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Painted beams revealing not just a place in space, but a drama in time

What would you do if you discovered painted 16th century beams behind an important 17th century plaster ceiling?  Audrey Dakin, the SHBT project officer tells us about handling such delicate and delightful finds.

Painted beams revealing not just a place in space, but a drama in time
More historical beams uncovered

“We continue to discover fascinating early fabric which is carefully being recorded by CFA Archaeology, adding to our understanding of the development of Riddle’s Court.  All this will ultimately be included in the interpretation presented on the building – telling the fascinating story of this building and the people who lived and worked here.

“We were aware of the possibility of further painted ceilings in the building given the beautiful example already conserved within the building with motifs of a crowned eagle and the thistle.”  The crowned eagle and the thistle is thought to mark banquets attended by James VI and his brother-in-law Ulric, Duke of Holstein here in 1598. It was thought that James was looking for European support for his desire to take over to the throne of England on the death of Queen Elizabeth.

“It was a delight and a challenge to uncover more painted beams in a similar style in the adjoining room.  While this was an exciting discovery, it also gave us a dilemma about how to treat this early fabric, forcing a re-think of the approach towards introducing fire and acoustic separation in the ceiling – plus working out the funding needs for the conservation work for the ceiling in order to allow it to remain on display in the room.

“The decisions on how to manage these new discoveries require the expertise of the whole team.  This was also the case when it became clear that another painted ceiling exists above a 17th century plaster ceiling.  However this decision was relatively straightforward: the plaster ceiling dates from the mid seventeenth century and is a rare example of this type of decoration in its own right.  It also presents a curious puzzle in that it contains a date, some portions of which are written backwards and could be interpreted at 1648 or 1684.  Therefore the 16th century beams will remain in their original position to be discovered by future generations and will remain untouched.

 “It would be true to say that Riddle’s Court is already proving to be a place of learning before the Patrick Geddes Centre is up and running.”

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