17th-century mural at Madingley Hall

This image of a bear hunt is taken from one of three remarkable wall paintings in the Murals Room at Madingley Hall.

What is it?

The house dates from the mid-16th century and is now home to the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Continuing Education. The Murals Room is accessed from the south-east turret which was built in 1543.  The room is reached by an oak staircase with solid block treads and might have been used as a withdrawing room by the Hynde family who owned the Hall for many generations.  It is thought that the murals were commissioned in the late 16th or early 17th century by Sir Edward Hynde, who was a great hunting enthusiast, and it's likely that the scenes show activities in the park at Madingley. One theory suggests that Sir Edward himself is portrayed in the murals. The wall paintings were discovered in 1906 under layers of tapestry by Colonel Harding, owner of the Hall at that time.  The University purchased the Hall in 1948 and the murals underwent restoration in 1960.

What’s the story?

Hunting is imbedded into British history both as a means of procuring food and as a sport. Prowess on the hunting field was the mark of gentility and a tract published in 1568 maintained: “There is a saying among hunters that a gentleman cannot be a gentleman which loveth not hawking and hunting” and "he cannot be a gentleman which loveth not a dog". The murals at Madingley Hall show three scenes: bear hunting, boar hunting and hawking. In addition there are two decorative panels. The bear hunt shown here features hunters on horseback and servants on foot accompanied by mastiffs and greyhounds. Historians have suggested that Madingley Hall was a hunting lodge before it became a permanent home. Wild bears became extinct in Britain before the Normal Conquest but bear-baiting remained popular until the 19th century. Sir Edward Hynde kept bears for baiting and had a special oven for baking bread for them.

Can we see it?

The Murals Room and Turret Staircase at Madingley Hall are open only on an occasional basis and by prior arrangement.  In his bookMedieval Hunting (History Press, 2003 and 2011) and History Today (vol.61, issue four, April 2011), historian Richard Almond explores the history of the murals in more depth. For online information on the history of Madingley Hall and a full programme of its courses go to: http://www.ice.cam.ac.uk/

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