St Peter’s Church in Birstall, West Yorkshire, preserves one of the few surviving wall paintings by the artist Edward Reginald Frampton (1872-1923). Painted in 1901 over the chancel arch on the nave east wall, it depicts Christ in Majesty surrounded by angels. It was almost indecipherable due to the darkening of an unevenly applied varnish coating – and partly damaged by past rainwater infiltration. As the painting was otherwise in exceptional condition, and following the recommendations of a preliminary inspection report in July 1996, a phased conservation programme was begun in March 1998 with funding from the Council for the Care of Churches.
In June 2001 the next phase in the conservation programme was undertaken, again with generous funding from the Council for the Care of Churches. This involved the stabilisation of the area of painting damaged by rainwater infiltration. Although affected by severe flaking and some plaster delamination, no significant change or paint loss has been visually detected in this area since at least 1996, indicating that infiltration is not ongoing.
Since then the church has been waiting for the opportunity and funding to make the restoration complete. This final phase was started in January 2020, you can see more details about the restoration here. We are very grateful that the restoration work was half funded by a generous donor who wishes to remain anonymous, and the remainder funded by donations from the congregation and members of the local community. The conservators are Stephen Rickerby and Lisa Shekede.
The history of the mural
The mural was commissioned by the wife of Revd Robert F Taylor as a memorial to John Battye, solicitor- of Birstall. The design was approved by the church and a faculty was granted for the work in August.The parish magazine (August 1901) reported that ‘the Artist, Mr. Reginald Frampton, has made some considerable progress during the last month with his work. The wall has been prepared and the central figure representing our Lord seated in Glory has been painted in’.
It was completed in October and a special service was held to dedicate the mural on November 3rd. In December of the same year Frampton submitting designs for the spandrels of the nave (the V shape areas above the pillars), which represent some of the Northern Saints The ten (?) watercolours were framed and hung near the Baptistery – which was situated at the base of the tower. All but two of these have been lost. The two remaining watercolours were restored, reframed and loaned to Huddersfield Art Gallery in 2000 for safe keeping. It had been hoped that sponsors might come forward to commission the spandrel frescos, but this was not to be.