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Medieval Graffiti - Newsletter Articles - Vol 76, Autumn 2021

Workmen graffiti at the Hospital of St Cross by Karen Wardley

When carrying out the graffiti survey at St Cross the team came across many inscriptions left by workmen, recording names, dates and often the work carried out. Many of these inscriptions were left in the upper levels of the church, hidden from the view of most visitors. (Figure 1. below)

Names of workmen Figure 1.

Researching these names is just one of the many areas of study resulting from our survey. Over 70 dated names were found, including some which recurred several times. One of these was the surname Newman. Although we were unable to access local archives during lockdown, Catherine Secker, the St Cross porter, kindly gave me a copy of Fred Newman’s Memories of St Cross, written in 1998. Fred was born and brought up in St Cross, was a choirboy in the church, and had worked on the site for 50 years as a member of his family’s building firm, before becoming a brother in 1976. The memoirs include detailed accounts of some of the jobs he carried out there, including helping to remove the controversial painted decoration put in by William Butterfield in the 19th century. Apparently an extremely strong solvent had to be used which necessitated rubber gloves and frequent replacement of brushes. We came across many instances of work recorded by different members of the Newman family, including Fred, who helped distemper the lower belfry arches in October 1923 with J. Newman, presumably his brother, “but not with two put loges (sic) and a pair of steps”. We did find a reference to “cleaning off the paint” (presumably Butterfield’s) in 1928, but this was made by another contemporary workman, W. Laishley, whose name also occurs frequently, often with other members of the Newman firm.

There are two wooden carts which belonged to the Newmans’ building firm in the collections held by the Hampshire Cultural Trust, which provide another tangible link to Fred’s story. (Figure 2 below)

Wooden cart - HCT Collections Figure 2

It is very satisfying when graffiti inscriptions, local history records and museum items tie together so neatly and this example again shows the importance of graffiti as an historical resource.

If anyone would like to help us with further research into the other workmen who left their names at St Cross we’d be delighted to hear from you. Contact me at

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