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Restorers bring faces from past back to life

Published date: 21 May 2014 |
Published by: Staff reporter
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AT Hope Church, restoration experts are clearing centuries of dirt from a monument.

For the next few weeks, they will gently swab away at the sandstone and painted timber, revealing colours that have been muted or hidden for hundreds of years.

Allan Poynton, deputy warden of the church, which lies on near the Flintshire and Wrexham border, is excited about the project.

He said: “It’s the Sir John Trevor memorial. Sir Trevor’s family were big benefactors to the church and they had a lot to do with the Hope area.

They owned Plas Teg, a Jacobean mansion, and were a major name in the region right up until the First World War.

The church’s chapel is often referred to as the Trevor chapel.

Mr Poynton added: “Two of the Trevor sons died within months of each other serving in 1917.

“Another family member survived, as a Trevor was part of the Dambuster squadrons in World War Two. His name is on the Hope War Memorial.”

The church’s memorial, which dates to around the mid 1600s, shows a husband and wife in period dress surrounded by various heraldic images, including shields and a black dragon crest.

Mr Poynton said: "It was obviously covered in grime, particularly the faces and the ruff round the gentleman’s shoulders.

“It was looking pretty shoddy.

“We thought ‘we are wardens. This is our responsibility’.

“It’s lasted 400 years. We don’t want it to deteriorate in our lifetime.”

Hope Church itself is something of a “museum” according to Mr Poynton, boasting a number of historical features.

It had a major overhaul about 15 years back as part of the ‘Hope for the Millennium’ campaign.

That momentum has continued, with the Friends of Hope Church raising funds and successfully applying for support from the Pilgrim Trust, a group set up to protect architectural heritage.

Mr Poynton said: “There's lots of things here. Some very old wall paintings were revealed 50 or 60 years back.

“During the more recent renovation, someone found a Celtic cross among the masonry and rubble we cleared out and we preserved it by setting it into the wall.

“Then there's the stained glass.”

The oldest window in the church has a story behind it.

Mr Poynton said: “It dates back to before the English Civil War. There’s some evidence that when Cromwell was trying to get rid of all the ‘flashy stuff’ in churches so the villagers of Hope dismantled it and hid it.

“When the monarchy was restored, they put the window back. It is a bit of a jumble. Parts of it are from another window, the pieces are sometimes out of order and there are bits missing.

“Perhaps they are still buried in a field somewhere...”

Back to the Trevor memorial, where Kieran Elliott and Anna Barnes, of Elliott Ryder Restoration, are balancing on a scaffold.

They have an unusual view of the monument, which is elevated above head-height.

Not many people get to stand face-to-face with the lord and the lady.

Kieran said: “The amount of detail is amazing. The artists painted individual eyelashes on each figure.

“One of the first things we did was clean the lady’s lips – she’s got some pretty good lip-gloss on now. They look better than most people would after 400 years.”

Bit by bit, Kieran is revealing long-hidden colour.

He said: “The frame is in good condition. It's actually a bit deceptive, because it’s not really marble. The pattern is actually painted to a very high standard.

“The family, when it was installed, would have commissioned sandstone and carved wood, but they would have asked for it to be painted this way to make it look as though it was a lot more expensive, and therefore high status, than it actually is.

“There are parts we haven’t cleaned yet which are a dark, murky green. Once it’s cleaned, it’s much more vibrant.”

Parts of the monument are a bit of a mystery.

Various beasts romp on the shields that run around the standing couple.
Some of them are clearly lions and crows – but a trio of long-nosed animals have provoked debate.

“Are they weasels?,” asked Kieran, while Anna and Allan suspect they may be foxes.
Another unusual feature is a small black dragon at the apex of the heraldic crest.

Mr Elliott said: “I don’t know what he signifies. Dragons were popular beasts on Welsh family crests – but this one looks nothing like the red dragon of Wales.

“In fact, I think he looks a bit like Toothless, the black dragon from the How To Train Your Dragon movie – although my son disagrees.”

The work is demanding, even if Hope Church is a friendlier place than some.

Mr Elliott said: “It can be quite physical. On one job in England we had to stay still all day for weeks at a time and the church was so cold I was wearing thermals under my overalls.

“Hope Church is all right though.”

One of the most frequent causes of damage to monuments is caused by well-meaning people who try to restore or re-paint them without the right skills or experience to hand.

Mr Elliott said: “It’s rarely meant maliciously but people do use paints that damage the work, or they’ll just give it a scrub thinking they're helping.

“That hasn’t happened here, although I think someone has perhaps run a damp rag over it at some point. I suspect it has been properly restored in the past, as the gilt (gold foil) is still in good condition.

“All of our paints are tested to make sure they aren’t going to cause any damage and we work very carefully.”

Mr Elliott and Ms Barnes will be in the company of the Trevor lord and lady for some time, and they have already started revealing some of their character.

Mr Elliott said: “You do get to know them really well. We’ve given the lady a nickname but we can’t tell you what it is in case her namesake finds out!”

For more news from across the region visit newsnorthwales.co.uk

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