The Murals at Challock Church

The Lady Chapel Mural

After the restoration of the church, Jack Botley, then churchwarden, had the inspiration for a mural in The Lady Chapel. In 1951 a competition was held at the Royal Academy for all art students in the principal arts schools in London. 37 students entered and it was won by Rosemary Aldridge and Doreen Lister. The theme was to be dedicated to Ss Cosmas and Damian, our two saints, who were twins and were doctors and vets.

The mural is painted in medieval style. On the north wall the first scenes depict agriculture, sport, fishing and falconry. The roundels on the second half of the wall illustrate six episodes in the lives of saints, ministering to sick children, being arraigned for their faith before the roman governor, the saints baptism, fire refusing to harm them, practising surgery and finally the two saints in their restored church. The south wall shows the adoration of Jesus by the three wise men (picture to left), the massacre of the innocents and the flight into Egypt. The last section of the mural is about the charter of AD824 with the wall representing Canterbury and the people of Challock are seen on their way to the city. The sea was introduced to represent the signing of the charter of Reculver.

The Chancel Mural

Following the success of the Lady Chapel Mural, which had been paid for by his aunt, Jack Botley decided to have a further mural painted in the chancel to her memory, this time by the young John Ward, then a book and magazine illustrator, and his great friend Gordon Davies. John Ward wrote that the commission was one of the highlights of his life, introducing him to a church and place which possessed a magic, rare and constant.

The Theme of this mural is the life of Christ set in the area around Challock. John and Gordon set about preparing for this work in the winter of 1955. Sketches were made and the preliminary drawings were enlarged and eventually traced onto the walls where they were painted on in oil. The flora and fauna were painted by Gordon and the figures by John, using local people, friends and family as models. The murals start from the west with the Annunciation, then the birth taking place in the barn on the right hand side of the road as you approach the church, the baptism, St Peter and St Paul and then on the south wall is the view into the tomb.

The Millennium Mural

In 1997 an article in the Parish Magazine, The Forester, asked the village if they thought another mural in the church would be suitable to commemorate the millennium. The response was very good and the vicar insisted that John Ward be asked to recommend an artist. “Nobody else but me and Gordon” came the reply! The subject of the mural is Christ riding into Challock in the year 2000. There are 85 portraits by John Ward on the wall and Gordon Davies painted the flora and fauna. Gabriella Denny and Sally Penfold were two art students who also worked on the mural. The Mural was paid for by donations and anything from £1000 to £10 was acceptable as John wanted to make sure everybody who wanted to be involved could be.

Once the painting began the money poured in. £50 for a bumble bee was one of the first requests and towards the end John began to worry that he would run out of space! John did the sketching for the portraits in his studio, then the students blocked them up and prepared them on the wall for John to paint. The Yew tree outside the church is the anchor for the mural and was painted by Gordon. The murals have been well publicised: BBC World News did a feature on them, The Mail on Sunday brought out a feature on January 1st 2000 and Amica Oldfield wrote a lovely article for Country Life. Visitors come from near and far and Prince Charles visited a few months before John died. The sketches John did for the portraits were drawn on a large scroll and exhibited in the Mall Galleries before going on a tour of Britain.

Our two artists now lie side by side in the churchyard which is where they both wanted to be.