16th Century Wall Painting from the Old Bridge Tavern

The photos show the surviving section of a late-16th century wall painting from the Old Bridge Tavern, demolished in 1963 to make way for the Bridge Street car park.

The painting was in an important first floor room in the house of Thomas Burrel, a wealthy merchant and alderman, and would originally have continued all round the room.  The photos show that other work was done to the room at the same time: the fireplace opening was reduced, making it more suitable for burning coal, and a fireproof ash-pit or 'becket' was created in front of the hearth, as required by Berwick's 16th century building regulations.

The painting was almost certainly carried out by an itinerant artist inspired by the Renaissance imagery and lettering in contemporary books. The only legible panel carries the Socratic aphorism 'Wysedom and Sience, which are pure by kynde / Should not be hid in bookes, but in mynde' but others may have been less serious; a contemporary described this type of decoration as being composed 'for delight's sake... without rhyme or reason, for the greater variety you show in your invention, the more you please'.

It was rescued only at the very last minute. The restorer recalled that "the building was literally collapsing about the conservators in the delicate work of removing the mural". Although the original fireplace lintel and jambs were put aside to be displayed with the mural they were lost before this could be done; the murals are now displayed in the Museum with the fire surround from another demolished building.

For more on Bridge Street during Heritage Open Days, view the Bridge Street Revealed posters in shop windows and try the quiz. On Thursday 16th September there will be a talk on the early history of the street and quayside; Click this LINK ==> Bridge Street Revealed: from Beach to Quayside Market

The Proceedings of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club has this report on the demolition in 1962 of another of Berwick's historic houses: https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/110766#page/465/mode/1up . (This will take you outside the Heritage Open Days site)

About the author 

Catherine Kent

Dr Catherine Kent has a background in architecture and enjoys unpicking the history of buildings and landscapes. She is an Honorary Fellow in the Department of History at Durham University.