AIKMAN, William 1868-1959

William Aitken was born in Edinburgh, the son of a landscape painter, George Aikman (1830-1905).  He served his apprenticeship in stained glass with the Edinburgh firm, Ballantine and Son, before moving to London in 1892, where he was employed by James Powell & Sons, which had a well-deserved reputation for the quality of its stained glass.  Aikman became one of their senior designers and exhibited stained glass at the Royal Academy in 1900 and 1904.[1]

In 1900 Aikman was living in Burghley Road, Hornsey but had set up his own studio at Camden Square, London by 1913.  After the First World War ended he taught at Camberwell School of Art and was a founding member of the British Society of Master Glass-Painters (1921).  The first edition of the Society’s Journal published in April 1924, lists William Aikman as a Council member and Fellow.

In 1934 Aikman left London and settled into a new studio at 26 Meadow Lane, Sutton, Surrey where he continued to design glass for several decades; he died in 1959, aged 91.

William Aikman designed many windows in the years he worked at James Powell & Sons, although only three were for Australian churches, all in South Australia: the three-light window in the south transept at Christchurch Anglican, North Adelaide, designed with James Hogan (1907); a two-light for St. Andrew’s Anglican, Walkerville, designed with Ernest Penwarden (1907); and cartoons for another two-light in the same church (1914).[2]

Aikman’s own windows reveal a strong Arts & Crafts style and understanding of colour and tone.  His painterly touch was especially prominent in his stained-glass portraits.   Possibly the earliest of his independent commissions was in 1922 for St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Pittsworth (near Toowoomba), Queensland.  The two tall single-light windows were the gift of Mrs. Hogarth of ‘Balgownie Station’; St George in memory of three sons who died during the First World War, the other, St. Barnabas, a memorial to her late husband and daughter.[3]

In 1930, the Anglican Church of the Epiphany, Crafers (SA) installed a large single light, a bold depiction of St. Oswald of Northumbria, a subject rarely seen in Australian stained glass.[4]  The base panel of Bamborough Castle shows the streaky glass that he often used to great effect, as well as his distinctive inscription style.

Aikman Crafers St Oswald 1930                 Aikman Crafers St Oswald detail

Fig. 1 and 1a: William Aikman, St. Oswald and detail, 1930, Church of the Epiphany Anglican Church, Crafers, SA.                                              Photograph: Bronwyn Hughes

St. Margaret’s Anglican, Sandgate, Q. commissioned a series of three stained-glass windows for the sanctuary, The Reaper, I am the True Vine and The Good Shepherd in the same year (1930).  Apparently, this series was well received as three years later two new windows were ordered; St. Margaret, the church’s patron and St. Cecilia, patron saint of musicians, installed appropriately in memory of the church’s long-time organist, Lorna Farrer.[5]

Aikman Sandgate I am the True Vine 1930                                          Aikman Sandgate St Margaret 1933

Fig 2: William Aikman, I am the True Vine, 1930       Fig. 3: William Aikman, St. Margaret, St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, Sandgate Q.   

Photograph: Bronwyn Hughes

At Melbourne’s Mission to Seafarers Chapel, Flinders Street West, Aikman completed a poignant memorial to a 17-year old English midshipman who lost his life in a tragic accident while his ship, the Samakand, was in port at Corio wharf, Geelong.  St. Nicholas, Patron Saint of Ships and Sailors, is the subject of the small window, which is distinguished by the tiny portrait of William Digges La Touche Balden, set within a laurel wreath in the window’s lower section.

Aikman Melbourne Missions to Seafarers c1945

Aikman Melbourne Missions to Seafarers St Nicholas detail

Fig. 4 and 4a: William Aikman, St. Nicholas, and detail, c.1945, Mission to Seafarers, Flinders Street, Melbourne                                                 Photograph: Bronwyn Hughes

The memorial was commissioned by his parents, William Reginald and Mary Balden of Dewsbury, Yorkshire.[6]  This is William Aikman’s last known Australian work, completed sometime after 1945.[7]


[1] See Jacqueline Banerjee, text and images, The Victorian Web, Accessed 16 February 2018.

[2] Dr. Dennis Hadley, list of James Powell & Sons windows, extracted from archives of the firm, Archive of Art and Design, V&A, London.

[3] Pittsworth Sentinel, 9 August 1922, p. 2.

[4] Peter and June Donovan, 150 Years of Stained & Painted Glass, Wakefield Press in association with the authors, 1986, p. 73.

[5] The Courier-Mail, 13 December 1933, p. 5.

[6] Army News, 23 August 1945, p.2

[7] The editor would be very pleased to learn of other William Aikman windows located in Australia.