Friends of Hope Parish Church are appealing for help to conserve historic wall paintings which were first discovered in the 1950s. Commenting on a report on the wall paintings by Dr Andrea Kirkham, Chair of the Friends, David Pickering, said that there was now an ‘exciting opportunity to conserve two fragments of post-Reformation text and a medieval fragment which is believed to be the image of St Christopher.’ The Friends are seeking support to raise approximately £12,000 plus the cost of scaffolding in order to conserve the fragments so that they can be appreciated by future generations.
The report is welcome because little, with the exception of a newspaper report in 1953, has been previously written about the wall paintings. The two fragments of post-Reformation text are currently difficult to read and the third fragment, which is said to be an image of St Christopher, is in a very poor condition. Some further small fragments of painting were found in several locations around the church during restoration work in 2000. Most were so small that they were not considered to be worthy of conservation. However the report does note small traces of paint still being visible on the top of the capital below one of the texts (Text A) and in the mouldings of the stone arches. Together with the remaining three fragments they are the only visible evidence of what was probably once a richly decorated church.
What has been identified as ‘Text A’ is the one on the arcade which is furthest to the east. In the case of both Text A and Text B the report comments on a palimpsest of layers of two or possibly three schemes. The paintings have clearly been painted over more than once. Commenting on one of the phases the report states:
“One phase consisted of texts in roundels with exuberant scrollwork in red and yellow ochre, as in text A. Lettering is in black with rubricated initials. Parallel lines have been drawn to register the lettering. Further west is an oblong shaped text (B) also with a frame in red and yellow ochre. Lettering is in black. A segment of the earlier roundel can be seen beneath the lettering. Probably both schemes are C17th.”
The fragments are considered to be important because it is more usual to find traces of earlier wall paintings, rather than texts.
The report is slightly critical of the conservation techniques used to preserve the texts in the 1950s and comments on the “dirty, discoloured wax coating” which was applied. Although not explicitly stated, it is apparent that the techniques employed do nothing to conserve the fragments or make them more visible for future generations.
Commenting on the ‘medieval’ fragments the report notes that they have been set in a basic softwood frame and are in “Appalling condition”. They are scarcely decipherable. They have been moved and roughly set into cement. Whilst the cement cannot be removed the report does state that the appearance and presentation of the fragments could be improved.
The medieval fragment was the subject of an ‘Our Heritage’ article in Hope Parish Magazine in May 2015 which included a photograph of the painting of St Christopher in St. Asaph Cathedral. This, in turn, is based on the best surviving wall-painting of St Christopher in north Wales which is in the church of Llanynys in Denbighshire.
Dr Kirkham sets out recommended treatments for both the post-Reformation texts and the ‘medieval’ fragments and concludes:
“St Cyngar’s Church retains interesting examples of post-Reformation texts which will benefit from cleaning and conservation and will be considerably more legible than now. The appearance and legibility of the framed ex situ fragments will also improve with cleaning.”
It is to be hoped that the Friends of Hope Parish Church will be successful in raising the target sum so that these historic features can be enhanced and preserved as part of our heritage.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the policy of Flintshire County Council. Readers are welcome to contact the author with any news or views on the local heritage at DHealey204@aol.com or by telephoning 01978 761 523.