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Traces of 16th century paintings discovered at Ely’s Old Palace

By Ely News  |  Posted: November 22, 2013

  • Photograph showing the black lines which are likely to be the remains of an adhesive used to stick cloth to the wall.

  • A portrait of Sir Thomas Tresham

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An archaeologist has discovered possible traces of an important series of 16th century paintings at Ely’s Old Palace.

It was in 1597 that 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 as the Old Palace, on Palace Green, is now owned by King’s Ely.

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.

An archaeological investigation has been carried out at the Old Palace by Paul d’Armada, a conservator for the 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. It is believed they are probably the remains of an adhesive substance like bitumen.

The findings support a theory by architectural historians that Tresham’s paintings were done on cloth and then stuck on the wall.

Francis Young, assistant director of sixth-form studies at King’s Ely and who has recently written a book about the Old Palace, said: “I am delighted that evidence of Tresham’s paintings may have been found after so many centuries.

“I think it is highly probable that these lines are indeed traces of Tresham’s work.”

Investigations at the Old Palace are ongoing.

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