Caverstede Early Years Centre Mural
– 11 Years Later

It might be fate, it might be bad luck, but over the many years I have been building a digital version of the photographic archive of my paintings I have experienced hard disk crashes on three occasions. The last time this happened my back-up system failed too which caused a large swathe of material to disappear into the ether.

There’s nothing one can do in this situation but to begin the task once more however amongst the numerous writings and photographs lost there are always some pieces of work that can never be retraced again. As far as written work is concerned it’s like having suffered a fire and the same could be said for paintings if they have been sold, and if they are mural paintings they may have deteriorated beyond recognition or even been demolished.

One painting which ‘disappeared’ and caused a gap in my archive was a ‘Bigger Picture’ painted for Caverstede School, Peterborough in 2003 so a couple of weeks ago I made a tentative contact in the slim hope that the painting might still exist. There was a terrific sense of relief when the response was positive. I was told there was a large painting in place at the school, however knowledge of it was very limited as there had been significant changes since my painting was installed, with both Head Teacher and many other staff members having departed.

Back in 2003 the Head Teacher was Christine Parker, who asked if I would paint a large landscape based composition for the outside area of the school. She loved the landscape she drove through as she travelled to work each morning and wanted to share these special features with the children, who she felt may not have witnessed the countryside beyond the city. Several details were mentioned in our discussions about the painting and I then produced a working drawing for her to consider as ‘A Capriccio view of a Cathedral City on the edge of the Fens’. I presented a composite image which suggested the appearance, elements and specific features of the Peterborough landscape without the viewpoint being from a particular location.

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My working drawing showed that although one side of the city was very flat, on the other side the landscape became more undulating. Flat land also presents large skies with the opportunity for spectacular cloudscape formations, and features such as the cathedral, bridges, shopping centres, parkways, industry, the Flag Fen Bronze Age site and several others were included as integral elements of the composition.

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When the painting was installed in its original position it doubled as a climbing wall, so I was particularly surprised to see the painting still standing and in such good condition 11 years later. I was so pleased I was able to photograph it in situ again. The painting had been moved as a new extension had been built and it had been modified too, with some sections cut out to accommodate the architectural features of the new building.

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I wouldn’t describe the painting as damaged, it has simply been adapted in order to work in its new space. The rainbow is missing, but if you weren’t aware one existed in the original painting you’d never know, its removal hasn’t spoilt it. This certainly isn’t the first time a painting has been altered in order to fit somewhere new and it has happened to far more important paintings than mine, ‘The Night Watch‘ by Rembrandt being an example that immediately springs to mind.

This was a particularly special project for me because Henri, my wife and better looking other half, worked with me on the project too. She had a tougher task to complete though, spending most of her time on her knees as she worked with cement to produce a decorative footpath. To continue the theme suggested by Christine, Henri produced a footpath to appear as though it was an archeological dig revealing clues to the industrial heritage of the city. One section used timbers to suggest the footbridge at Flag Fen, there were tiles as a reference to our Roman past and she also included many old tools, cog wheels, horse shoes, bicycle wheels etc. both as impressions as well as being set into the path to illustrate past occupations of city residents in agriculture, construction, engineering and brick making.

Meeting up with this painting again felt like coming across an old lost friend. As far as Henri’s ‘Heritage’ footpath is concerned, it’s a little uncanny that within the last couple of years archeological excavation work has revealed a grand Roman Villa at Itter Crescent less than a 10 minute walk from the school.