Two paintings in St Peter’s Church, Great Totham, are to be conserved and redisplayed in the church, thanks to grants from Heritage Lottery Fund, the Essex Heritage Trust, and the Church Buildings Council, as well as private donations.
Both the oil paintings have been in St Peter’s since at least 1831. This was the year of publication of G. W. Johnson’s History of the Parish of Great Totham, and one of the paintings – ‘Great Totham Church’ by Miss Hayter – was engraved for the frontispiece. The original has not been seen properly for a long time; until last year it was hidden behind a cupboard in the vestry, where it had suffered badly from damp and dirt. It shows the church as it was before changes to the building later in the 19th century, and so is an important historical record as well as a charming work of art. The identity of ‘Miss Hayter’ has not been confirmed, but there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that she was Ann Hayter (1795-1854), daughter of the painter Charles Hayter and herself an accomplished artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy. Charles Hayter lived in Witham for a few months in 1821 and knew the Revd Thomas Foote Gower, the curate (and later vicar) of Great Totham who at one time owned the painting.
The other painting is the ‘Adoration of the Magi’, which was originally given to the church to use as a reredos but in recent years has been hanging by the font. According to Johnson it was given to the church by Mrs Frances Lee of Maldon and came from a chapel attached to Messing House. It is hoped that further investigation will identify Mrs Lee and Messing House, and also the original of which the church’s painting is presumed to be a copy.
Some versions of the engraving of ‘Great Totham Church’ (of which there are various examples in the Essex Record Office) state that Miss Hayter’s painting was in the possession of Charles Clark, the doggerel poet and amateur printer who lived in Great Totham Hall (and printed Johnson’s History). Clark, Gower, and the brothers G. W. and C. W. Johnson were the centre of a social and cultural circle that flourished in Great Totham from the 1820s to the 1840s, and to mark the anticipated return of the paintings an event is being held in the church on Saturday 1 November 2014, provisionally entitled ‘Miss Hayter, Mr Gower, and Mr Clark: Great Totham in 1821 (or thereabouts)’. This will take the form of an afternoon of short talks and related events, including an introduction to Great Totham in the 1820s by Clive Potter; readings of Charles Clark’s poems by poet and art historian Adam Crick (who, it is hoped, will also recite his own poem in the style of Clark written specially for the occasion); demonstrations by amateur printer and Charles Clark aficionado Alan Brignull; and a contribution by Dr Carrie Griffin of the University of Bristol who, with Dr Mary O’Connell, has been studying Clark’s papers in the Essex Record Office (click here to read an account of their visit to Chelmsford and Great Totham in 2013). They uncovered this reference to Miss Hayter’s painting in a letter that Clark wrote to London bookseller John Russell Smith on 16 November 1842 [ERO D/DU 668/6]:
While you were packing up for me on Monday evening I was most comfortably dining & tossing down my wine at our worthy Vicar’s tithe-dinner, according to annual custom, in the very room from which Miss Hayter took her sketch of our Church that was engraved from for our History, & it was suspended against the wall just behind me. About a dozen of us spent a very pleasant 6 or 7 hours of it, I assure you. Most of us, I fear – not excepting even our spiritual pastor! – felt a little the worse for it yesterday, with headaches, &c. &c. Gower gave us some capital old port. We dined at about 4 & broke up at a little after 10, a very sober hour certainly!
Further information will be posted as it becomes available.