Flashback to 2005: Church’s attempt to restore historic murals

Reverend Colin Such takes a closer look at one of the paintings

But in 2005, the unique set of historic frescoes in a Black Country church were in desperate need of some TLC to bring them back to life.

The murals were painted by the famous English artist Edward Reginald Frampton at Rushall Parish Church in Walsall.

The building, also known as St. Michael the Archangel’s Church, in Leigh Road, is considered unique in that it has an entire wall of Pre-Raphaelite artwork.

But the murals painted in 1905 and 1906 were badly fading and suffering from the effects of condensation caused by an inefficient heating system from the 1970s.

The murals were painted by the famous English artist Edward Reginald Frampton

In 1997 the parish church council sought expert advice on how best to conserve the Pre-Raphaelite paintings and an environmental monitoring report led to a change in the heating system.

A plan to restore the paintings was mooted in 1999, but the Heritage Lottery Fund rejected an offer of a £50,000 grant until research into the atmospheric conditions of the church had been carried out.

In 2005, the church launched an extensive fundraising campaign in an effort to save the paintings.

Speaking at the time, Churchwarden Bob Barnard said £36,000 of the £100,000 project would go to fund a new heating system for the church, based on the results of a monitoring survey year.

The new system would serve two purposes: to keep the congregation warm by heating under the pews and to preserve the murals at a constant temperature of 51 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mr Barnard said they had around £5,000 in the kitty and a series of church fundraising events would start with a parish auction.

They would also appeal again for English Heritage funding for the lottery and money from landfill tax credits.

“I was aware of the murals and the work needed to restore them before I came here. They are one of Walsall’s hidden gems,” Reverend Colin Such, Vicar of Rushall, told the Express & Star in 2005.

The Reverend Colin Tel at Rushall Parish Church who has launched a major fundraising campaign to restore all of the historic murals

Thanks to the efforts of congregants who organized fairs and other community events, and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the church was able to replace the heating system, which improved conditions for the paintings.

Windows and masonry had also been cleaned as part of the project.

Then, in 2015, internationally renowned London-based restaurateurs Lisa Shekede and Stephen Rickerby arrived to work on the images.

Frampton, who specialized in murals, painted the four archangels, the tree of knowledge, and other angels on the walls.

As part of the process, Lisa painstakingly cleaned the wall surrounding the Archangel Gabriel figure with fine paper and cotton swabs.

Conservation expert Lisa Shekede works on one of the paintings

It is featured in the nativity story in the Bible. Once the cleaning and scrubbing stage is complete, the pair will begin the complex process of reattaching individual paint flakes that have fallen from the wall using specialized techniques.

Mr Barnard said: ‘When the restorers arrived they found that the condition of the paintings was different depending on where they were on the walls.

“The higher they are above the chancel, the worse the chipping. Some of the individual flakes are quite large.

“These will be gently put back in place. The worst sections of damage are near the organ pipes and the ceiling.

“This work will preserve the paintings for future generations to enjoy and prevent them from chipping again.”

Mr Barnard said a new heating system had helped slow the deterioration in recent years.

“This stripping happened over many years. We used to have condensation in the church, but since we got rid of the open gas fires and replaced the heating system six years ago, we haven’t had any problems with it and there has been little deterioration since then,” he said.

Scaffolding was installed in the north and south transepts and above the choir to allow experts to approach the paintings.

The work was believed to be one of only three frescoes by Frampton left in churches in Britain. Smaller examples are located in Hastings, East Sussex, and Southend, Essex.

Rev Such said: “We are delighted that work on this final phase has begun. We are grateful to everyone who has helped us get to this point, especially church members and people in the wider community who have given of their time and money.

“We are also delighted that the work is being carried out by Lisa Shekede and Stephen Rickerby who have been involved in the project from the start. They are internationally renowned restorers who have worked in Malta, Bhutan, Georgia and Ethiopia, among other countries.

The church was calling on well-wishers to sponsor sections of the murals in an effort to secure as many funds as possible to cover the remaining cost of restoration work.

Jerry B. Hatch