Lady Chapel Discoveries

Restoring Pugin

On this Solemnity of the Annunciation, Cliveden Conservation are delighted to share some exciting & interesting discoveries from the latest phase of their work on the Restoring Pugin project.

Dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 1993 following restoration, the Cathedral’s central east chapel has been the focus of our continuing paint trials this month, with our team of conservators working to identify and record successive phases of decoration. Beneath the plainly decorated finish of the interior elevations, up to nine layers of earlier paint have now been recorded. Opening stratigraphic windows and meticulously removing each of these in turn has enabled us to reach the earliest phase of decoration, uncovering a beautiful array of stencils.

The intensity of the decoration within the Chapel speaks of devotion to the Virgin Mary, with the lower sections of the interior walls covered in a reoccurring monogram which incorporates a gilded ‘M’, star, crown, and concentric circle motif, set against a deep blue ground. The scheme of stars found on the Unity Chapel ceiling panels continues, but here, the decoration and effect are more pronounced, with every third panel painted with floral motifs. A central monogram on a red ground is placed within a five-petalled blush flower with gilded sunbursts.

Decoration has also been found beneath the light scumble finish on the timbers of the Chapels scissor-braced roof and on the arched openings to the adjoining Unity Chapel and Chapel of St. Hugh. Here, repeating patterns of foliage, flowers and fleur-de-lis embellish these surfaces. Interestingly, within the reredos, the current paint scheme of blue, white, and gold leaf mirrors the earliest decoration found here beneath seven later layers of paint, indicating that earlier exploration had uncovered and replicated this scheme.

Writing of the current paint finish in The Buildings of England, Nottinghamshire, architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner writes that The whole effect could hardly be further from the richness of decoration and atmosphere that Pugin intended. This project, made possible with a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, has enabled us to gain insight into the captivating glory of the Lady Chapel and the exciting opportunities for future conservation work in continuing phases of the project.

Nicola Collins MA, MSc
Project Manager, Decorative Arts Section Cliveden Conservation