Laura Ware Adlington

Investigation of technology, production and deterioration of medieval stained glass using handheld pXRF

Stained glass windows are amongst the most important and most treasured features of medieval architecture, yet our knowledge about them is lacking. Evidence for their production and its organisation is sparse, as the pertinent documents have rarely been preserved. Scientific analysis is inhibited by the difficulty of accessing windows in their architectural context – to take samples for laboratory analysis, the window must be dismantled and unleaded, an expensive undertaking. Furthermore, medieval glass is prone to deterioration, and we need to understand and identify those windows most at risk.

The Great East Window (GEW) of York Minster, one of the largest medieval windows in Europe, presents a valuable opportunity for study. Currently dismantled for conservation, this window will serve as the initial focus of and provide the primary materials for my research. 

My initial objectives will be focused on method development. While laboratory analysis is impossible without dismantling a window, portable handheld x-ray fluorescence spectrometers (pXRF) can be used in situ. Furthermore, pXRF is cheaper and quicker, allowing a greater number of analyses. However, its use has been limited by analytical conditions that have affected the quality of data; analyses on corroded surfaces and the lack of a vacuum limit the analyses of many elements. By using pXRF together with more reliable laboratory methods, I will be able to evaluate and validate the pXRF data, establish which elements are less affected by analytical conditions, correct systematic errors and develop an approach to optimise both the data quality and the efficiency of the method. After initial method development, I will test the method on windows of different date (also from York Minster) and place (provisionally, Canterbury Cathedral).

I will then investigate the life history of the GEW using the chaîne opératoire approach; an important part of this study will be on the production of the GEW, which, in its economic and social contexts, will provide new information on the organisation of production in Medieval workshops and guilds.

Most medieval stained glass is of the potash-lime-silica type, which is especially prone to weathering; the stability and durability of glass is strongly dependent on its chemical composition. The GEW presents an important opportunity to compare the compositions and weathering of glass pieces that have had the same environmental exposure.

Funding organisation

  • UCL Graduate Research Scholarship
  • UCL Overseas Research Scholarship


 Educational background

  • BA (Honours), Classical Studies, Wake Forest University, 2010
  • MSc (Distinction), Technology and Analysis of Archaeological Materials, UCL, 2013

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