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Styles of Leadlight in the Inner West

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Victorian Leadlight

In the inner west suburbs the there are many wonderful Victorian mansions and vernacular Victorian homes. Leadlight appeared in the front door panels, the side lights and the fanlights of many, but not in all late Victorian Homes. in the 1880's. In the early 1880's the fanlights, sidelights and door panels often had etched class designs. These gave way through the 1880's to leadlight but the designs were somewhat sombre and geometrical.


The railway and later tramways, had a significant influence on the growth and development of the inner western suburbs of Sydney. When the first passenger railway line in Sydney opened in 1855 there were only four stations between Redfern and Parramatta (Granville); Newtown, Ashfield, Burwood and Homebush. Croydon Station (opened in 1876) was originally known as Five Dock Station. The railway allowed new urban villages to grow in what was then the countryside.

Many wealthy people took advantage of the railway to work in the city and return at night to large Victorian homes in the ‘Western Suburbs’, and it is in these homes that leadlights began to appear frequently, but not exclusively, in entrances and stairways. These suburbs were not originally for the ‘poor’ and nor were leadlight windows. There are still many magnificent Victorian homes in these inner western suburbs but regrettably many have been demolished.

In Victorian homes from about 1870-1900 leadlight windows were generally non-pictorial. They contained geometric designs and occasionally formalised plant motifs, British empire imagery and shapes such as spun rondels (these look like the bottom of wine glasses). Formalised borders, single, double or even triple strips in contrasting colours and textures are a feature of Victorian leadlight as is the use of strong ruby red and blue colours. The background ‘quarries’ in these leadlights were squares, rectangles, diamonds and occasionally circular motives and these were generally pale in colour.

While not a domestic building, The Queen Victoria Building, built in 1898, has some excellent examples of stained glass and leadlight that exemplify the aesthetics of the late Victorian period with examples of patriotic motifs embedded in heraldic designs. The standard of craftsmanship using antique glass and designs that fit the architectural setting, particularly the great arches, is almost breathtaking and should not be missed by anyone with an interest in leadlight. In the shopfronts inside the building there are some patterns and design features that can be observed in Victorian leadlight.

Opposite the Queen Victoria Building is the Sydney Town Hall. The stained glass in this building was installed around 1889 and it, like the later stained glass in the QVB, is absolutely beautiful; stunning pictorial stained glass of Captain Cook and a female ‘Oceana' figure. Interestingly, in these windows some of the spirit of emerging nationalism and an Australian identity can be seen in the use of waratahs that became almost ubiquitous from around the turn of the century appearing not only in leadlight but in the decorative plaster ceiling panels of Federation homes and lingered through to the Californian bungalows of the inner western suburbs.

The appearance of Australian motifs in the Sydney Town Hall and Central Railway Station pointed to an Australian style reflecting an emerging Australian identity which would become more apparent during the Federation period.

The Arts & Crafts Movement, Federation and Art Nouveau

Possibly one of the reasons for leadlight being used in so many inner western Sydney homes was the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement. This movement started in the United Kingdom around 1880 and spread to the United States, Australia and even emerged in Japan where it became known as the Mingei (Folk Crafts) movement. It challenged the tastes of the Victorian era. Handmade leadlight windows fitted in perfectly with the ideals of the arts and crafts movement. Good design was linked to notions of a good society.

The Arts and Crafts Movement advocated economic and social reform in defiance of industrialisation.  It was essentially anti-industrial. It was a reformist movement and one of its ideals was to turn the home of average people into a work of art; to democratise art. It was a utopian ideal that not only influenced the design of houses, but the design of entire suburbs through the 'garden suburb movement'. Haberfield, developed from 1902, is an example of the influence of the arts and crafts movement. It was Australia’s first successful planned ‘model suburb’ and the model it exemplified was that of the ‘garden suburb’ and the principles of the garden suburb had their origins in the arts and craft movement. It was the start of the great Australian dream of the quarter acre suburban block with a dwelling that included some beautiful designs, quality materials and an aesthetic that would become known as ‘Federation’. Almost every front door and its surround had some leadlight but in most instances that was where the leadlight was destined to remain in the Federation house.

But Haberfield was not intended to be a suburb for workers.  It was described as ‘slumless, laneless and publess’. Richard Stanton, Haberfield’s developer, imposed covenants restricting the type of building (one house per block, of one storey), materials (only brick and slate or tile) and set back from the road. A covenant on the lots imposed a minimum cost on building. House construction had to cost a minimum of £400 and this was raised to £500 the following year. The use of such building covenants was repeated in many other estates in the inner west. When the Basic Wage came in in 1907 it was set at £2.2s a week or £145 per annum. Clearly, purchasing a block of land and then building in suburbs like Haberfield was only possible for more affluent people.

The Appian Way in nearby Burwood is one of the finest streets of Federation houses in Australia. Built between 1903 and 1911 it is a stunningly beautiful street.  But as with Haberfield, leadlight is used sparingly and is more likely to be influenced by a late Victorian aesthetic. There are, however, some stunning exceptions to this generalisation in Haberfield and in the Appian Way. Most existing leadlight can be found in the entrance doors and their sidelights and transoms but occasionally there are buildings with magnificent leadlight windows.

What happened in Haberfield was repeated in other inner west estates in Croydon in the Malvern Hill Estate (1909) where, like Haberfield, a covenant was placed on the subdivision requiring all buildings to have a minimum value of £400 or £500, much later in Dulwich Hill (in the Abergeldie Estate of the 1920’s and 1930’s) and in the developments that occurred in Ashbury (1915-1929), Croydon Park and Burwood.

In contrast to the Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nuveau did not  concern itself with social reform movements. Instead, it addressed the clutter and eclecticism of mid-19th century European taste. Art Nouveau advocated nature as the true source of all good design. 

The arts and crafts movement placed great value on the quality of materials, design, the quality of life and the relationship between art, society and labour. The ideal of having the home as art is the reason why so many inner west homes built between the 1890’s and the 1940’s had a few leadlight panels installed. The most significant architectural form to emerge during this time was the ‘bungalow’ and particularly the Californian bungalow. While there were many types of bungalows during these years the concept of a bungalow was based on its simplicity, its cheapness and its suitability for ordinary people. Almost every bungalow has something that made it individual and beautiful and significant among that beauty and individuality were the leadlights.

The first Californian bungalows was built in Sydney in 1916 and after the end of World War 1 it rapidly spread throughout the newly built suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne and the other towns and cities throughout the country. They were affordable and ideally suited to the Australian climate. In most of these developments covenants were placed on the sale of the blocks 'for the protection of owners.'


The bungalow represented the egalitarian dream of building quality homes for working people and the building covenants ensured the uniformity of the egalitarian dream. The 1920’s were also a time when town planning became significant so that suburbs were planned and designed and  the concept of  a garden suburb, first created in Haberfield, was applied to many of these developments.

The skills of craftsmen and artisans were respected and required by the arts and crafts movement. But what this movement also did was to make the products of these craftsmen available to working people. It used nature as a source of inspiration and this can be most typically found in the flowing leadlight patterns in homes built in the Federation period (1890–1914) and subsequently in the early Californian bungalows built immediately following World War 1. The Art Nouveau period overlapped the Federation period and arose out of the arts and crafts movement. It is also contemporaneous with the Edwardian period (1901-1910). Its influence can be seen in the appearance of Australia’s flora and fauna in Australian decorative arts from the 1880s and reflected the emergence of a new national identity.

Federation homes were often intricately constructed with steep and multifaceted roofs, red brick masonry, stucco chimneys, wide verandas, high ceilings with elaborate, often nationalistic, decorative plasterwork and in some, intricate leadlight. The Federation period produced ‘patriotic motifs’ that used Australian flora and fauna, and the sunburst motif to project the new sense of identity. The politics of the federation of the states of Australia into a national identity became manifest in the homes of ordinary Australians. These same motifs also appeared in the ornate plaster work of the ceilings in many homes during this period. Kookaburras, cockatoos and lyrebirds are regularly observed in leadlights in inner west homes, particularly round windows (bull’s eyes) or small panels on side walls or on verandas. Waratahs, flannel flowers and other national plants were also common and these can be clearly observed in the ornate designs at Central Railway Station (installed in 1906) that could be nothing else other than Australian. It is Art Nouveau with a particularly Australian feel. These leadlights are awe-inspiringly beautiful and they would have been seen regularly by urban commuters, people travelling from country NSW and from interstate.

The Edwardian era (1910-1915) is a subset of the Federation period and many homes built in this period appear to be ‘toned down’ Federation designs. Leadlight designs of the Edwardian/Federation/Art Nouveau replaced the heavy brightly coloured geometric designs of the Victorian period with flowing designs involving leaves, flowers, curvilinear motifs and even pictorial, almost free form designs using animals and plants. Ships and windmills appear often almost idiosyncratically; defiantly individual. If they did not use the more ‘patriotic’ motifs they incorporated roses, tulips, thistles and other English flowers into the designs. Shield or ‘crest’ style motifs were also frequently used. Edwardian designs have a far more structured look and the borders were strong and they used a geometric grid. They had curved lines but these frequently involved stylised flowers or plant forms.

During the Federation period small round windows (bull’s eyes) emerged as a feature. They were frequently used next to entrances, on verandas and in the ‘better’ rooms of the house such as dining rooms, lounge and drawing rooms.  They could be geometric in shape but they could also be somewhat freehand or pictorial. These small windows only ever appeared in dwellings of the Federation and Edwardian period and re-emerged as small square or rectangular windows in the Californian bungalow and the Art Deco period. In many dwellings this was the only place that leadlight appeared and that was most certainly as a result of financial constraints. In many of these dwellings today they are the last remnant of what may have been extensive leadlight displays.

The influence of the Art Nouveau style created ‘sinuous’ fluid designs that used a lot of stylised floral imagery and was extremely popular in the inner west. It created a sort of hybrid feel when it incorporated the ‘patriotic’ motifs and, in order to create homes as art, was often used extensively in leadlights throughout the home. In combination, Art Nouveau and the arts and craft movement took lead lighting from the entrance or front door and spread it throughout the house. In the early Federation years leadlight was frequently constrained to the sidelights and transoms around the front door, the front door itself, and possibly stairwells. Immediately prior to and after World War 1 leadlights were liberated and their beauty could now be observed in many rooms and windows throughout the house.

Walking down the streets of some suburbs makes it apparent that many dwellings were built by the same builder. In Haberfield, as each of the subdivisions came onto the market, the houses were designed by the same architect and built by the same builder. In other suburbs the use of covenants meant that it was not uncommon for one builder (or developer) to be involved in the construction of multiple dwellings at the same time. The influence of the designers and builders can be observed in the similar construction details, although most went to great pains to make the architectural detail different in each dwelling. The same floorplan and materials might be used (or a mirror image) but architectural details in the exterior woodwork, the shapes of the columns and, most significantly, the design of the leadlights would vary. These builders clearly used the same craftsmen to design and create their leadlights. The design might change from dwelling to dwelling but the colour palette, texture and features of a particular type of glass would reappear in neighbouring dwellings and sometimes in almost an entire street.

A Period of Transition: Art Nouveau and Art Deco and the emergence of the Californian bungalow

The period immediately after World War 1 saw the creation of many inner west suburbs and the construction of many Californian bungalows. Ashbury was one of these suburbs followed by the Abergeldie Estate not far away in Dulwich Hill. This house design had emerged in association with the arts and crafts movement prior to the war but it really could only get established on the larger blocks of land that were sold after the war and as the railways and tramways expanded into the suburbs. This period also saw the emergence of Art Deco (prevalent in the Abergeldie Estate) and is sometimes regarded as a transitional period in terms of the influence on leadlight designs. Leadlight windows, once used exclusively in the homes of the wealthy were gradually democratised and in the Californian Bungalow in particular leadlight found a home.

Many houses built between the end of WWI and 1925 had leadlights that were influenced by the more natural Art Nouveau style as well as the geometric Art Deco style. In these leadlights can be seen the Art Nouveau style curves and the limited use of coloured glass in the geometric shapes of the Art Deco movement.

Small Pictorial Windows​



Small windows such as the ones above became a feature of some Californian bungalows in Ashbury around 1925. They featured romanticised images of sailboats, rural scenes with windmills, farmhouses and bridges and even lighthouses.

The themes for these windows appears to have their origin from England, but this is not surprising. The two images below were located in the William Morris Catalogue of 1910 ‘Metal Casements, Stained Glass, Decorative Ironwork, Ruskin House Westminster London.

Art Deco (1920’s-1940)

Art Deco style first appeared in France just before World War 1.  The term ‘Art Deco’ derived from the Exposition Internationale des Art Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925. Initially it combined very expensive materials and exquisite craftsmanship put into modernistic forms. Nothing was cheap about Art Deco. Art Deco represented modernism turned into fashion. It was a style that appeared in the design of first class saloons of ocean liners and in Australia, it was the style that influenced the design of the movie theatres of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

In this period homes were designed to separate themselves from the past; to be modern. They were designed with curves, strong horizontal lines and imposing and symmetrical design features, often highlighted with whites and creams on rendered strips on exterior walls. Modernity as a style can be clearly observed in the leadlight windows of the inner west houses constructed during this period. The Art Deco aesthetic was angular, influenced by geometry. In contrast to the arts and crafts period, it projects industry and mechanisation. The designs are frequently angular, containing sharp patterns that may be contrasted with a clear circle of glass or a bevelled square, rectangle or diamond. They could also emphasise curves with many lead lights of this period using repeated curve like overlapping fish scales. In many Art Deco leadlights there is a complete absence of colour and the designs frequently use heavily textured glass. Modern machinery could produce glass with very heavy parallel lines and these were used to emphasise the mechanistic and the modern.  Art Deco style leadlights are a feature of the Californian bungalows built between 1925 and 1933. After World War 1 the front door as the focus for leadlight faded and the front windows, a feature of the bungalow, were used to display leadlight. Many dwellings constructed during the 1920’s and 30’s used Tudor designs with diamond and rectangular panes. This angularity was often used to attenuate bevelled glass diamonds, squares, circles and ovals. There was a great use of the vertical as a design element. Another design that emerged was an angular feature that used the design (the cames) to focus the eye on a central element, frequently a piece of bevelled or domed glass. Colour almost became bleached out of the designs and the texture of the glass itself was used as a design element. The designs were strong and bold but they relied on the texture of the glass and the angularity of the design rather than the colour or the opacity of the glass. Using straight cuts in the glass meant that the leadlights could be produced quickly and therefore they were less expensive than the earlier designs of the Federation/Edwardian Art Nouveau period.

Unfortunately by the end of the 1930’s the world had found another use for lead and the manufacture of lead light windows virtually ceased.

Late Victorian leadlight and stained glass in the Queen Victoria Building 1898. A tripple border and regular shapes (apart from the Celtic Motifs)
A late Victorian entrance in Marrickville Road. It is dark, bordered and uses a lot of rondels but shows the influence of Art Nouveau. Beautiful.
The formality of this late Victorian entrance top in Marrickville Road is typical of the time. Strong borders, very geometric with a central floral element. 
This arch above a shopfront in the QVB displays a style of leadlight that is typically late Victorian. Triple borders, little ornamentation and rondels. 1989
This fanlight above the front door of a late Victorian house in Marrickville Road displays a double border, geometric shapes and even a bit of stained glass painted in the two birds in the centre. The design is almost identical to the fanlight below. Only the centre piece of stained glass is different.
The transition from Victorian to Federation is evident in this entrance. The transom is Victorian and geometric but it has in the centre a stained glass piece. The door panels and the sidelight display the fluidity and natural forms of the early Art Nouveau period. 
'St Ellero' is an Arts and Crafts style Federation home in the Appian Way Burwood and is one of the few homes that has leadlight in windows as well as the front door.
This beautiful Federation house in the Appian Way has a leadlight panel in the chimney. c1905
'Olvanus' is one of the few homes in the Appian way to have a lot of leadlight windows. It is restrained and Victorian in style.
'Alba Longa' is an example of Queen Anne style Federation house in the Appian Way Burwood. c1904-1911. The round window or bull's eye visible on the verandah was often a prominent feature of Federation homes. '
This part of a large and beautiful window set in Haberfield clearly demonstrates the transition to Federation. c 1904
A typical Federation entrance. Detailed woodwork and leadlight in the door panels, sidelights and fanlights showing the influence of Art Nouveau. Haberfield c1904
A boomerang in the timber fretwork, leadlight in almost every window including two bull's eyes and a wide verandah.  This house in Hurlstone Park exemplifies what many people think of as the classic Federation house. In this house leadlight was not constrained to the front entrance but appears in almost every external window that faces the street and it has two street frontages. C 1905
Bull's eyes such such as this one in Haberfield were a feature of many Federation homes. c 1904
These Californian bungalows in Second Street Ashbury were built after 1915. Their roof lines are almost identical. These early bungalows show the transition from Federation to Californian Bungalow and the influence of the same builder..
The time after WW1 was a period of transition with a lot of variation in the design of leadlights. Goodlet Street Ashbury c1919
A late Federation period, Edwardian casement window set showing the influence of Art Nouveau.  Allibone Street Ashbury c1915.
By the 1920's Art Deco had provided a new aesthetic and produced exceptional windows such as these in  Leopold Street Ashbury
By 1928 leadlight designs reflected the influence of Art Deco. They became more angular and had less colour. Goodlet Street Ashbury.
This unusual angled window set in Haberfield shows the increasing influence of Art Nouveau. c 1905
This smaller arch in the QVB is has Celtic and heraldic motifs and a very Victorian feel to it. 1889
The magnificent leadlight windows at Central Railway Station are with beautiful waratah motifs. 1906
Windmill from Morris Catelogue.jpg
Boat from Morris Catelogue.jpg
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