A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to go with Sylvia to look at the former Hardy’s restaurant which is currently being refurbished, part of No.14 High Street, the building described in Sylvia’s post about Thomas Byngley.
It’s a fascinating building with features from different periods of its long history. The basic structure is a large stone-built house dating from Tudor times (one of a series along the lower part of the High Street). This section also has a rather fine Victorian or Edwardian shop front. Inside, the main front room has an old fireplace surrounded by Art Nouveau tiles, but the main feature of this room is a remarkable painted ceiling.
Darkened by decades of smoke from coal fires, candles and tobacco, the design is quite hard to make out. It consists of a wide border around the edge of the ceiling edged by painted studs, containing a design of stylised plants and leaves. In each corner and in the centre of each side is a roundel, again outlined in studs, containing a painted head or figure. The main figures seem to be a male head on one side and a female head, wearing a crown on the opposite side.
The other figures need much more study but may represent qualities like literature and art (this is just my guess!). One, for instance, seems to show a man in robes, sitting on clouds with a scroll in one hand and a quill in the other. The painting is not high art but looks professional. For instance the artist knows how to achieve a three dimensional effect. The hundreds of studs are all drawn with a carefully placed highlight as if lit from the large front window of the room. In spite of some cracking and a lot of darkening, the ceiling is remarkably well preserved.
So when was the painting done, who commissioned it, who carried it out and what does it represent? The style looks Victorian or pre-Victorian, perhaps from the time of William IV. William was the third son of George III who was made Duke of Clarence in 1789. He was notorious for living with his mistress, Dorothy Jordan, and having 10 children by her. In 1818, he married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen and in 1830, having outlived his brothers, he succeeded to the throne. The coronation was held in September 1831.
Maybe the male figure is William and the female figure is Princess Adelaide at the time of their marriage, which would account for her being shown with a crown and him without. Maybe they are Victoria and Albert, but he seems to be clean-shaven – no sign of the famous side whiskers!
It is hard to work out who was living in the premises in the 1830’s (if this is the relevant date). Was it Francis King, brush maker and tin plate worker or West and Barter, surgeons, all listed in Pigot’s 1830 directory? Was the room used as the family parlour or was it part of the business premises and what inspired the owner to order such a spectacular ceiling decoration? William Watts, painter, was listed in the 1841 census as living only a few doors away. Could he have been the artist? There are so many unanswered questions. Maybe someone can fill in the story? Anyway it’s well worth going in to look at this fascinating ceiling when the premises is open for business again.