Grant helps uncover hidden art

A donation to a Friends’ group is helping to reveal art that has been hidden for centuries.

Found on the upper floors of Eastgate House, the art is a selection of late 16th and early 17th century wall paintings, covered by layers of paint, lime wash and distemper. They are being painstakingly revealed thanks to a grant from the Rochester Bridge Trust, to the Friends of Eastgate House. This supports the funding of a major refurbishment of the house and wall paintings, paid for by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Trust’s Senior and Junior Wardens Russell Cooper and Phil Filmer visited the house to meet Susan Haydock, Chairman of the Friends group and conservator Tom Organ, of Arte Conservation.

Russell Cooper said: “As a medieval charity, the Trust is pleased to be able to support the restoration and preservation of local heritage through its grant scheme. These wall paintings are a remarkable find from the time Elizabeth I ruled the land, and the medieval bridge linked Rochester and Strood.

“It’s fascinating to be able to see the images beginning to reappear after all this time, giving a glimpse into the lives of those who were here before us.”

Tests to the hidden areas show quite extensive areas of decoration remain under the paint. This includes a complete ‘strap work’ decoration made up of ribbon-like forms interwoven into a geometric pattern, while in the attic a man’s face stares out, possibly part of a nautical scene from around 400 years ago.

Conservator Tom Organ added: “Revealing these paintings requires hours of careful, painstaking work. We work under binocular magnification to delicately remove the overlying paint layers millimetre by millimetre using small scalpels, spending hundreds of hours to reveal a few square meters. Post-Reformation wall paintings only rarely come to light and the discovery of two schemes at Eastgate House is very exciting.

“Already we have revealed far more decoration than we had originally hoped, and in better condition than anticipated. To be able to uncover these works – to be the first people to see them for hundreds of years – is something very special. To find a face staring back at you is truly extraordinary.”

Eastgate House was built in 1590, and was owned by Sir Peter Buck, a senior officer at the then Royal Tudor Dockyard in Chatham. The Grade I listed building has recently undergone an extensive refurbishment project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. An important part of the project is the work to uncover more of the wall paintings – until now only fragments of them have been visible.

Susan Haydock, Chairman of the Friends of Eastgate House, commented: “The artwork being uncovered is a truly remarkable find and we are grateful to the Rochester Bridge Trust for this donation, which contributes towards what will become a striking addition to the house’s renovation.”

The Trust donated £2,000 towards the uncovering of the wall paintings, with the Friends of Eastgate House match-funding this with another £2,000.

When funds allow, the Rochester Bridge Trust offers grants towards the cost of a range of projects, including heritage structures; history and agriculture; civil engineering; and projects linked to the River Medway.

For more information about grants from the Rochester Bridge Trust see www.rbt.org.uk/grants, or to find out about Eastgate House visit www.friendsofeastgatehouse.org.