Roof revelation

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Up in the rafters
Credit: Mike Peckett

Our beautiful Victorian roof is a masterpiece of wrought and cast iron topped with 8,500 glass tiles. It’s one of the first things our visitors notice when they enter the Museum, and its leaks are the reason we’re closed this year. But what many people don’t notice is that the glass is supported by decorated wooden struts, painted with bright geometric patterns, and contrasting surprisingly with the organic Gothic detail of the rest of the building.

Whilst the construction team from Beard were up in amongst the rafters last week, they spotted a surprising addition to the paint work. Hidden high up, and out of sight of even the most observant of visitors, was a message from the past. The roof decorators had left their names and the date of their work painted onto the woodwork for future generations to discover.

Roof graffiti

Credit: Mike Peckett

The message reads “This roof was painted by G. Thicke and J Randall, April 1864”. In general, we don’t approve of graffiti inside the Museum, but this discovery felt pretty special. Well done Randall and Thicke, you did a great job!

Rachel Parle, Education Officer

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About rachelparle

I'm Interpretation and Education Officer at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. I work with families, exhibitions, social media and lots of other fun projects. In my spare time I mostly like visiting other museums!

24 thoughts on “Roof revelation

  1. Fantastic!
    In the 90s when my parents had their house redecorated they used the original decorator of the house when it was built in the 60s. He was still going strong and added another date to to the ‘graffiti’ he had left over thirty years earlier under our stairs.

  2. from the census it could be George Thicke – decorator, he was 54 in 1864 and lived in Alma Place with a large family, I have just had a quick look but it looks as if he lodged away from his family in later years although his widow Margaret was the beneficially of his will in 1887

  3. I’m doing my family history and I think (George) Thicke, born 1809 may be one of the culprits! He is my husbands great, great, great grandfather & is listed in censuses as being a painter. He lived in St Clements.

  4. Hi I am Jill and I am working on the protocol needed for a traveling collection could you please help me to find anything on this topic. Thank you, Jill Czerwonky

  5. Yes – I think so – not sure why he was living apart from his family in 1871 and 1881 though. His wife was still in Oxford running a lodging house. Great to find he is a relative Debbie. Do you have access to the census records/probate etc. let me know if you need any look ups.

  6. I have trawled through the census records for oxford for 1861 onwards, J randall not so easy but I will have another look

  7. Aha! I have access to censuses etc & think I have traced J. Randall? 1861 & 1871 censuses list ‘John James Randall’ born 1840, residing in St Ebbes, and his occupation as a “Painter”!!

  8. Wow!!! This is all so exciting. Thanks so much everyone for making this little story into something really special. I’d like to do another post on the blog about how the story has spiralled. Does anyone have a nice image I could use? A snap-shot from the census for example?

  9. This is fascinating stuff,
    If this is the right J Randall born 1840 then at the time of the graffiti(1864)he would have been a mere youngster at 24. A J Randall still around in 1911 makes him about 71 years of age .

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