Lakenheath
Wall Paintings Project

The wall paintings in St Mary’s Church, Lakenheath, were probably first discovered during restoration work carried out in 1864. During this period of restoration the remains of at least five individual schemes were uncovered. However, due to the crude methods employed to uncover the paintings the individual layers have become difficult to interpret and decipher. In some areas, particularly on the plaster of the north arcade, the gouges and marks made during the original uncovering are still clearly visible. Indeed, in some places it is difficult, without the aid of scientific analysis, to establish exactly what images belong to which scheme. Luckily, the individuals involved in the nineteenth century restoration were content to simply uncover what they could and the painting were not subject to many of the restoration treatments suffered by other wall paintings discovered elsewhere. The result is that, though they look fragmentary, the paintings are now in a far better condition than they otherwise might have been.

Project Background

Nevertheless, the very fact that the wall paintings have now been exposed to the elements for over a century since their rediscovery has led to them suffering considerable deterioration and significant losses have taken place. Much of this damage occurred in the early twentieth century, when the church was in a far poorer state of repairs, and, according to the experts, the actual rate of deterioration has slowed down in recent years.

In 2003 the church authorities, being aware of the significance of the wall paintings in their care, commissioned a survey to evaluate the level of deterioration being suffered by the images. The extensive and far reaching survey was carried out by Cambridge based Tobit Curteis Associates who published their findings in May of that year. The consultants had discovered that the wall paintings were in danger of suffering further severe losses unless work was undertaken to conserve them in the very near future.

The vertical white bands to the left of the image mark where historic leaks in the roof have led to water running over the surface of the paintings—leaving the re-deposited pale limewash that we see today.

 In particular, it was noted that the medieval lime plaster onto which many of the images were painted, was ‘delaminating’ and coming away from the wall. If work wasn’t undertaken to stabilise the plaster then it was possible that relatively large sections of both plaster and paintings could be lost.

As a result of the report the PCC, in association with expert advisors, drew up a programme of conservation and stabilisation. The PCC and the Rector of St Mary’s, the Rev. Robert  Leach, then began to approach a number of organisations and charities to secure the financial support needed to undertake such a large-scale project. After much hard work the funding package was secured and work is scheduled to begin in February 2009.