Layer by layer, millimetre by millimetre, a fascinating insight into the past is being revealed at Eastgate House, Rochester.
The Grade I listed Elizabethan mansion opened to the public last July following an extensive Heritage Lottery Funded refurbishment.
As part of the project specialists from Faversham based Arte Conservation have begun work to uncover and preserve fragments of late 16th and early 17th century wall paintings on the upper floors of the house.
Mostly hidden beneath many layers of paint for hundreds of years, they are a rare survival and of significant historic interest.
Extensive tests have been carried out to determine the extent and condition of the decoration on the walls. They revealed that in one room there was a complete scheme of ‘strap work’ decoration, although large areas have been lost over time.
Revealing more of the paintings involves working under binocular magnification to clear away the brittle layers of overpaint, lime wash and distemper – a slow and time consuming process.
It is also hoped that another painting can be revealed in an attic room of the house. During the investigative works experts were amazed to find a man’s face looking back at them from beneath the layers of plaster. The face has a forked or swallow’s tail beard, and appears to be part of a 16th century nautical scene.
Built in 1590, the house was once owned by Sir Peter Buck, a senior officer at the Royal Tudor Dockyard in Chatham. It has also been a Victorian school, a museum and an inspiration to Charles Dickens, who featured the house in The Pickwick Papers and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Visitors can now explore a range of displays around the building, which tell its unique story. The work on the wall paintings can also be seen through a viewing gallery on the second floor.
Cllr Howard Doe, Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Community Services, said: “I’m very pleased that these rare wall paintings have been uncovered. Eastgate House is a great day out for all the family and now there is even more to see. We are very proud of what we’ve achieved by restoring the building and visitors enjoy learning about the house and I would encourage visitors to come and see the paintings for themselves.”
Tom Organ, of Arte Conservation, said: “The opportunity to discover and reveal glimpses of our painted past is always exciting, but all too rare. When we were first called in to inspect the exposed fragments it soon became clear that further decoration existed in the immediate vicinity, but the current work has revealed far more than initially expected and much of it in better condition than we could have hoped for.”