On Wednesday 13th September, The Winchester Bakery took part in Heritage Open Days; a series of free events over the course of a week, which showcase cultural and historical gems, all over the country.
Conservator Peter Martindale, who had worked on the first floor fireplace between October 2021 and March 2023, returned to The Winchester Bakery for Heritage Open Days. Peter gave an insightful talk about the work he undertook, the paintings he uncovered and their historical significance. Read on to learn more…
Peter noted that the building was granted to a haberdasher, Richard Adderley, for 40 years from 1572. His initials can be found in the wooden surround of the fireplace (although the R now looks like a P due to damage over time). Fast forward to the 1920s, and the building was in use as a tea room. The fireplace and paintings appeared to be in good condition in a photograph taken in 1925, although by 1983, some damage had occurred. Peter suggested the fireplace could still have been in use as recently as the 1940s, and some smoke had got into the plaster as a result.
Peter began conservation of the paintings when 43 High Street changed hands and became The Winchester Bakery. Initially, a tissue facing was applied using water soluble adhesive in October 2021 to protect the delicate artwork from dust and debris and stabilise areas of poor condition during refurbishment of the building before it reopened in April 2022. Large dust sheets also helped to further protect the paintings while work took place, and in March 2022, Peter returned to carry out further conservation.
The next step in April 2022 was to remove the tissue facing. Peter then secured areas of the most detached and unstable plaster, using lime mortar to fill and secure vulnerable edges of the painted plaster, and secured detached plaster with lime slurry injected behind the detachment to gently close the void. The worst areas of paint flaking were secured using a consecration grade dispersion.
In March 2023, Peter returned with his colleague Oliver Murrell to complete the conservation. The team used damp sponges to gently draw out residual adhesive from when the facing had been applied, supporting the paintwork with a piece of tissue paper during this operation. This process also brought with it encapsulated dirt, leaving the painting clearer and clean as a result. As they worked across the painting, Peter assessed less obvious areas of concern and weak plaster, before securing with lime mortar or lime slurry, and vulnerable paint was secured using an acrylic dispersion. Instances where paint was hidden under later material or plain paint were removed mechanically using a scalpel.
Once consolidation and fillings were complete, Peter could move on to improving the legibility of the paintings by toning out the repairs and undertaking minor retouching using coloured lime wash, followed by the scumbled application of watercolour paint. Peter uncovered two schemes within the fireplace; one, a decorative stile and rail cartouche, and two, Queen Elizabeth I’s coat of arms. There is also evidence of further decoration towards the bottom of the painting, containing arcs and dots although any further detail is unidentifiable at present.
The first scheme, Queen Elizabeth I’s Achievement of Arms, was painted in the late 1500s, at some point during her reign from 1558-1603.
An Achievement of Arms is a Coat of Arms with additional items, in this case, supporters (a lion and a dragon), a crown and garter. The centre Coat of Arms contains the three lions passant gardant, in the 1st and 4th quarters, and 3 fleur de lis of France in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Left of centre, the lions crown and fur are clearly visible. To the right of centre, a dragon, whose wings and foot are visible. On top there is a crown. The lions in the Coat of Arms and the crown were gilded with gold leaf.
On the lefthand side of the fireplace, the Arms of Winchester is apparent, which includes the 5 Gates of Winchester, and 2 lions. The 5 Gates of Winchester were part of the historic city’s defensive walls in Anglo-Saxon times. Peter sent a paint sample of one of these gates for analysis, which confirmed the presence of gold leaf, which would have decorated the gates. This analysis also confirmed the background of the Arms of Winchester was a pink colour, made of red lead and white lead.
Peter suggested that whoever had this Coat of Arms commissioned wanted to make a clear statement in support of Queen Elizabeth I, as well as being wealthy enough to be able to purchase gold leaf.
The second scheme, painted on top of the Achievement of Arms is purely decorative, and dates from the 1620s or soon after. There is an obvious blue colour coming through in this stile and rail scheme with strapwork cartouches and a strapwork freize along the top. This geometric version of strapwork is ultimately derived from Islamic designs, which were interpreted by artists such as Vredeman De Vries and others during the 16th Century.
It was a fascinating talk as part of Heritage Open Days “Creativity Unwrapped” theme for 2023, with huge thanks to Peter Martindale, and to Simon from Autumn Live for technical assistance on the day.