Some of the most important and high quality secular wall paintings in Norfolk

The Wall Paintings

The Paintings on the first floor of the south side of The Greenland Fishery are some of the most important and high quality secular wall paintings in Norfolk. They include an imitation overmantel depicting the figures of Spes and Fides, the story of Dives and Lazarus in Heaven and Hell and the remains of a hunting scene. The paintings were found by Mrs M Bardswell in 1952 covered by 5 layers of paper. Previously they had been uncovered and copies painted in their entirety by Thomas Baines in 1864, covered up again and uncovered in 1952 when the house was renovated after the war. The second time they were uncovered some damage had occurred (the house was hit by an enemy bomb in 1941) but the Baines paintings show what the complete paintings had looked like.

Wall Painting at The Greenland Fishery in King’s Lynn

Overmantle Painting

Over the fireplace there is an elaborate architectural composition containing, under painted arches, the figures of Faith (Fides) carrying a cross and a book and Hope (Spes) with a falcon and an anchor. Above and between these figures is a smaller figure of Justice and her scales. At the top corners are angels. The figures stand in alcoves creating a tromp d’oeill, with pillars each side and angels and figures are both draped with coloured ribbons.  The opulence of the image continues as Fides has a similar ribbon around her waist and as a clasp for her cloak she has a golden sun. The classical elements are further suggested by the headdresses worn by both figures which resemble laurel wreaths.

The Coat of Arms of James 1st is at the top left and that of his son Henry with the insignia of The Prince of Wales and his initials at the top right. Henry, one of three out of eight children to survive infancy, died in 1612 and it is likely that the painting predates this event. The room containing this painting  is thought to have originally occupied the full length of the building making a Hall with a fireplace at each end lit by corbel oriel windows in the east wall with a row of mullioned windows 2’ 8” deep, high against the ceiling in the southern part. The decorative painting above the fireplace would have enhanced this room which would have been used for entertaining.  The initials JA for John Aitkin at the bottom centre of the painting indicate that the work was carried out for him and he died in 1617.

Dives and Lazarus in Heaven and Hell

The story from Luke 16 v 16 – 31 was a well known medieval parable of Jesus. Dives the rich man is depicted in Hell and tormented by devils while Lazarus who was a poor man during his life is in Heaven with Abraham who is (from Baines’ watercolour copy) a bearded figure dressed in a red cloak. Half angels fly around them, of which one of these survives, and a cloud boarder separates heaven from Hell. In the lower left corner three devils (in Baine’s painting ) are making off with Dives’ soul.  The writing underneath is partly visible but copied by Baines:

Thou in thy life thy pleasures had but Lazar he felt paine

Now therefore he comforted is with heavenly food above

Which when he begged but ….of ye didest  him disdain

Wherfore ye now tormented art & from thence cannot move

The Hunting/ Woodland Scene

On the timber beam of the west wall in the same room is the top of the hunting scene. Baines’ copy shows that the picture originally seems to have been a woodland scene with a boy holding two dogs on leashes and a hare or rabbit feeding to the right of the picture.

These notes are taken from Condition Report on the Wall Paintings 2006 Andrea Kirkham and King’s Lynn – Greenland Fisheries Building Vol 31 1957 by Mrs M Bardswell.


Wall Paintings gallery 2018

Baines’ copies of wall paintings*

*Thanks to King’s Lynn Museum for the use of Baines’ paintings, which are in their collection.