Lindisfarne Castle conservation project reveals rare wall paintings

Nick Lewis, House steward Nick Lewis House steward

During the £3 million restoration of Lindisfarne Castle, we made a rather unexpected discovery; beautiful, intricate wall paintings that our expert conservators believe are likely to date back to the mid – late 17th century. We’re really excited, because this discovery suggests that the castle may have been a more permanent, domestic dwelling for soldiers than we previously thought.

The very rare paintings revealed in the kitchen and east bedroom after conservation specialists painstakingly removed hundreds of years’ worth of layers of paint, were initially thought to depict butterflies but upon closer inspection have now been identified as a stylised flower motif.

" “We’re really pleased to have uncovered these wall paintings, to find such a design is amazing anyway but for it to be in a military building in this location makes it all the more special.""

We will probably never know who commissioned the work or who carried it out, but we do know the names of many soldiers who were stationed here and we could muse that perhaps one decided to make his mark on the place – maybe William Browne, the Master Gunner who was here for at least ten years from 1681 might be a good candidate, or perhaps Robert Muschamp, deputy governor of Holy Island in 1677. What amazes us is that these have survived at all given the amount of repairs, renovations, and interventions that have taken place here over the years – most notably the Lutyens work in 1903-6.

Although the surviving paintings are not in the best condition, given their presence in different parts of the castle, they were possibly part of a more extensive decorative scheme.  We do know that they were professionally painted, and an apparent interior design scheme like this is unlikely to have featured during the castle’s period as a military fort, when home comforts were doubtful to have been a characteristic of domestic life at that time.

Based on our knowledge of the physical history of Lindisfarne Castle, it suggests that there might have been more to life at the castle than just a military base; this is something of a surprise and is very, very exciting.

We’re currently working to stabilise the paintings so that we can preserve them, and they will be on show in the castle’s kitchen.