A visit to the Traquair murals at St Peter’s Church in Nottinghamshire
Until recently, I didn’t know that the pretty village of Clayworth, near Retford in north Nottinghamshire, was home to a series of murals by the 19th century Scottish artist Phoebe Traquair, who played a key role in the Arts and Crafts movement.
I drove through the sleep country lanes, past redbrick cottages with well-kept gardens until I reached St Peter’s Church, which was surrounded by cherry blossom on this late spring morning. Parts of the Grade I-listed building date back to at least the 12th century and it is a historical and architectural treasure in its own right, full of medieval stone carvings and stunning stained glass windows.
On hand to meet me was Elis Evans who showed me Traquair’s murals which adorn the walls of the chancel and are known for their use of natural colour, traditional design and gilded detail. It might be a hidden gem but Elis tells me that more and more visitors are now discovering the church after brown tourist signs were installed around the area earlier this year.
Depicting biblical scenes such as the Last Supper, an Angel Choir and Christ in the Garden of Gethsemene, these murals were painted in 1904/5 and are the largest of their kind in the east of England. Restored to their former glory in 1996 by renowned artist Elizabeth Hirst, the paintings are also one of just two in England, the other being in the New Forest and the rest in Scotland.
Perhaps what makes Traquair’s murals so intriguing is that while they celebrate the divine, they are also very much grounded in the arts and crafts movement which paid homage to the lives of ordinary working people and traditional crafts, including Celtic patterns.
They were commissioned Lady D’Arcy Godolphin Osborne from Wiseton Hall in Clayworth to thank God for the safe return of her son, Major Joseph Frederick Laycock, from the Boer War. According to to her letters, Traquair enjoyed the time she spent in Nottinghamshire and she incorporated many of the villagers into her paintings, including the church choir which features a young boy called Tony Otter, later to become the Bishop of Grantham, and his cousin Jack Martin. However, the figure of Judas thankfully does not have a real-life counterpart as far as we know. Eagle-eyed viewers may also be able to spot the farm house which Traquair used as a studio behind Madonna in the Annunciation scene.
As you discover the rolling countryside around north Notts, including the nearby town of Retford, make sure you call at St Peter’s to see the Traquair murals – they are simply magnificent.
St Peter’s Church is open to the public all day, every day and donations are welcome. After visiting make sure you stop off at The Boat Inn, just three miles away in the village of Hayton, where you can enjoy locally-sourced, home-cooked meals and real ales. There is also accommodation available.