Complex church window guards for St. Peter the Apostle, Woolwich

Some reasons for protecting stained glass with wire mesh window guards.

During our work with churches around the country protecting stained glass and leaded light windows, AIANO encounters remarkable churches, and a small proportion of these are described in articles on our blog, Aiano Newswire. There would be no remarkable churches without the remarkable individuals and church communities who with dedication and determination look after their church buildings.

When a church approaches Aiano’s about protecting their precious stained glass with wire mesh window guards, there are as many different stories as there are churches that have led to this decision. None the less, the four principle reasons that we encounter most often are:

  • the result of an act of vandalism or a break-in,
  • general desire for prevention/conservation, or, the requirements of the church’s insurance company,
  • the desire to replace polycarbonate glazing,
  • Replacing old window guards.

In practice, there are likely to be several factors influencing a church to purchase wire mesh window guards. But for this article we will look at each in turn and give examples.

Protecting stained glass following vandalism or a break-in

Sadly, according to Ecclesiastical Insurance, every year, one in four churches suffers from acts of theft, vandalism or arson. A significant number of the churches that request wire guard protection from AIANO have suffered from such acts of vandalism and theft. Precious stained glass or leaded light windows have been damaged. Sometimes indeed, the window has plain glass, but it may still need guarding as a deterrent if there has been a history of break-ins.

It is likely that where there have been one or more break-ins that have damaged windows, the church’s insurance company will require the church to invest in window guards.

Protecting stained glass with wire mesh window guards is not a full-proof solution for preventing break-ins or vandalism to church windows, however they are a strong deterrent when correctly designed, made and installed.

We listen carefully to the information churches give us about the specific problems they have. If, for example, some existing old wire guards have been levered away from the wall by vandals, then we will design the new window guards to minimise the risk of this happening. This can be done in a few different ways, including by ensuring the perfect fit of the window guard in combination with extra or special fixings, to prevent the vandal getting purchase on the guard.

At St Peter-in-the-Forest church AIANO rested the guard on the window sill and used strong fixings and tamper proof screws to help deter vandals. The clips were fixed behind the guards rather than protruding out from the guard. This makes them less noticeable, makes access more difficult and improves the overall strength of the solution.

Protecting stained glass with special fixings to make the window guards tamper proof

At St Peter-in-the-Forest church AIANO installed guards with special fixing to deter vandalism.

Window guards at St Peter's Woolwich protect from bird damage

At St Peter’s Woolwich, AIANO installed church window guards to help conserve the stone traceries and the stained glass.

Church window guards for conservation and protection

Many churches make the decision to invest in wire mesh church window guards for protection, the purpose of conservation and protecting stained glass. They may not have had any incidents of vandalism at all, but they feel that in their windows they have a beautiful or unique piece of heritage that should be protected.

AIANO wire mesh window guards are consistent with this because our woven mesh wire guards are in themselves a heritage product and harmonize with the church fabric and architecture. AIANO is probably the only company in the country to make both weld mesh and woven mesh window guards for protecting stained glass. Weld mesh window guards are made from pre-fabricated weld mesh and are an excellent option for protecting church windows. Woven mesh window guards are made in the traditional method from mesh that our expert wireworkers weave with pride in our East London works.

Aiano wireworkers make woven mesh window guards in almost the same way they were made by the Victorians, by my great great great grandfather, Charles Aiano, back in the 1860s. The principle difference is that we now work with stainless steel which means there is no risk of the guard discolouring stonework over time. Woven mesh guards have a natural hand-crafted beauty that is in keeping with the fabric of the church – beautiful stonework, brickwork, steel and stained glass.

Conservation itself takes various forms, and at St Peter’s Woolwich, there was a concern to protect the precious stone traceries from further damage and erosion by birds. The architect wanted AIANO window guards installed flush with the front of the reveal to prevent bird ingress, thereby protecting the stone traceries as well as protecting precious stained glass.

Wire mesh window guards to replace polycarbonate

Another key reason churches approach Aiano’s for wire mesh window guards, is the desire to replace polycarbonate guards.

The polycarbonate panels are often installed to cover the whole window, thus concealing stone traceries. They reflect the light and can become scratched and cloudy with age. Many polycarbonate panels have been installed with multiple fixings into the stone and brick work, presumably to prevent buckling, and panels are frequently installed without allowing any ventilation.

No one method of protecting stained glass is perfect, and each approach has its strengths and weaknesses, but wire mesh window guards have been tried and tested and evolved over more than a hundred years. They are essentially a natural material, which when professionally templated, made and fitted will blend harmoniously with the church architecture and be barely noticeable.

Old galvanised guards at St Simon's prior to restoration and new stainless steel window guards

Window detail showing section of an old galvanised window guard at St Simon’s, Shepherd’s Bush, prior to restoration of the stone and installation of replacement window guards.

protecting leaded light windows with wire guards at St Simon's

The same window at St Simon’s transformed after cleaning the stone and brickwork, and installing new stainless steel black powder coated window guards.

Replacing galvanised guards that have exceeded their lifetime

In the past the principal method of protecting stained glass was with window grilles made from ferrous metals, in particular, mild steel, which was hot dip galvanised. Similarly, the screws and other fixings used to secure the guards were also zinc-plated. The roots of hot dip galvanising go back hundreds of years but according to the Galvanizers Association, it was invented in France in the 1830s and first put into use for corrugated cast iron at Pembroke Docks in Wales in 1844. By the 1850s the British galvanising industry was well-established. Hot dip galvanising provides excellent protection against corrosion and is still widely used today. AIANO uses hot dip galvanising for its floodlight guards and other guards to be used outdoors.

The problem with church window grilles made from galvanized mild steel is that if they are left too long they start to break down and the corrosion can ‘bleed’ into stonework making unsightly brown patches. Similarly, copper window grilles that were also used in the past cause green patches. The galvanised old guards cannot be left to degrade and must be replaced in good time.

The lifetime of galvanised guards will vary considerably depending on environmental factors and the quality of the galvanising. Galvanised guards can last twenty five years or more, but in a coastal area will start to degrade many years before this.

These days galvanised church window guards have been almost entirely superseded by grilles made from stainless steel wire.  It is important to stress that the galvanised guards are not intrinsically wrong or bad, but they have been replaced by a superior material.

Although stainless steel is a more expensive material, the cost of the galvanising the mild steel guards, plus the additional labour – galvanised guards require extra support bars to hold the grille in shape during the invasive galvanising process – mean that the cost differential is insignificant. In our view, the advantages of stainless steel far outweigh any difference in cost.  Church window guards made from stainless steel have a more streamlined appearance and fewer support bars, which helps to make them more aesthetically pleasing and less noticeable.

In the photographs above, you can see the transformation that took place at St Simon’s Shepherd’s Bush after the stone and brickwork were cleaned of years of accumulated grime, and new stainless steel window guards were installed. The guards are usually powder coated black to help make them less noticeable, but can be left uncoated.

C. Aiano & Sons – protecting stained glass for more than 150 years 

Aiano’s is the leading maker of wire mesh window guards in the country. To our knowledge, we are the only workshop in the country with the skills to make both welded mesh and woven mesh window guards. We have been making window guards for churches and heritage buildings continuously with pride for more than 150 years.

We do not make stained glass, we focus exclusively on wire mesh products. The production techniques have changed little in this time and our knowledge and expertise has been passed down through generations. We alone keep alive the knowledge of many traditional mesh weaving skills. At the same time, over the years we have embraced new materials and techniques, including the possibilities offered by stainless steel and welded mesh.

We have expertise in measuring, producing and fitting complex-shaped  window guards. A large number of churches and cathedrals around the country protect their treasured stained glass and leaded light windows using Aiano’s custom-made hand-crafted  window guards. For more information about AIANO traditional church window guards do not hesitate to contact us. We make guards to all sizes and requirements, and offer site services. Please call us on 020 7987 1184 or email us at sales@aianos.co.uk if you would like to discuss your requirements, or require further advice on AIANO guards.

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