The Hidden Murals

Revisiting the Railway Inn

Trisha invited John and I to have a private tour of 91 Wellington Road. I was eager to see our old living room where John had told me about "the devils in the walls". It was strange to think that this storeroom was the place where we lived 50 years ago.

The photo on the right shows the wall where John's "devils" were found. With Trisha's permission, John tore away the wallpaper hoping to find the images. On this ocasion, all we found was blue emulsion.


An Amazing Discovery

A little while after that first visit to Turners, Trisha contacted John to tell him of an amazing discovery. Apparently, while work was underway to renovate our old living room to make way for a new art gallery, her son has told her that an image of a child had been revealed when the wallpaper was removed. I believe Trisha's initial reaction was that her son was playing a practical joke on her, but examination soon brought to light an image of a child gazing up at a seated figure of a woman holding a baby.

After painstaking effort, further images came to light. The images were painted on the bare plaster, and then painted over with distemper and finally hidden by layers of wallpaper. These images were in various states of repair: they had suffered badly over the decades, but two were in surprisingly good condition.

Trisha uncovered four murals. None of them were as John remembered in his account of “The Devils in the Walls”. (I do recall that my father mentioned the murals in passing a few years ago).

Shortly after the discovery, John and I were able to visit and I took several photos and a home video.

On this page, I have attempted to describe and interpret what I have seen. Please bear in mind that I have absolutely no background in this field, and so you should consider me to be an interested onlooker. If you have any knowledge that can throw any light on the matter, I'll gladly add your comments to this page. You can contact me directly using the contact page, or if you prefer, just add your comments to our blog.

Images of the Lady

Three of the murals have a woman as subject. I'm tempted to conclude that all three relate to the same woman and that the artist was female.


Lady with Anchor

Of the three, this one is in the best condition. The elements of the composition that are clear:

  • an anchor with curved bright metal arms, a wooden shank, and a thick coiled rope
  • a three masted ship that might be a "clipper"
  • lady with backpack or scarf, diaphanous gown with high waist and puff sleeves, bare feet and brow ornament

I have no background in the study of history so I can only speculate that these features potentially date the composition to approximately 1820s to 1840s. (I'd be grateful to anyone who can help with the dating).




The diaphanous gown and the hair ornament are at odds with the woman's bare feet. Can we infer that she had had a financially comfortable background but had recently fallen on hard times? The anchor (which she is holding) indicates that she is anchored to the land. She appears to be waving to the ship.

The other significant element in the mural is the anchor itself. The artist has accentuated the arms to the extent that they look like arrows, perhaps to indicate a choice that had to be made: stay on land or travel with the ship? If that's the case, perhaps the woman was not abandoned by her lover, but chose to stay.


Lady with Children

This mural appears to be showing a seated lady holding a baby. The woman's dress has long sleeves. There is a suggestion of gauze at her neckline.


One child on the right dressed in blue is looking up at her and there is a suggestion of another child on the left. One can just discern that the child dressed in blue, has puff sleeves.


Sadly, this mural is no longer viewable. All that is left are these photographs.


Lady with Skull

The third image in the set was badly damaged. The woman's head covering, and the presence of the skull in the picture suggest that she is in mourning.


The Fireplace Mural

I'm intrigued by the possibility that this mural is representing a shipwreck.

The is an ambiguity about the action of the central figures. The detail shows that money is changing hands. But who is receiving the money? When I first looked at the image, I thought that money was being proferred by the wealthy figure on the right. I've changed my mind now, and I believe that the money is being taken from the figure in rags.

I'm tempted to think that the painting was inspired by a shipwreck of an American merchant ship, Commerce. The sailing ship ran aground in 1815 at Cape Bojador, off the coast of what is now Western Sahara. Far more famous than the ship itself is the story of the crew who survived the shipwreck, who went on to become slaves of local tribes who captured them. The story was published in 1820 entitled “An authentic narrative of the loss of the American brig Commerce” and later reissued as Sufferings in Africa.

Of course, this is just conjecture.

The elements of the composition are:

  • The action is taking place on a beach.
  • The figures on the left are in various states of distress. One man with a shepherd's crook is being supported by an arm around his waist. A child, with hand over eyes, has his back to the other people. One person is prostrate as if struggling to reach the land.
  • The wealthy central figure is holding a camel, there is an elephant and another camel in the background and several sheep are dotted around the foreground.
  • The people on the right side are clearly wealthy. They have good quality boots, the main figure has a scimitar or other curved sword. His turban is decorated with jewels or beads.
  • The bottom left of the mural shows some items that might be flotsam, one item appears to be a bottle. A colourful item is in the water at the bottom centre.
  • There is a suggestion of some buildings in the top left. One has a flat roof and another has an apex.

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