An artefact which has gazed down on congregations at Melton’s historic St Mary’s Church for more than 300 years has been getting some special treatment.
Visitors to the church will have seen the Royal Coat of Arms displayed high on the wall as they entered the main door but they would be astounded by the history behind it.
Constructed from six oak panels in a frame, it dates back to the 17th century and bears the cipher of King Charles II, who was on the throne for 55 years.
It has been given a rare thorough clean as part of the ongoing £1.9 million Re-Ordering Project at St Mary’s, the first major renovation programme of works there for 200 years.
And during the cleaning of the coat of arms, a multitude of shot holes were revealed which it appears were made when it was taken down during the English Civil War and used for musket shooting practice.
Sproxton conservator Alex Carrington, who has been cleaning the artefact, said: “It’s been shot at a lot of times. It can’t be anything else and the holes would back up the story that it was musket fire during the civil war.
“It’s certainly not an insect which has caused the damage.”
The incident with the church coat of arms is recorded by Melton Mowbray and District Historical Society, who say it was taken down and shot at by a Parliamentary garrison which was stationed in the town.
Melton borough was divided during the civil war with the bloodiest local battle taking place on February 23, 1645 on Dalby Road. Nearby Ankle Hill is so called because of the amount of blood which was shed. Around 150 men died when the Royalist forces of Sir Marmaduke Langdale charged down the hill to engage with the Parliamentarians, although it is unclear who won the battle.
The musket shot holes were first discovered embedded in it in 1951, when the coat of arms was taken down for restoration at the College
Mrs Carrington (49) spent a couple of weeks clambering up scaffolding in the church to clean the piece.
It was initially thought the oak panels would need to be taken down and re-touched, with the old varnish being cleaned off and a re-varnish carried out.
But Mrs Carrington felt the fixings were secure enough to be able to work on it while it still hung in the church.
She said: “It would have been a much bigger job had we had to take it down to clean.
“It’s very heavy, probably six-foot by six-foot and its fixed 30ft above ground.”
Despite its age, she said the artefact was in pretty good condition. Mrs Carrington, who is accredited to ICON (The Institute of Conservation), found some interesting details in the piece as she worked on it.
There was a tin patch nailed to it at some point when it was restored and a small white dog has been painted near the tail of the lion.
She observed some streaking on the work, which she believes may have been caused by a bird nesting in the church.
The coat of arms actually hangs at a slight angle but it appears straight when visitors look up at it in church.
“The paint is in good condition but it was very, very dirty,” Mrs Carrington added.
“You always err on the side of caution when you are cleaning something like this.
“It’s like dealing with a sick body – you have to ask yourself ‘what does it need to improve its life’.
“The coat of arms is a fabulous thing and I feel quite honoured to be able to work on it.”
The cleaning of the coat of arms was sponsored by Melton residents Graham and Helen Bett.
Mr Bett said: “We have often admired this important piece of Melton history and heritage and so we wished to see it preserved for future generations to enjoy.”
Go online to www.alexcarrington.co.uk to see more of Alex’s work as a conservator.