Then, in all seriousness, as if I had been a fourteenth century apprentice learning his art in a great cathedral, instead of a mere schoolboy, he said,

"Never start to make a St George until you have found the red for the dragon's eye. St George deserves something worth fighting. It must be a real dragon, dangerous and terrifying, so everything depends on the eye. The eye is the centre of the whole window, so it must glow like the brightest fire. You must find that perfect, fierce red."

Later, when I visited stained-glass studios, I was fascinated by the order and calm. Nobody moves quickly in the presence of glass. Everything is deliberate, watchful, alert for the finest splinter which might cut a finger, or cause a sudden, unexpected break in this treacherous material. Pieces of glass of a hundred colours in pigeon holes; large windows to give a flood of light; a centre table covered in green baize and part-cut glass with light flashing along its edges; a brush and pan to sweep the baize again and again to remove splinters. Men and women working steadily, measuring and marking with care and considering yet again before making a cut. Then the gentle tapping below the cut with the head of the cutting wheel to start the crack and the splitting of the glass. Straight lines, circles, curves, all shapes were possible to these artists.

Collins's houses were full of coloured and stained glass, while some of the larger ones had painted glass as opposed to stained, painted with flowers and birds as they had been in Victorian times. Some front doors were in full-blown Art Nouveauand some which had been in fashion yhirty years earlier. This did not mean that the style had changed in the time it took to move from one door to the next, but that old designs accumulated in builders' stores and these happened to be the designs available from stock at the suppliers. In one house there is a complete mixture of cast-iron fireplaces. Delicate Victorian designs, almost Regency in feeling, one with Egyptian designs direct from the French Empire, another in swirling Art Nouveau. It all depended on the stock which Bond & White's held that day.

Internal doors were often of the simplest type, with panels made of unplaned wooden strips covered with Anaglypta wallpaper, which has a heavily embossed surface to imitate plasterwork, and then painted to give a rich appearance. Add to that stamped fingerplates in thin brass and one had a door which looked expensive, but was not. Many doorways had overdoor panels in fretted wood, or even in metal, while corridors were shortened by fretted screens, again selected from a catalogue.

The builder, with his team of skilled and experienced men, was able to vary houses as he chose, rather as an impressionist painter paints the same scene again and again in different colours and moods, as the light changes.

 

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