When I visited Drakeholes to photograph the canal tunnel my curiosity was piqued by brown tourist road-signs marked ‘Traquair murals’ because I didn’t recognise the name.
That’s because I’m neither Scots nor a fine-art aficionado.
Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852-1936) was Irish by birth, an illustrator, jewellery designer and embroiderer whose mural painting was mostly done in Scotland. Only two of her mural schemes are in England, and one of them is a couple of miles down the road from Drakeholes, at St Peter’s Church, Clayworth.
The church itself is interesting – built in the twelfth century, restored in 1874-5 by John Oldrid Scott, Grade I listed.
Phoebe Anna Traquair, who married a Scots palaeontologist, was a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland, and the first woman to be elected to the Royal Scottish Academy,
The Traquair Murals dated from 1904-5, and were restored by Elizabeth Hirst in 1996. They were given by Lady D’Arcy Godolphin Osborne as a thank-offering for the safe return from the Boer War of her son, Captain Joseph Frederick Laycock DSO (1867-1952), of Wiseton Hall. As Joe Laycock he competed for Britain in the 1908 Olympics with his friend the 2nd Duke of Westminster.
The murals cover all four walls of the chancel, illustrating in rich colours and gilding a comprehensive figurative scheme and incorporating portraits of local children: several of the figures on the north wall, bringing gifts to the Christ Child, are members of the Laycock family, and some of the adjacent Angel Choir are actual choristers, including Tony Otter (1896-1986), who was Suffragan Bishop of Grantham from 1949 to 1965, and his cousin Jack Martin.
The murals are claimed, collectively, to be the largest artwork in eastern England.
Size doesn’t matter. They’re beautiful, and worth seeking out in this gem of a church, set in the countryside between Bawtry and Gainsborough in north Nottinghamshire.
Clayworth stands on the B1403 road south of Gringley-on-the-Hill. St Peter’s Church is open daily.