Cottage wall paintings mystery

A LOCAL history enthusiast is trying to unravel the mysteries surrounding a set of wall paintings covered over for many years in a Framlingham cottage.

A LOCAL history enthusiast is trying to unravel the mysteries surrounding a set of wall paintings covered over for many years in a Framlingham cottage.

Nobody knows for certain who painted a series of landscapes and portraits on the walls of a parlour room at Castle Cottage, a 17th century house.

The paintings, dating back to the beginning of the 19th century, were listed as far back as 1951 when researchers said the source of them was unknown, but they were thought to show “French influences”.

Later they were covered over with wallpaper and paint, until new owners moved in in the late 1970s, and decided to find out what they looked like.

They found a remarkable mixture of subjects, from Daniel in the Lions' den to a mother and baby to a sea battle. Some were executed with some skill, while others were more amateurish.

One painting which has raised many questions shows an older man wearing a Volunteer uniform - a volunteer force of its day - being offered a drink by a woman who may be his wife or a serving maid. It is not clear who the man is, despite his distinctive face.

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One long held story was that the paintings are the work of a French prisoner of war perhaps staying at the house during Napoleonic times.

But John McEwan, of the Framlingham and District Local History and Preservation Society has been researching the history of the paintings, the house and its occupants at the time, and thinks that theory is wide of the mark.

He now believes they were in fact painted by a previous occupant of the house, artisan Richard Rowlands, a plumber glazier and painter, and possibly his son. If they were both involved in painting them, he feels that may explain the differences in the quality of the work.

“If he was a painter glazier and we look back to the period, then people did have paintings on their walls rather than paper. I think it's a catalogue of what he could do. It's artisan painting. It's not fine art, and that possibly makes it quite unique.”

Richard Rowlands went on to become an innkeeper at Friston and later became bankrupt. His son, John, was transported to Australia for seven years for receiving stolen fowl.

The local historical society came to look at the paintings less than a year ago, and it was then Mr McEwan began to look into the story of the paintings.

The society is now interested in trying to get the paintings conserved.

“We have agreed in principle to explore the possibility,” said Mr McEwan.

“I think they are important. They are unique because they are the work of an artisan painter. We don't have many examples of such things. They are usually lost. Pub signs are example of that work, or paintings on barges, but it is very rare you find them inside a house.”

Judith Lockie, the daughter of the owner of the house, recalls helping to uncover the paintings the year after her mother moved there.

“It was extraordinary when we found the house to be told about the paintings and then uncovering them. I like them. They are fascinating. They are a bit of a mystery really, and it's been lovely talking to John who has done so much research because we always went by the myth of the French officer. At one point we thought this was the French officer and this was the lady of the house,” she said.

She was particularly struck by the painting of the man in uniform seated next to a woman.

“They are very beautifully realised - they look as if they should be people,” said Judith

The Lanman Museum, based at Framlingham Castle, plans to feature photographs of the wall paintings in its historical display.