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All the Medieval wallpaintings at St Peter's church, Preston Park date from the later 13th century and were probably painted shortly after the church was completed. Even after the disastrous fire of 1906 the church contains some fascinatingly graphic images, including an early depiction of the martyrdom of St Thomas and a rare symbolic representation of the Nativity.
The demon trying to pull down the scale pan
The present late 13th-century church replaced an earlier building. The nave was extensively restored in 1872. The chancel was remodelled five years later by Ewan Christian in a lavish scheme which included stencilled wallpainting. The whole church was extensively damaged by a fire in 1906 and the chancel subsequently received a second scheme of painted decoration in a Medieval style.
A watercolour of 1880 by Miss P. Wakerley records the wallpaintings on the east wall prior to the fire of 1906. The area was lavishly painted with a foliage backdrop for the rood cross and a lost upper tier with scenes of the Resurrection (top left) and figures of saints.
On the left of the chancel arch is one of the earliest representations of the death of St Thomas in English wallpainting. We can see:
On the right side of the chancel arch is a Weighing of the Souls. The details we can make out are:
The paintings on the north wall are now hard to decipher. There were tiers: the Last Supper (upper), the Nativity (middle), busts of three kings (lower). The Nativity showed the Christchild in a manger shaped like a chalice and included the figures of the midwives described in the apocryphal gospels.
Although it dates from after the fire of 1906 the decoration in the chancel continues the tradition of the medieval-style schemes popularised by the 19th-century Gothic Revival, which reproduced Medieval foliage and heraldic motifs. The richly-coloured fictive cloths of honour in the sedilia contrast with the restrained tones of the wall decoration. The area below the dado is a chequerboard pattern while the splays of the windows and the chancel west wall have more elaborate motifs of stylised foliage and sacred monograms. The carefully-reproduced motifs and subdued palette indicate a serious attempt to reproduce the appearance of Medieval wallpainting.
The wallpaintings were first uncovered in or shortly before 1830 by the Rev. Charles Townsend. They were found during the removal of a later scheme of the Ten Commandments from the chancel arch and it is likely that the fragile upper layers of pigment were lost at this time; basic outlines are all that no remains.
In 1873, some of the paintings were extensively 're-touched' and covered with a 'preservative' coating, however; the figure of the Virgin interceding in the Weighing of Souls was mistakenly repainted as an angel. After the fire of 1906 destroyed the upper tier of painting on the nave east wall and badly damaged the remainder, a further coating was applied to preserve the surviving paintings. In 1977 E. Clive Rouse conserved the remaining paintings, reducing the layers of coating and over-painting. The paintings were further conserved by Anne Ballantyne in 1999.