Commercial mural

project story
John Gilroy mural restoration

June 2022

The Morritt Hotel and Spa in Greta Bridge, near Barnard Castle is a hotel with a past. Legend has it that the renown artist John Gilroy, creator of the famous Guiness advertising campaigns of the 1940s, was on his way to paint the portrait of Major Morritt, the then owner of the hotel. It was the winter of 1946 and the snow was such that Gilroy found himself snowed into the hotel for a couple of weeks. 

During his enforced stay there, he ran up quite a bill, mainly on gin it seems, so to discharge his debt, he painted a large, detailed mural on the wall of the Dickens Bar. Using the staff and locals as inspiration, he chose a scene from Huckleberry Finn, which echoed his own plight. The mural has been subject to damage through leaky pipes, extractor fan installations and most notably cigarette smoke and was looking every inch of it’s age when the General Manager, Paul Riley decided that action needed to be taken. “After an extensive search, we contacted Charlotte Designs based on similar projects we saw online. Following further consultation we had confidence that Sarah and her team had the knowledge, experience and expertise to perform the restoration to a fantastic standard.”

The extractor fan had not been working for years and so was removed, and the area replastered. Cleaning had revealed that the blue sky had originally been quite bright and the ‘yellow’ was in fact snow!

Many areas of the water damaged corner had already been lost and so the area was recreated using photos.





Firstly, the mural was cleaned with a degreaser and this revealed that the original colours were much lighter and brighter than originally thought. The other thing it revealed, is that much of the lighter coloured paint had been irrevocably stained, meaning it would have to be replaced. The repairs to the water-stained area and the removal of the extractor fan also meant that these areas would have to be repainted. A further problem had been caused by the poor application of inappropriate varnish. Large drips of varnish were evident on many areas of the mural and these had to be carefully removed. Once this had been completed, the mural could be repainted. Extensive research had to be carried out as many areas were completely obliterated and extreme care was taken to emulate every brush stroke.

Finally, the mural was retreated with two coats of specialist protector, which will keep it looking good for the next 70 years.

Lurke Street octopus with artist and commis

The Outcome

Slowly, the characters started to appear from the nicotine fog. Details that had been lost for many years were restored and colours that had been stained and faded, were brought back to life. “The aim was to still retain the old feel of the mural, not make it look shiny and new.” said Sarah Hodgkins of Charlotte Designs. “If Gilroy were to walk back in here today, I would want him to say, ‘it’s lasted really well’.” 

“We are delighted with the finished project, which was handled from start to finish with care, confidence and professionalism.” Paul Riley added. “We would recommend Sarah and her team to anyone interested in mural painting or restoration work, and can not thank them enough for the outstanding job they completed at The Morritt.”

You can read more about this project on The Morritt Hotel’s website, where there is also a time lapse video of the painting and there is also a piece by the BBC who picked up the story.

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