Sunday, 6 May 2012

Help to Solve a Victorian Art Mystery!

Hello again my dears.  Today's post is actually a request for some help to solve a very intriguing art mystery.

Northeast of Norwich in Norfolk is a beautiful building called Carrow Abbey, or Carrow Priory.  It's a former Benedictine Priory and the site dates from around 1154AD, which is astonishing.  However, help is needed for the work done in the nineteenth century.

In 1878, the Priory was purchased by J.& J. Colman, of mustard fame.  They had a large factory at Carrow by the 1860s and had been granted the Royal Warrant, supplying mustard to Queen Victoria.  Much research has been done into the building, but there is some puzzlement as to the creator of a beautiful mural and some glorious Persian tiles...

The exceptionally lovely fireplace
Close-up on tiles
Starting with the tiles, they reminded me of some I saw in Kelmscott, which I believe were actual proper Persian tiles, but they could be de Morgan, as the Russell-Cotes Museum and Art Gallery have some similar, 'raised' tiles in their collection.  However, I've had a trundle through some de Morgan images and haven't found a match yet.  Any thoughts, my learned friends?

Look in the gallery above...

Section of Mural

As you can see by the first picture, in the gallery above is a wall covered in a glorious 'woodland' themed mural.  There are horse chestnut trees, apple trees, a peacock, butterflies and  roses...

Close-up on dove
Across the horse chestnut tree fly a series of doves, encircled by golden rings... 

And in the corner, roses grow in a tangled trellis of branches, alongside lilies and rabbits...

How the elements fit together
Looking at the mural, the rose branches, the apple trees and the minute details all bring Morris & Co to mind, especially when compared to the Forest design or Pomona...

Pomona tapestry
Peacock detail from Forest tapestry

But what do you lot think?  Brian Ayers would like to hear from anyone who has any thoughts on the tiles and the mural, so drop him an email if you would like to suggest a possible answer to this mystery.  Brian can be reached via

I do like a nice mystery and only wish I lived closer to Norfolk.  Let's see if we can help solve this one, because if anyone can help, I'm sure you lot can.


  1. I don't know Kirsty but a copy of Adoration of the Magi (tapestry)was commissioned in 1906 for the Colma Family of Carrow Abbey so there was a connection.

  2. It's really lovely, but did you realize I solved your older query about the vesting priest that's not a lamp hanging near him but a thurible or censor.

  3. Thanks for your comments. It would be lovely if Carrow Priory can find the answer, it's a gorgeous mural.

  4. I bet they are De Morgan tiles because Norwich has a De Morgan connection. I found this factoid on the V& A website.
    The Norwich firm of Barnard, Bishop and Barnard made the fireplaces that were the settings for De Morgan's tiles.
    The Norwich Museum has A collection of De Morgan pottery.

  5. Thanks Judy, that's very helpful. It does seem a very likely answer what with the local connection. See, you lot are brilliant!

  6. Re the six doves on the mural and the single tree.I can't help wondering if there is a link with its design and the window at the Castle end of the Royal Arcade? I did have the good fortune to attend a training course in the Great hall itself some years back - I recall the mural has three initials and the date of 1906 I think in hte bottom right corner. I did make a sketch of it at the time but I have been hunting around for it but no luck so far.

    1. Thank you so much for your reply, I'll alert Brian to see if he is still searching :)

  7. I have now found the notes I made at the time. In the very bottom right of the mural are actually two sets of initials. The initials GAR or GAH (couldn't quite make if it was an R or an H) followed by a plus sign and the initials FHH and the date 1906.

  8. FHH IS Frederick Holman Hunt

  9. I don't know if you or Brian are still investigating this but one of my readers in Norfolk has said, in response to me sharing your post, that he came across similar tile work at Elveden Hall the former home of the late Duleep Singh. Over to you!

  10. The name Colman (possibly) comes from the gaelic for white dove.


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx