All Saints Church, Broughton, Cambridgeshire

Cleaning / Condition Survey / Documentation / Fixing and Consolidation / Reintegration / Repairs / Wall painting

The church of All Saints in the small village of Broughton in Cambridgeshire dates from the 12th century, with additions and alterations from 1300, and the late c15th or early c16th century.  Medieval churches would originally have been decorated with many wall paintings.  As tastes changed newer paintings would have been painted over the existing ones, reflecting this stylistic development. This tradition of evolving decoration lead to a situation of multi-layered, palimpsest, paintings.  After the Reformation, the earlier figurative paintings were seen as idolatrous and were often destroyed, or, more simply, limewashed over. In their place churches were decorated with simple texts, usually verses from the Bible, or pieces from the Book of Common Prayer. These texts tended to be executed in black and white, but often had quite creative decorative borders.

All that now survive, or are visible, of these paintings at Broughton now, are a large c15th Doom over the chancel arch, and an Expulsion from the Garden of Eden and an Adam and Eve beside it, both of which were treated in the 1980s, as well as some small fragments of post-reformation texts, and a large section of text on the south wall in an unconserved condition, which was the subject of this treatment project.

In fact, three layers of painting were simultaneously visible on this south wall section. The lowest, earliest, layer was executed in red ochre and very fragmentary, little could be made out of it except some decorative detail, the layer above was a black and white text, and on top of this another black and white text with a decorative strapwork border, with areas of red and yellow ochre. This text was identifiable as part of the Lord’s Prayer.

The south wall paintings were severely deteriorated, with delamination between the various layers of painting, and between the painted layers and the plaster substrate. In some areas, the delamination was so severe layers were only held in place by the cobwebs and dust that covered the surface. Along the bottom edge, and particularly at the left side, there were large areas of loss, flaking, and the plaster substrate was exposed. There were numerous smaller areas of loss across the paintings.  The cause of the previous damage is likely to have been due to earlier generations of problems with water ingress to the building, possibly due to failing guttering directly on the wall outside, this problem had since been resolved and the environmental conditions stabilised.

The aim of the conservation treatment was to stabilise the painting to prevent further loss, and once it was stabilised, to clean the surface and undertake small surface repairs in lime plaster in order to improve the legibility of the texts and to reduce the aesthetic disruption of the surface damage. New repairs and fine fills were treated using toned limewash and watercolour washes to aid this reintegration.  The church building was well maintained, meaning the paintings should continue in sound and stable condition, in the absence of other deterioration factors.