Detail of a wall painting at a house in Kent, showing 16th-century 'antique work'
Detail of a wall painting at a house in Kent, showing 16th-century 'antique work' © Historic England
Detail of a wall painting at a house in Kent, showing 16th-century 'antique work' © Historic England

Looking After Wall Paintings

There is a rich and widespread tradition throughout history for covering architectural surfaces with painted decoration. Until the 20th century, wall paintings were commonly used to decorate buildings of all types and status.

Plasters and renders could be covered with a wide range of painted decoration. This included plain colour and decorative patterns to highlight architectural features, the imitation of more expensive materials, figurative schemes, or even the creation of entire storylines across several walls, called narrative schemes.

Where you might find wall paintings

In historic buildings, wall paintings may survive exposed, but they are often hidden under layers of paint, plaster, or wallpaper (or all of these). They can also be concealed behind panelling or later walls or features.

Wall paintings are often found by accident during building works.

Wall paintings are especially vulnerable during redecoration or renovation works. During building works, it's usually necessary to protect important surface finishes. Advice on temporary protection will be published on this page soon.

Commissioning a conservator

Accredited conservators, who have obtained professional recognition through ICON, the Institute of Conservation’s Professional Accreditation of Conservator-Restorers (PACR) system, can be found on the Conservation Register database. With wall paintings, as with any other building materials, we highly recommend using a specialist conservator.

Before appointing a conservator, get several quotes. You should also ask to see examples of the conservators’ reports, so you feel confident with the commissioned conservation practice and their proposals. Conservation reports are essential in conservation projects; they may be required when applying for Faculties or Listed Building Consent. Find out here what standard is expected in conservation reports.

Further advice

In recent years, Historic England has published research and guidance on the conservation of wall paintings, and continue to provide specialist advice on the topic. For more information on wall painting conservation and the history of wall paintings in England, please refer to our further reading list.

Further specialist advice can be found through this list of contacts.

Learn more

View the 2020 webinar: Beneath the surface: concealed decoration.

Until the 20th century, wall paintings were commonly used to decorate buildings of all types and status. In historic buildings, wall paintings may survive exposed, but they are often hidden under layers of paint, plaster, or wallpaper (or all of these). They can also be concealed behind panelling or later walls or features. This webinar looks at how to assess the potential survival of historic painted decoration in a home or building, and what to do if wall paintings are discovered.

For the best webinar experience please use Google Chrome browser or download Adobe Connect.

Was this page helpful?