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27th Jun, 2022

Guild Chapel in Stratford wins national conservation award

THE HISTORIC Guild Chapel in Stratford has won a prestigious national award for the conservation of its internationally-significant medieval wall paintings.

The chapel’s ‘Death Reawakened’ project scooped the Society for the Protection of Ancient Building’s (SPAB) Sir John Betjeman Award.

The 13th century chapel, on the corner of Church Street and Chapel Lane, was one of seven religious buildings from across the UK to make the shortlist.

Its medieval wall paintings were applied in the late 15th century but were defaced and limewashed over following the Reformation less than 100 years later by John Shakespeare, father of the playwright, who acted on a royal order in his then role as Chamberlain of the Corporation of Stratford.

The hidden images of death and the afterlife were rediscovered centuries later, and the 2016 conservation of the two best-preserved wall paintings saw the chapel win the SPAB award.

Supported by a £100,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, conservators spent months painstakingly removing later layers of limewash and discoloured wax from the paintings to reveal and then consolidate the flaking medieval paint underneath.

SPAB judge Rachel Morley said: “We were impressed not only by the extent and depth of recording and analysis underpinning the careful conservation of these amazing paintings, but also by the great skill with which it had been undertaken.

“The work was delicate and sensitive and executed to a faultless standard.

“We particularly noted the powerful results obtained just through the removal of damaging overpaint and coatings where possible, alongside gentle cleaning and stabilisation, without other interventions being made to increase legibility.

“The SPAB supports repair over restoration and champions a ‘light-touch’ minimalist approach to conservation and this was very much in evidence.”

Pippa Brook, volunteer coordinator at the chapel, was overjoyed.

She said: “To win is just beyond words. We hope this recognition will elevate our Guild Chapel even further, garnering more support, opening up more avenues for funding. There are so many more paintings, so many more secrets, still hidden here that we want to reveal, conserve and share.”

Death Reawakened was overseen by the Stratford-based conservation architects Hawkes Edwards.

Chapel architect Trevor Edwards said: “We are delighted to see the wall paintings being brought to a wider audience by the conservation work and enthusiasm of the volunteers. The chapel is a fantastic building and we are looking forward to working with the Trust to uncover and conserve more of these important works over the coming years.”

Conservator Mark Perry, from the Perry Lithgow Partnership, added it had been a pleasure and privilege to be part of the project.

Dr Kate Giles, from the University of York, whose research on the Guild Chapel underpinned the original conservation project, added: “It’s been a great privilege to see the Doom painting brought to life, not just by the wonderful work of the Perry Lithgow Partnership, but also by the enthusiasm and new research of the Guild Chapel volunteers.

“We look forward to discovering more together in this remarkable building.”

Established in 1990 and named in honour of poet and conservation campaigner and SPAB committee member Sir John, the award celebrates excellence in the repair of places of worship of all denominations in England and Wales.

The chapel, which forms part of the estate of Stratford Town Trust, is open to visitors and entry is free. Visit www.guildchapel.org.uk for further details.

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