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Clapham Church Wall Paintings

 Tracing of a Clapham church wall painting [P117/2/2/11/76]
Tracing of a Clapham church wall painting [P117/2/2/11/76]

The Bedfordshire Times and Independent for 20th October 1858 carried the following article reporting a lecture at Bedfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society on mediaeval wall paintings in the church: “Upon a careful removal of the repeated coatings of whitewash by which they were concealed, it appeared that the entire surface of the walls of the nave (excepting a portion above and below) had been thus adorned. These paintings are made in distemper, but do not exhibit any of the elaborate portraitures of human figures grouped into historical representations like those so graphically described by Mr Dykes as having been discovered in Pickering church, Yorkshire, but merely consist of a regular pattern disposed in a continuous succession of geometrical compartments and ornamented with running sprigs bearing at their extremities a double floriated ornament. These are carried by a smooth surface of plaster spread over the rough masonry of the wall; whilst following the sprig of the arches we find on the margin of the latter a distinct border of a somewhat zigzag or arrow-headed character, beyond which the geometrical compartments cross the soffit [underside] of the arch (but without any floriated ornament), and passing round are again continued on the opposite side of the wall, uninterrupted by a border, and also plain and unornamented”.

On 4th November 1862 the newspaper reported that restoration was under way at the church: “The removal of the whitewash however discovered mural painting, in a dark red or chocolate colour, with which the surface of the nave appears to have been overlaid. It consisted of a regular pattern disposed in a continuous succession of geometrical compartments, and set off with running sprigs being at their extremities a double floriated ornament. This decoration is pronounced to belong to the 13th century. Besides this, there was a zigzag border, following the spring of the arches [the level at which the arch rises from its supports] and probably coeval with them; and other devices which appear to have run above and below the pattern first mentioned. Portions of these interesting specimens of early art have been preserved on and above the western arch on the south side”. Sadly the majority walls bearing the paintings were removed during the restoration, as reported by the Associated Architectural Society’s reports and papers in 1881, though traces could, apparently, still be discerned on the portions remaining as late as 1912 as reported by the Victoria County History for Bedfordshire. Some tracings, painted to match the original, were done during the restoration [P117/2/2/11/76-80] an example of which is above.