to demonstrate stained glass techniques and answer questions.