The Twentieth Century Society

Review: Rediscovery and Restoration: Murals by Evelyn Gibbs at St Martin’s Church, Bilborough

Pauline Lucas (Shoestring Press, 50pp, £10)

Reviewed by Elain Harwood

St Martin’s is a tiny village church from about the 1370s that was engulfed by Nottingham’s first and most interesting post-war housing estate. In 1946 the incumbent, Father Marshall, commissioned the muralist Evelyn Gibbs to depict the Annunciation on either side of the East window. There is the Virgin and the Angel Gabriel, with Bilborough church and farm behind them. Or there was; because when the chancel was extended in 1972, a timber ceiling was inserted across the lot and the lower parts of the mural were painted over.

Then, when the medieval church tower needed repairs in 2009, local electricians broke into the roof void to check out defective wiring. Luckily, the dynamic new churchwarden, Hilary Wheat, had vague memories of Gibbs’s mural from her early childhood, and warned them to look out for it. This little book is the story of their unearthing and restoration, along with the chancel’s 19th century ceiling, the East window and a new stone floor. It is a heroic story of lottery-fund chasing and hard work, of finding the right people and bringing pride to a part of Nottingham where it has been in short supply. It is also a biography of Gibbs, born and trained in Liverpool, who was evacuated to Nottingham with her students from Goldsmiths’ College, London. In 1943 she formed a designers group, which encouraged a series of murals commissions and (much later, as the Midland Group) opened its own gallery.

Shoestring Press are to be congratulated for showing that small-scale publishing can be well-designed, though it is a shame that the book is not better edited, and that there is no picture of the painted shell from which the murals emerged in 2014.