Summary of Building
C18 town house with a room containing early C19 wall paintings.
Reasons for Designation
37-39 St John’s Street, an C18 town house with a room containing early-C19 wall paintings, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * Rarity: the house contains an extremely rare survival of an early-C19 panoramic room. There are thought to be less than ten known examples of this type and period in the country. * Artistic interest: the wall paintings are important evidence of what was once a relatively common practice of vernacular pictorial painting on plaster, a less expensive alternative to the painted wall papers with Dutch-style landscapes that became popular in the C18. They have been executed with an endearing charm and demonstrate the typical quality of this method of vernacular painting. * Historic interest: the paintings have a strong connection with the locality, having been executed by an Ashbourne-based artist who depicted local Derbyshire scenes, notably Kedleston Hall and the Meynell hunt. * Architectural interest: the house dates to the C18, and although altered internally, retains a characteristic Georgian façade. * Group value: the house forms part of the historic development of St John’s Street in which many of the houses, dating from the C17 to the C19, are listed.
In the early C19 a panoramic room was created on the first-floor of 37-39 St John’s Street. The wall paintings are in the tradition of the Dutch-style landscape painting that had taken root in Britain in the C17 and generated a wide range of over-mantel, over-door and whole wall schemes, painted either on plaster or panelling. They continued to be found in C18 and early C19 interiors as a more affordable version to the wall papers with Dutch-style landscape paintings that had come into fashion in the C18 but remained too expensive for many until later in the C19. The paintings in 37-39 St John's Street were subsequently covered up and rediscovered on numerous occasions.
In 1914 an article appeared in the Derby Mercury giving an account of how the wall paintings were discovered during repairs carried out in preparation for a new tenant. A thick layer of wallpaper was removed to reveal the landscape scenes ‘undoubtedly achieved by an artist of rare ability’. He was identified as Joseph Ravensdale who ‘flourished in Ashbourne a hundred years ago (Derby Mercury, 1914, p. 2). In response to this article, two letters were printed which stated that the artist was Joseph’s brother, Thomas Ravensdale (bapt. 1811, d. 1872), who engraved tombs and painted many of the public house signs in the area, including that of the George and Dragon in the Market Place and the Queen’s Arms in Mayfield. Ravensdale is said to have used his left hand to paint after having lost the use of his right arm in a paralytic stroke, and to have ended up in Ashbourne Workhouse. He was employed by the Pidcock family who carried on their business of painters and plumbers at the house in St John’s Street for fifty years. In a letter to the Derby Mercury, Charles Pidcock, who remembered both the artist and the painted room, identified the stately home in the painting as Kedleston Hall and deer park with the Meynell Hounds in full cry, and the other building as perhaps Sandybrook Hall, the one time residence of Sir Matthew Blakiston (the building does not resemble Sandybrook Hall however). He states that the lady is a portrait of his mother with two otter dogs standing by the Back Bridge in Hall Lane, Ashbourne, which leads over the fields to Sturston. After the 1914 discovery, the paintings were again covered up and forgotten about until 1966 when the paper was removed. This second rediscovery is the subject of an article in the Derbyshire Archaeological Journal (1966) which speculates that the paintings were executed by a member of the Bassano family who worked in Ashbourne as plasterers, gilders, painters and decorators throughout much of the C19. This is based on the fact that the oldest title deeds of the house (formerly the Three Crowns Inn), dating from 1824, describe a workshop on the property and adjoining the house as ‘lately in the possession of Mark Anthony Bassano and Thomas Hurd’. Given the first-hand accounts from 1914 identifying the artist as Thomas Ravensdale, it is almost certain that he was responsible for the wall paintings. There are no other buildings on the List associated with Ravensdale and little else is known about him. 37-39 St John’s Street has had various uses and, as a consequence, has been considerably altered. In the first quarter of the C19 it is recorded as a public house and as the premises of a painters and plumbers business. There was a painter’s workshop on the site up to about 1930. The ground floor is currently used as commercial premises, and in the 1990s the first and second floors were converted into flats. A small extension was built at the rear to accommodate a staircase providing rear access to the flats. The interior has been remodelled and its original configuration is now unclear. The principal staircase has been removed and very little of the original joinery and other fittings remain. Some of the sash windows were probably replaced in the second half of the C19, and some are modern replicas.
MATERIALS: red brick laid in Flemish bond under a roof covered in plain tiles.
PLAN: L-shape with a front range facing the street and a long range to the rear.
EXTERIOR: two bays, three storeys with cellar under a shallow pitched roof with wide ridge stacks at both ends. The eaves cornice of brick cogging continues along the rear range. A flight of semicircular steps leads up to the central doorway which has a six-panelled door, not original, with the upper two panels glazed. The door surround has fluted jambs and a keyed lintel of voussoirs, and the windows have flat arches with the same lintel. The canted bay window to the left of the door has two-over-two pane horned sashes. The window to the right is a four-over-four pane sash, as are those on the first floor, with that on the right a modern replacement. There are smaller two-over-two pane sashes on the second floor, both modern replacements. The left return has a single window with a Gothic brick arch and Y-tracery. The rear, accessed through a passageway on the right-hand side, is plain and has modern apertures.
INTERIOR: the house has been remodelled and retains very little that dates to its earliest phase. The bay window has a panelled soffit and jambs, and there are three four-panelled doors which are probably early C19 in date. On the ground floor is a Victorian-style fireplace with tiled sides and grey marble surround with brackets supporting the lintel, probably dating to the early C19. The first-floor room on the right has a round-arched fireplace with roll moulding and a plain timber surround, and there are two small C19 cast-iron fireplaces with timber surrounds on the second floor. The roof structure has been replaced.
The principal area of special interest is the panoramic room occupying the south-west corner of the first floor which measures approximately 4.5m by 2.7m. The four sides have been painted with oils directly onto plaster, a typical practice, in the space between the dado rail and the ceiling. The dado is not original, and there is the ghosting of an earlier fireplace on the east wall which was replaced, probably in the mid-C19, by a cast-iron fireplace with tiled sides which are painted black. It has a painted timber surround with a lintel supported on brackets. Small sections of the plaster have deteriorated and none of the wall painting remains above the door on the north wall, but overall the paintings have survived remarkably well. They depict a hunting scene and various buildings in a picturesque landscape, executed with little regard to perspective, but possessing great charm and interest nevertheless. On the long east wall in the foreground is a hunting scene with mounted huntsmen (and one woman) in green, black or scarlet coats galloping after the hounds in pursuit of the fox. In the background is a central craggy prominence on which rests a picturesque building with castellated parapets, elongated towers and huge pointed arch portals. It bears a resemblance to Haddon Hall or Bolsover Castle. On the far left is a Gothic building of ecclesiastical character, and a multi-storey mill. The landscape continues round on to the south wall up to the window frame. In the foreground is a lady in a long cloak and bonnet with a dog, standing by the side of a river, on the far side of which is a pedimented Classical temple with four fluted columns. The end of the temple is lost in a dense clump of trees out of which protrudes a cupola, the dome supported by a peristyle. On the left side of the west wall is depicted the east front of Kedleston Hall and deer park with a mountainous background. An undulating landscape occupies the rest of the wall with a hare coursing scene on the right. In the foreground is a man with two dogs, whose face has such a realistic character that it is tempting to think it is a portrait. On the north wall, up to the door, is a large, rambling castle by the sea, and a smaller building with a red hipped roof on the left. The castle is painted with less precision than the temple and Kedleston Hall, and it is likely that the two latter buildings were copied from an illustration.
Book Reference - Author: Ayres, James - Title: Domestic Interiors: the British Tradition 1500-1850 - Date: 2003
Book Reference - Author: Robert Gowing and Robyn Pender, eds - Title: All Manner of Murals: The History, Techniques and Conservation of Secular Wall Paintings - Date: 2007
Article Reference - Date: 10 and 11 April 1914 - Journal Title: Derby Mercury - Page References: p.2
Article Reference - Author: Hollick, Kathleen M - Date: 1966 - Journal Title: Derbyshire Archaeological Journal - Page References: pp 104-5
National Grid Reference: SK1813146787