19th Century Wall Paintings, St Edwards School, Oxford
Conservation of an accidentally discovered c19th decorative scheme with multiple damages due to having been covered over and therefore invisible
This project was undertaken in late summer 2022 – following the accidental discovery, beneath layers of wallpaper, of a 19th century decorative scheme in the Warden’s House at St Edward’s School, Oxford.
The scheme is believed to date from the 1860s. It was beautifully executed, with a hand-painted frieze of birds and floral stems. No two birds or stems were the same, and charming details were included, like the two facing birds reaching to catch butterflies pictured. Beneath this frieze was a stencilled design, a repeat pattern of stylized floral motifs on a dark green ground. On examination, it became clear that this stencil design was painted over a previous scheme of the same design, with the second layer not precisely lined up. In places, edges of the previous flowers and leaves could be found slightly juxtaposed beneath the current scheme. It is not entirely clear why the scheme would have been repainted, but it may relate to an 1880s extension of the room.
The paintings had suffered multiple damages, many as a result of being covered over and invisible. The worst area was in one corner, from old water damage, where an external downpipe (since repaired) had allowed water ingress into the wall, had resulting in extensive loss of both the paint and plaster.
The surviving decorative surface, away from this area, was obscured by a build-up wallpaper paste and wallpaper residues, smears of modern repair materials, bright white smeared repairs, as well as numerous cracks, holes, cut marks and abrasions, and losses to the paint and plaster layer due to the installation of building fittings (radiators, lighting and electric sockets).
The conservation work focused on the stabilisation and repair of the water-damaged area, removing/reducing the deposited materials from the decorative surface, filling holes and losses, and recreating the lost areas of decoration from the water-damaged and missing areas. Smaller areas of loss and new fills were also retouched to reintegrate them with the original decoration.
The paintings are now stable and secure and this original decorative scheme can be enjoyed by visitors to this original and historic part of the building.