Conserving historic wall paintings in Gloucestershire

Historic paintings adorning the walls of St James the Great church, dating from different periods between the 14th and the 18th centuries

Third year Conservation student, Louise Davison, took part in an internship over the summer, to consolidate, stabilise and clean the unique paintings on the walls of the church of St James the Great in Gloucestershire.

St James the Great is a grade I listed church renowned for its wall paintings, including a depiction of the Life of St James the Great cycle, which is considered to be the best-preserved of its kind in England. The paintings, consisting of six different schemes, date from different periods ranging from the 14th century to the 18th century, and were uncovered in the 1950s.

Depiction of the Life of St James the Great cycle

The conservation programme was organised by a collaborative team, including the local church council, the Gloucester Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) and conservation company The Perry Lithgow Partnership.  It was important for the team that the programme created training opportunities for a conservation student and an emerging conservator, and Project Partner, ICON, were supportive of these aims. Louise was “extremely excited” when she found out about the internship through ICON.

Section of the South wall that Louise treated

Louise worked on a section of the South wall on the east side of the church, focusing on the Romanesque window splay. She started by removing fragments of lime washes on the original paint and plaster to produce a cohesive and readable appearance. She was able to remove fragments of lime washes on the only remaining piece of 16th century text in the church.

Louise carrying out conservation treatment 

Following the removal of what remained of layers of lime wash, Louise turned her attention to removing the crude repairs across the wall and in the window sill. This revealed an area of early 14th century decorative scheme on the window ledge, which was a great and unexpected discovery.

Louise conducted cleaning tests on the window, exposing the vibrancy of the coloured decoration lost under years of grime and dirt. With guidance from members of the conservation team, she also carried out grouting, consolidation and fills using specialist techniques and materials.

Commenting on the internship, Louise said: “The project was everything I hoped for and more. It benefited my hand skills, confidence and deepened my love for wall paintings. I have been inspired to work on projects in the future that involve wall paintings, and to complete a masters.”

Louise features in this short film about the conservations programme.



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