RECENT archaeological investigations at King’s Ely have revealed possible traces of an important series of 16th century paintings.

In 1597, Sir Thomas Tresham, a famous Elizabethan architect, commissioned a painter to decorate the west window of the Long Gallery in the Old Palace, where he was being held prisoner because of his Catholic beliefs. The Long Gallery is now a social area for King’s Ely Sixth Form students. Tresham’s detailed description of the paintings still survives in a manuscript in the British Library. Tresham is best known for two extraordinary buildings in Northamptonshire, Rushton Triangular Lodge and Lyveden New Bield. Until now, however, no attempt has been made to find physical evidence of the Ely paintings.

The investigation was carried out

by Paul d’Armada, a conservator for Hirst Conservation, who made several investigative holes in the modern plaster. He discovered a small surviving patch of original 16th century limewash, on which there were two irregular black lines that are probably the remains of an adhesive substance like bitumen. This supports a theory by architectural historians that Tresham’s paintings were done on cloth and then stuck on the wall.
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Francis Young, the Assistant Director of Sixth Form at King’s Ely and the author of a book on the Old Palace said: “I am delighted that evidence of Tresham’s paintings may have been found after so many centuries, and I think it is highly probable that these lines are indeed traces of Tresham’s work.”

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