If you thought that only saints and apostles hung out on stained glass, then look again. The colourful medium can be found in all kinds of buildings, from pubs and museums to livery halls and even a phone box.
Here, we've rounded up some of the more unusual specimens we've encountered on our travels around London.
1. A sporting pub
The Champion is a Sam Smith's pub in Marylebone and its an absolute riot of stained glass. Every large window depicts a Victorian champion of one stripe or another. Most are sports personalities, but you'll also find Florence Nightingale in one corner. You might imagine these to be an original feature, but in fact they date only to 1989 and are the work of Ann Sotheran.
2. The holy quadcopter of St Nicholas Cole Abbey
Not many stained glass windows include igloos and teepees. Still fewer show a church flying out of a wormhole, held aloft by the rotors of a quadcopter. That's our sci-fi interpretation of this unique window by Keith New, which you'll find in the Christopher Wren church of St Nicholas Cole Abbey on Queen Victoria Street. And you should go find it, because the church also harbours one of London's best coffee shops.
3. Uxbridge's glorious tube station
More sci-fi at Uxbridge, where the 1930s station looks like the hanger bay from Battlestar Gallactica. (No, it really does.) Amid all that heavy concrete sits this delicate panel of stained glass shields which represent (left to right) the arms of the long-defunct Middlesex County Council, part of the Municipal Borough of Uxbridge arms, and a white swan associated with Buckinghamshire. The glass triptych was the work of Ervin Bossányi, whose windows can also be seen at Tate Britain and the V&A.
4. A spitfire window
If you're into your war history, then Bentley Priory Museum in north London is a must. The building housed RAF Fighter Command during the second world war, a role that's reflected in a series of remarkable windows. This one, for example, shows a Supermarine Spitfire over a map of Britain, with the main south-eastern control sites marked. This, and a similar window showing a Hurricane, are the work of Brian Nicholls, who designed the windows for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in 1990.
5. A UFO investigator
Countless stained glass windows tell the life story of Christ, or one of his disciples, but how many commemorate a UFO investigator? To see this oddity, we again have to go to Bentley Priory where this celebration of Sir Henry Tizard can be found. Tizard is depicted here for his work on radar during the second world war, but he'd later go on to chair the remarkably named Flying Saucer Working Party in the 1950s. He was one of the first to study UFOs with scientific rigour, 40 years before Mulder and Scully.
6. Elvis is barred
In more down-to-Earth matters, a small stained Elvis adorns the windows of the Charles I pub in King's Cross. And the King is cross, for the fitter has placed his likeness behind a transom, obscuring his lip curl. Elvis is barred. It's just one of several tributes to Elvis we've found around London.
7. A pointy-eared monk
Sticking with pubs, the Blackfriar in, well, Blackfriars is noted for its delicious art nouveau interior. With so much bling on the walls and ceiling, it's easy to miss the stained glass window. The image of a monk in a walled garden reminds us that this land was once a monastery. Curiously, though, the monk looks more like a brown-robed Franciscan than the black-and-white penguin robes of the Dominicans, whose monastery this was. Even more curious — look at those pointy ears! Perhaps he's related to our next subject...
The Shrek films take place in a faux-medieval realm, and so it's only appropriate that the world's most famous ogre is depicted in that era's most celebrated art form. This not-at-all-cheap-looking stained glass window can be found at the Shrek Experience on the South Bank.
9. Phone box stained glass
Why this K2 phone kiosk on Embankment is decorated with the image of a Knight Templar remains unknown. The box stands close to the Temple, which explains the design, but not who put it there or why. The answers may lie in the next Dan Brown novel.
10. An illuminated shed
Perhaps the phone box culprits were Tony Heywood and Alison Condie, artists who put together this delightful stained-glass greenhouse in Paddington. The work of art was assembled from reclaimed glass, salvaged from various churches around Europe. The pieces have been cunningly placed to form strange creatures. This magnificent installation can be found at 25 Porchester Place. (Well, it was there when we last passed in May 2022 — long after it was supposed to have been disassembled.)
11. Chemical windows
Stained glass has always been a fusion of art and materials science. It's appropriate, then, that some of the most beautiful modern windows can be found in the Royal Society of Chemistry in Burlington House. The pair of windows were designed by Laurence Lee and incorporate motifs from alchemy and chemistry.
12. The Stepney landscape
And finally, back to something more traditional, with a twist. The ancient church of St Dunstan in Stepney contains this remarkable window showing a post-Blitz view of the area — the most heavily bombed in London. The church stands tall amid scenes of devastation. This is perhaps the only stained glass window in London to depict a gasholder (left distance), which survived the bombing but has since been dismantled.
Like an artisan with a glass-etching knife, we're only scratching the surface here. We haven't mentioned the DNA window at King's university, or Margaret Rope's East End windows (mostly because we've never photographed them). We might also have pulled in the warped window of St Martin's, though that's not stained.
We'd love to hear your own suggestions in the comments below.
All images by the author.