THE GUILD Chapel in Stratford has been shortlisted for a prestigious national award for the conservation of its medieval wall paintings.
The project is in the running to win the Society for this year’s Protection of Ancient Building’s (SPAB) Sir John Betjeman Award which will be announced next month.
The Guild Chapel, on the corner of Church Street and Chapel Lane is one of seven religious buildings from across the UK to make the shortlist.
The others include All Saints in New Windsor (conservation of newly rediscovered ornamental screens designed by Thomas Hardy); Leigh Old Chancel in Wiltshire (repair of timber communion rail damaged by vandals); St John the Baptist in Shropshire (repairs to the roof, timber bellcote and bells); St Kenelm in Gloucestershire (repair of glazing); St Leonard in Shoreditch, London, (stabilisation and repair to stonework); and St Mary in Oxford (lime-based conservation of stonework).
The Guild Chapel dates back to the 13 century. 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. It was John Shakespeare, father of the playwright, who acted on that royal order in his role as Chamberlain of the Corporation of Stratford at the time.
The hidden images of death and the afterlife were rediscovered centuries later – and it was the 2016 conservation of two of the best-preserved wall paintings – Doom and the Erthe upon Erthe – which has seen the Guild Chapel shortlisted for the award.
Supported by a £100,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, conservators spent months painstakingly removing later layers of paint and wax from the paintings to reveal and then consolidate the flaking medieval paint underneath.
It means they can be seen today, clearer and brighter than they have for many centuries.
The conservators also removed small sections of the wooden panelling running down both sides of the Chapel – to find fragments of both the Dance of Death painting and the Lyf of Adam painting, which has never been properly documented.
Volunteer coordinator Pippa Brook said: “To be nominated for such a prestigious award is really exciting.
“And this is just the start – there are so many more paintings still hidden here that we want to reveal and conserve, we just need enough support to get the right funding in place.”
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.
* An appeal has also been launched following the theft of money from the collection box at the chapel.
Thieves struck on earlier this month, and while around £100 in cash donations was stolen – the true cost is likely to be significantly higher. The donation box – itself worth around £1,000 – will have to be removed, repaired and strengthened, meaning it will be out of action for up to a month or more.
And that means around £1,000 in donations which would otherwise have been dropped in the box will be lost – including over the Shakespeare Birthday Weekend when visitor numbers soared.
*The Guild Chapel’s history will be revealed in a series of talks.
Talks will take place on the first Tuesday and third Saturday of every month, until September.
Visit www.guildchapel.org.uk for more information on donating, talks, visiting or becoming a volunteer.