One-of-a-kind church artwork to be returned to former glory

w134005b'The World War 1 memorial triptych which hangs in St Hildas Church and is need of cleaning to restore its artistry'Picture by Neil Silk '01/10/13

w134005b'The World War 1 memorial triptych which hangs in St Hildas Church and is need of cleaning to restore its artistry'Picture by Neil Silk '01/10/13

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An unusual piece of artwork which adorns a prominent Whitby church is set to be returned to its former glory.

To mark 100 years since the start of the First World War, which it commemorates, the triptych at St Hilda’s Church on the West Cliff is to receive a facelift.

w134005d'The World War 1 memorial triptych which hangs in St Hildas Church and is need of cleaning to restore its artistry'Picture by Neil Silk '01/10/13

w134005d'The World War 1 memorial triptych which hangs in St Hildas Church and is need of cleaning to restore its artistry'Picture by Neil Silk '01/10/13

The triptych is a three-panel piece of artwork, surrounded by wood, which acts as a memorial to the victims of the First World War. It is inscribed with the names of 27 men and women from the church’s congregation who were killed in that conflict.

The project has been organised by Grace Grey, who said: “I just feel that with all the connections to Whitby it would be a shame to let it disintegrate.”

The triptych has been well-looked after so it does not need any repair. But after 100 years - the exact date it was installed remains a mystery - it is beginning to show its age.

Grace and her husband George have lived in Whitby since 1981 and have regularly attended church services in the town since then.

She added: “We have been coming to this church each Sunday and we have been many times. We’re beginning to fit in with the congregation and we are being made welcome. We asked the congregation if they were interested in raising funds for the triptych and they were very keen.”

The paintings are the work of Charles H Thompson, the brother-in-law of Frank Meadow Sutcliffe.

He married the famous photographer’s sister Heather in 1898, but himself never lived in Whitby.

There is also no record of Thompson being paid for completing the artwork.

He exhibited numerous times throughout his life at the Royal Academy, but was never made a fellow there.

The triptych is unusual as in the place of apostles, the figures around the base of the cross are instead soldiers and other military figures.

The left panel features sailors and merchant navymen and to the right are nurses.

Grace said: “The tradition is you are more likely to get a triptych where you see apostles in the main bit, and it’s not at all unusual for the side panels to have senior statesmen and other people of the time. But I have never seen one with soldiers. It’s quite rare in our experience.”

With some soldiers looking straight at the image of Christ upon the cross, and others holding their head in their hands, there are various interpretations as to the meaning of the painting.

“Maybe they all look at the Christ for either help or comfort,” said Grace. “I think what you see in that picture is something reflecting in how you feel. Everybody will see something different.”

The cleaning work of the painting itself is to be completed by Jim Devonport, a former senior lecturer at Northumbria University.

It will be cleaned and varnished, while the wooden surround will be conserved by Watson Grey cabinet makers.

To help raise funds for the work, Grace has produced a 2014 calendar which will be available from St Hilda’s and St Mary’s churches in Whitby.

To donate any funds to the scheme, contact St Hilda’s Parish Church office.