The history of our building
The Winchester Bakery opened its doors on 6th April 2022 but the story of our building starts long before.
Located next to the mediaeval Buttercross monument, our building is believed to date from the early 16th century. It is timber-framed and grade II listed.
The painted decoration above the fireplace is of considerable historical and artistic importance. There are at least two schemes, possibly three.
The pictures below show the fireplace before restoration in April 2022, after more work last autumn and in March of 2023. The colours and patterns of the artwork are coming to life above the fireplace.
Conserving the fireplace paintings
Peter Martindale has been involved in the conservation of the fireplace since Autumn 2021, over a series of sessions, from protection during refurbishment of The Winchester Bakery, to improving legibility of the art, completing the works in March 2023.
In September 2023, Peter returned as part of Heritage Open Days, to deliver an insightful talk about his work at The Winchester Bakery, the paintings he brought back to life and their historical significance.
Watch the video below to discover more about conserving our wonderful 16th Century fireplace…
Two decorative schemes
The first scheme is an elaborate Acheivement of Arms, found in the centre of the fireplace, which would have been painted in the mid to late 16th century in support of the monarch at the time, Queen Elizabeth I.
There is a depiction of The Arms of The City of Winchester to the left. This depicts the 5 gates of Winchester and 2 lions. The 5 Gates of Winchester were orignally part of the city’s defensive wall, all but 2 of which were demolished or destroyed in the 18th Century. The Kingsgate and Westgate are still standing, and our suggested walking routes from The Winchester Bakery take in both.
Small samples sent for analysis during conservation showed that both Arms contained gold leaf, with a pink-red background, so it would have been quite colourful. This painting was also quite a political statement, showing strong support for the monarch, as well as the city of Winchester.
The second scheme, which is far more apparent, is an elaborate stile and rail panelling wall scheme with strapwork cartouches and a strapwork frieze, which bears similarity to other regional examples dating between 1620 and 1640, inspired by Islamic art.
Watch the series of videos below to uncover more details about the 2 schemes…
The room contains other fascinating snippets of history, such as the initials carved into either side of the fireplace. Richard Adderley, a haberdasher, was granted this building for 40 years from 1572 and these initials are suspected to be his. These appear as P A with the P expected to have been an R that suffered damage over time. At this time a haberdasher was usually a hatter for men or a seller of thimbles, thread and other supplies for sewing.
The bakery stands on the site of William The Conqueror’s place and it is possible that Norman stones were used to build the Bakery’s impressive chimney. Many buildings in this area have stones and remnants of this palace in their cellars.
Question time with Peter Martindale
Can you tell us a little more about the schemes?
The first scheme which dates from the late 1500s, Queen Elizbaeth was the monarch at that time, and her achievement of arms is centrally set over the fireplace. Either side there is a coat of arms, one of them I haven’t been able to identify, and the other, I was delighted to discover. By good fortune I was looking at the stations of the cross in St Peter’s Church, a Catholic church in Winchester. And there I saw these gates, and I said something along the lines of “oh that’s what’s at 43 High Street!” and a colleague said “oh, they’re the arms of Winchester” – it was very exciting!
The second scheme is the stile and rail scheme, over the top of the arms, which is a decorative scheme, not figurative. It’s full of horizontal and vertical elements; the strapwork frieze going along the top, and strapwork cartouches at the bottom.
Are you saying there is a painting on top of a painting?
Absolutely, and from the analysis and when working on the painting, I discovered there is one layer directly on top of the other.
When you look at it, elements of both schemes are coming through, which does get very visually confusing because you have the strong patch of 1620s painting right in the middle of the lion from the first scheme. There’s a lot of blue coming through, which is from the second scheme. One way I picture it, is if you imagine you have 2 sheets of paper on top of eachother but bits are missing from both, and in some areas you’ve rubbed through the top layer completely to see the bottom layer.
The more you look at the wall painting, the more you see, and I think if you’re prepared to put the time in to sit and look at it, I think it can be a very enriching experience.
What made you decide there were only 2 schemes, not more?
The first time I came to look at the painting I was given some background material, so I actually knew that there were 2 schemes here. And even before this work was carried out, the stile and rail scheme was quite obvious.
In a sense, like a mechanic would lift up the hood of a car and know what’s wrong with your engine, because I’ve worked on a number of wall paintings, I could see that there were 2 schemes there, although it was a confusing picture.
By taking samples, can you gather an idea about the painting as a whole?
Yes, you can, definitely. It wasn’t really necessary here to take samples to find out the stratigraphy because there were only the 2 layers, and when I worked on the painting I didn’t see anything else to indicate that it was more complex than that. But yes, you can take samples from various parts of a painting to consider the stratigraphy.
One can also use many other techniques, and more and more are being developed and implemented by conservators over time. Including for instance, infrared photography. Mine is relatively budget equipment, but there are more advanced options available. Because the wavelength of infrared light is long, it tends to penetrate through the first layer to reveal what is below.
Is there more to be discovered?
In terms of other schemes, no. You could potentially do some more imaging work with an infrared camera to build high resolution images of areas of the painting in more detail, for example.
I wouldn’t suggest picking off the first scheme to reveal more of the second scheme.
As a conservator, my aim is to conserve what’s there and stop it from getting any worse, and to present it in its damaged form as favourably as possible. I appreciate you have to put time and effort in to get something back from it, but I think when you do, you get a lot back from it.
When do you think the fireplace was last used as a fire, and has smoke affected the paintings?
I don’t know when it was last used as a fireplace, but yes I do think some smoke had got into the material. When I carried out the repairs during the first phase of work in April 2022, when I put the lime mortar repairs into position, instead of staying white as one would expect them to do, they turned a brownish colour, so I think they were drawing some material from the plaster around them.
Thinking about it further, when I carried out the repairs, some of the fabric was quite loose, there were pieces of brick that you could move. Quite possibly when it was last used as a fireplace, which could well have been in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, something like that – not such a long time ago, the smoke may well indeed have got the back of the fabric there.
In some of the photos the fillings were bright white, how did you choose which watercolours to use to tone them out?
To begin with we applied a toned limewash, so looking at the painting as a whole, one selects a colour, sort of like a dirty magnolia colour, to apply to all of the fillings as a base. You don’t want the fillings to be flat in terms of colour, they need to be modulated so that you eye isn’t drawn to them. So then we applied watercolour, using earthy colours including raw umber, burnt umber, black and cool French ultramarine to tone in the repaired areas.
I’m wanting the fillings to sit back and I’m wanting your eye to be taken to the paint that remains from the original designs.
Do you know if it was visible for private individual residents, or for a public audience?
I don’t know… I’m now going beyond my comfort zone and drifting a bit from this, but when the reformation happened and there was the dishing out of properties to those who supported Henry VIII, those who supported him were keen to show their allegiance to the King by having the Royal Arms displayed. So extrapilating from that, this painting was quite a statement, saying “I am supportive of the monarch, Queen Elizabeth, and I’m supportive of the city of Winchester” – there’s quite a political statement there.
I don’t know how many would have come to have seen it, but it’s also interesting that it wasn’t visible for that long, maybe 40 years, before it was painted over. That might have been because Winchester was both royalist and civil, so they might have covered up the arms in a period when being a royalist wasn’t that good, and if this was a public room you would hide Elizabeth I’s Arms.
Would the owner have been quite wealthy to include the gold?
Yes, it wasn’t just that they had the decision to do it, but also the wealth to do it, and hire a craftsman to do that sort of work.
The painting would have been very bright at that time with the gilded lions and fleur de lis, gilded crowns on the dragon and lion, and the gilded gates of winchester with gilded lions either side.
If the original painter had got it wrong, would they have been in trouble for producing something unacceptable?
I don’t know the answer to that one. But back in the late 1500s somebody paid for somebody to come here and paint the royal arms and arms of Winchester – the artist would have been commissioned by someone who wanted a particular picture or political statement if they were supporting the monarch.
I can imagine that not all artisans were as skilled as eachother. I can’t say if they would have got in trouble if it wasn’t up to standard, but looking back on it from the present day, I don’t think that a less skillfully depicted coat of arms is less valuable than a more skillfully depicted one, they would both have value. A well depicted one demonstrates the skill and technical expertise of the artist, but the other demonstrates the trends of the time and what was being done in other places, so you get a better picture of what was fashionable and what was going on during a time period.
They are important valuable paintings; I think that one needs to try and put oneself in the shoes of the people who were carrying out the work. What was the project? What was the space? What was the area of fabric they were going to put the painting on and how did that affect the design? How much finance was available? And what kind of an image did the client want?
Artists would likely have assistants, who would have worked on easier areas of the paintings. There would have been a lot more wall painting in this building if we went back to Elizabethan times, likely done by many hands.
How long did it take you to do your conservation work here?
The initial phase wasn’t too long because it was the application of a tissue facing to protect it during building renovation works.
The second phase was a week of filling and repairing as much as possible.
And the third phase was 2 of us here for 2 weeks.
How careful do you have to be when you work on paintings like this?
One doesn’t want to make any mistakes, but to say that throughout my career I have meticulously saved every minute fragment, I’m afraid to say that I haven’t. There are times when you’re working with a scalpel and you think “oh crumbs, I’ve lost that” but one is always striving to be as careful as one possibly can, because you don’t want to lose anything.
How are you going to preserve and protect the paintings going forwards?
The fabric of the chimney is porous material, the plaster is porous, as is the painting technique. So what is really important with this wall painting (and with all wall paintings) to preserve it for future generations is to maintain good building fabric. As this is on a chimney breast, it’s important that the chimney is kept in good order. If you have water or moisture coming down the interior, then you create problems because of the activation of soluble salts which would damage the painting. That would also be exacerbated if you put an impervious coating, like a varnish, on the surface of the porous painting, so I wouldn’t and haven’t applied anything.
From my personal point of view it’s good that there isn’t a perspex screen in front of it because it makes it easier to see the painting. And it’s also advantageous not placing a screen in front so that if one wants to monitor the condition of the painting in future, you can see it and get right up close to it.
Are there any organisations who will protect the painting, or could it just be painted over now?
This painting is known by Winchester City Council and it’s a Grade 2 listed property, so they wouldn’t want to see anything happen to the painting. I was first asked to look at the painting in 2006, when it was taken on by the previous owners, and asked to give conservation proposals at that time, but nothing came of that which somewhat surprised me. Then it changed hands again, and the situation came up again that the painting needed to be conserved. This time, Gentian Developments (owners of the building) stepped up the mark and had the work carried out.
Our upstairs seating and decoration at the Bakery has created a modern and enticing customer experience whilst celebrating and remaining sympathetic to the building’s heritage.
It has been a pleasure to sensitively restore this building
With thanks to Peter Martindale Conservation.