Sixteenth Century Wall Paintings in Ledbury

Heading towards Ledbury on the West Midlands train from Worcester, I knew the town was famous for its timber-framed buildings, the Barrett Browning clock tower and its Market Hall. But I had no idea, as I wandered over its paved streets, that I would stumble upon some sixteenth century wall paintings, tucked away on a tiny cobbled lane. 

Church Street - home of the Tudor wall paintings

And they are utterly gorgeous. 

The paintings can be found at the Town Council offices on Church Street and are by guided tour only. The tour - the paintings are mostly along one wall - only takes around five minutes, but you have time to ask the guide questions if you have any at the end. 

The story of the wall paintings' discovery is really interesting. Renovation work was being carried out on the council building, which is thought to date to around 1510. As layers of plaster were removed for the renovation, these colourful paintings were discovered. Work was stopped immediately, and English Heritage were called in with their team of art conservators. Work continued for months, while the wall paintings were stabilised (there are patches of wall that had crumbled so needed securing to protect the delicate paint) and finally it was opened to visitors. 

There was no such thing as wallpaper back in the 1560s-70s, so to create the illusion of rich tapestries without the huge costs, people took to brightly painting the walls instead. Originally, the paint would have spread over the timbers across the entire wall - they would have originally been lighter in colour and so to the eye, the wall would have appeared as one continuing decoration. Biblical passages are written into the wall, and the general pattern imitates a knot garden, which was so popular in the Elizabethan age. Along the bottom of the wall are traces of painted-on mock wooden wall panelling, another cost and time saver! I was absolutely stunned to be honest at how well-preserved and colourful these paintings were. 

One really fascinating bit of information was about the history of the house itself: although town records are patchy, historians have traced the house back with reasonable security, to Richard Skull, who was a Constable of the town in the late 1500s. It's likely that he would have lived here with his family, and provision was made in his home for a public room where small courts and other town business could be held. The use of this room as a public - rather than a private family space seems most likely. The wall was painted to impress and was made to be shown off. 

The paintings are free to view, and the guide was great - friendly, engaging and knowledgable. I was allowed to take some pictures (without flash!) but honestly, it's nothing like seeing them in real life, where you get a real sense of the colours and the patterns that weave across the wall. You can see individual brush strokes, and the pigment of the paint after 400 years is incredible. 

If you can get to Ledbury - I got the train from Worcester - West Midlands and GWR both have regular services - I'd very much recommend it. And although entry and the tour is free, do consider buying a guide book, bookmark or other souvenir from the shop to help support the conservation of this incredible artefact for generations to come. 

Have you visited the painted walls in Ledbury? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below. 

You might also like: 10 Things to Know About Stratford Upon Avon Before Your Visit, The Murky World of Elizabeth's Pirates and this recipe for Tudor Inspired Tartes of Cheese

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