Stained glass pioneer awarded 2023 Plowden Medal for Conservation

Icon member Sarah Brown has been recognised for her significant contribution to the stained glass conservation sector

31 Jul 2023

Stained glass conservation pioneer Professor Sarah Brown has been awarded the 2023 Plowden Medal for Conservation, recognised for her significant contribution to the stained glass conservation sector.

Prof Brown, who is Course Director of the MA in Stained Glass Conservation and Heritage Management at the University of York and the Director of the York Glaziers Trust, is a household name in the stained glass industry.

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Prof Brown said she was "knocked for six" when she found out she'd been awarded the prestigious Medal, which honours the life and achievements of the late Hon. Anna Plowden CBE - a leading conservator.

"Anna Plowden made such a big difference to the conservation community that to be awarded this medal in her memory is very moving," she said.

"It was very humbling to be told I had been chosen — I am not often speechless but momentarily I was! It's a tremendous affirmation especially because I never feel like I am working, and I love what I do so much.

I am grateful to my colleagues and peers for making a nomination on my behalf."

Inspired by her own father, who had begun his career as a joinery apprentice and continued to love using tools throughout his life, Prof Brown has been a tireless champion of the stained-glass community since the 1980s, playing a key role in introducing academic training for stained-glass conservators.

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"While doing my Masters at the University of York, I became aware of threats to stained glass, but I was equally aware of the fact there were very few people who could care for this heritage," she said.

"So, we worked hard to establish a national accreditation scheme for stained glass conservators, which subsequently became part of Icon's national scheme. After a period of development, the University of York launched the Masters Course in Stained Glass Conservation and Heritage Management in 2008."

Having previously served as a trustee, Prof Brown also became Director of the York Glaziers Trust (YGT) in 2008, and in this capacity oversaw the conservation of the Great East Window of York Minster of 1405-8 which is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in Britain.

In bringing together a multi-disciplinary and international advisory team, this project created a new benchmark in stained glass conservation practice in the UK.

Prof Brown has been and continues to be involved in a myriad of projects in the UK and internationally. While her achievements and impact on the discipline is immense, Prof Brown is most proud of how she's helped to pave a pathway for a new generation of conservators.

"I think I can safely say that we have created opportunities for young practitioners that simply were not there 15 to 20 years ago," she said. "Many of my former students are now accredited conservators in their own right, leading studios and major projects in UK and further afield. Stained glass conservation is not a big business — it's a very niche area and was at risk of disappearing but I am proud to have played a role in averting that."

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York Minster Great East Window panel 5c


Carole Milner MBE (Prof Brown’s nominator and 2005 Plowden Medal winner) said:

"Sarah is one of the sector’s most generous advocates, innovators, and supporters. She has occupied numerous formal positions in the world of stained-glass conservation, all carried out with the highest degree of responsibility, excellence, and commitment. Above and beyond this, she has given generously and unstintingly of her own time, to her colleagues, her students, her profession and the wider conservation world, nationally and internationally. There is no question in my mind that Sarah is one the UK’s leading conservation professionals both in her field and beyond it."


Chairman of the Plowden Medal Award Nick Farrow said:

“Prof Brown embodies the qualities that Anna Plowden demonstrated. The Anna Plowden Trust team is delighted to award the 2023 Plowden Medal to Sarah who is very much a worthy winner. Stained-glass conservation wouldn’t be where it was today if it wasn’t for Sarah, and we would like to extend our sincere congratulations to her."


Professor Sarah Brown's current extra-curricular roles include: 

  • Chair of the British Committee of the Corpus Vitrearum (a British Academy Research Project)
  • General Secretary of the Corpus Vitrearum/ICOMOS International Scientific Committee for the Conservation of Stained Glass
  • Trustee and Conservation Advisor to the Stained Glass Museum, Ely
  • Honorary Vice President of the British Archaeological Association
  • Liveryman and Expert Board Member to the Worshipful Company of Glaziers
  • Member of the William and Jane Morris Fund Committee (Society of Antiquaries)
  • Member of the Fabric Advisory Committees of Durham and Manchester Cathedrals
  • Stained glass advisor to the Diocesan Advisory Committees of Oxford and York
  • Member of the international advisory board of the Hamilton Kerr Institute
  • Trustee of the York Consortium for Craft and Conservation
  • High-profile voluntary roles in Poland, Spain, and Germany


About The Plowden Award for Conservation

Established in 1999 to commemorate the life and work of the late Hon. Anna Plowden CBE (1938 – 1997), the Plowden Medal was endowed by the Royal Warrant Holders Association, of which she was Vice-President. It is awarded annually to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the advancement of the conservation profession. The award covers all aspects of conservation be they practical, theoretical or managerial – and is open to those working in private practice or institutions.

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Previous winners are: 

  • Garry Thomson CBE (1999)
  • Dr Jonathan Ashley-Smith (2000)
  • Donald Insall CBE (2001)
  • Dr David Leigh (2002)
  • Clare Meredith (2003)
  • Christopher Clarkson (2004)
  • Carole Milner (2005)
  • James Black (2006)
  • Dr Vincent Daniels (2007)
  • David Pinniger (2008)
  • Professor Nicholas Pickwoad (2009)
  • David Watkinson (2010)
  • Kate Colleran (2011)
  • Professor May Cassar (2012)
  • Jonathan Betts MBE (2013) 
  • Dr Jim Tate (2014)
  • Nancy Bell (2015)
  • Sarah Staniforth (2015)
  • Ksynia Marko (2016)
  • Professor Sharon Cather (2017)
  • Alan Derbyshire (2018)
  • Caroline Bendix (2019)
  • Katy Lithgow (2020)
  • Stephen Clare MBE and Professor Jane Henderson FIIC (2021)
  • Julia Dawson ACR FIIC (2022)

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