It’s all relative

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A while back we featured a great little story about some graffiti, which was discovered high up on the Museum roof. You may remember that it was painted by two of the craftsmen responsible for creating our beautiful Victorian building. The graffiti reads “This roof was painted by G. Thicke and J Randall, April 1864″

Roof graffiti

The graffiti in the rafters of the roof

The story picked up quite a lot of press attention, featuring in the Oxford Mail and BBC Oxford, and that blog post is our most-read so far. But one reader’s attention was particularly attracted by the names of the painters. Oxford resident Debbie Moorwood has been tracing her family history for some time, so when she spotted the familiar name G. Thicke, she decided to do some extra digging.

After consulting the Victorian censuses and tracing back through her family tree, Debbie revealed that painter George Thicke was actually directly related to her husband, Steve Moorwood. Steve is George’s great great great grandson!

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Staff from Beard and Purcell join Steve and Debbie in the roof rafters.

Excited by her discovery, Debbie contacted us directly through this blog and we thought this was a fantastic opportunity for the graffiti artist’s relatives to see his work up close.

So, last week I had the pleasure of meeting Debbie and Steve Moorwood and we joined staff working on the roof project to climb high up into the roof. It was also a good opportunity for Debbie to share her discoveries about her distant relative, George Thicke. He was born in Glastonbury in around 1809, so would have been roughly 55 when he painted the graffiti on our roof. He is first spotted living in Oxford in the 1841 census, when he was a resident of the Cowley Road and, most importantly, listed as a painter! Later he moved around the area, living in St Clements, Headington and finally Shotover, before his death in 1887.

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Debbie said of the experience: “We had an amazing time visiting the Museum roof. We never expected to get a full guided tour of the whole building and Steve loved it, especially the building works. We can’t wait for the roof to be finished and for the Museum to open again, when we’ll be dragging our kids & family in to have a look. I think the museum has become quite a special place for us now.”

We now have a good picture of one of our infamous roof painters, but J Randall remains a bit of a mystery to us. So far, we think he was John James Randall of St Ebbes, Oxford, but we know very little else. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could track down one of his relatives next?

Rachel Parle, Education Officer

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