Kitchen renovation unearths paintings nearly 400 years old in York, England

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Written by Lianne Kolirin, CNN

Murals believed to be nearly 400 years old have been discovered at an apartment in northern England following a kitchen renovation.

Luke Budworth, 29, his partner Hazel Mooney, 26, and their dog Leonard had temporarily moved out of the one-bedroom apartment in the cathedral city of York while their new kitchen was being fitted in December.

Then Budworth received a call from the contractors. He told CNN Monday: “In a very casual way they said, ‘did you know there’s a painting behind here?'”

By the time Budworth went to take a look, the new kitchen cupboards were on the wall, covering the frieze — the only evidence of the discovery was a blurry picture taken by the fitters.

Though disappointed, Budworth, a research data analyst at the University of Leeds, suspected that a similar “bit of paneling” on the other side of the open plan living area may be hiding something too.

“It was painted the same as the rest of the wall and I knew it was hollow,” he said. “I always thought it was probably just covering some pipes.”

His suspicion proved correct. “It was a matching piece,” he said.

According to Budworth, both friezes measure about 9 feet by 4 feet — though they are cut off at the top by the ceiling.

The old city of York is encircled by an ancient wall and Budworth’s apartment, which he bought in October 2020, lies within that in Micklegate — one of the city’s main streets. The apartment, which sits above a cafe and a charity book shop, is part of a Grade II listed Georgian building dating back to 1747.

The paintings were found to be inspired by a 17th century book.

The paintings were found to be inspired by a 17th century book. Credit: Courtesy Luke Budworth

“We thought maybe it was Victorian wallpaper, but it was way, way beyond how old I thought it was initially,” said Budworth.

The newly exposed frieze depicts a Biblical scene in which a man in a cage is pulled along by an angel. There is also a man in a white cart who, according to Budworth, “looks like he’s riding to the kingdom of heaven.”

“Really excited,” Budworth contacted Historic England, a public body that looks after the country’s historic environment. A representative was then sent to survey the artwork and take some detailed professional photographs.

Historic England gave the couple a high quality, life size replica of the frieze and advised them to cover it up in order to preserve it.

Undertaking some historic detective work, Budworth went online and found that both friezes featured scenes from a 1635 book called “Emblems,” written by poet Francis Quarles.

Two friezes dating back nearly 400 years were discovered after renovation work at this one-bedroom apartment in York, England.

Two friezes dating back nearly 400 years were discovered after renovation work at this one-bedroom apartment in York, England.
Credit: Courtesy Luke Budworth

“The wall paintings pre-date the flat itself,” said Budworth, explaining that the artwork was carried out on a wall of a building that no longer exists. In other words, the building was constructed around an existing wall.

The paintings are believed to have been created between 1635, when “Emblems” was written, and 1700 when such artwork fell out of fashion, Historic England has advised the couple, according to Budworth.

‘Fascinating’ find

Though the couple do not have the resources to invest in professional conservation of the exposed frieze, they have been keen to incorporate it in their decor.

Budworth said: “If we could find some sort of funding to help conserve it I would be willing to go to the extent of taking the [kitchen] cupboards off the wall but unfortunately I don’t see that happening. The other one though will be preserved as best we can.”

Historic England confirmed to CNN that it had visited the property and had now passed on images of the paintings to the Conservation of Wall Painting department at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.

In a statement to CNN, a spokeswoman for Historic England said: “The discovery of these 17th century murals in a home in Micklegate, York is fascinating. They were first discovered in 1998 then covered over. We have been involved with documenting the murals and supporting the present owner with how best to look after them since they were rediscovered recently.

“They raise various questions about the ages of the buildings in this row of historic homes and the history of Micklegate itself. Finds like this tell us that our historic homes have many secrets and we’ve been pleased to work with this homeowner on looking after these murals for the future.”

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