Facelift begins to restore a slice of Norwich’s history

Work begins to restore John Moray-Smith's bas-relief of St Stephen's Gate. Photo: Bill Smith

Work begins to restore John Moray-Smith's bas-relief of St Stephen's Gate. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

New life is to be breathed into one of Norwich's most-loved pieces of public art, thanks to the city's civic watchdog.

Thousands of people pass the panel showing St Stephen's Gate, which adorns the Coachmakers pub in the city centre every day, but not many would be able to name the artist.

However, for the Norwich Society, that artist – John Moray-Smith – is one of the great unsung British artists of his time.

And the society, which has long been frustrated by the condition of the plaque on the St Stephen's Road pub, has commissioned Bedford Street-based Fairhurst Gallery to restore and repaint it, as part of the society's 90th anniversary celebrations.

Decades of dirt, built up from city centre traffic exhaust fumes, will be cleaned away to restore the panel to its former glory.

Mary Ash, chairman of the Norwich Society, said: 'This is a gift to the citizens of Norwich in the week that the Norwich Society celebrates the 90th anniversary of its foundation.

'We feel that this much-loved panel is an excellent example of the work of a unique public artist who has yet to receive the full recognition he deserves.'

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Moray-Smith worked for Morgan's Brewery during the 1930s, 40s and 50s, leaving the city and county with what the Norwich Society describes as 'a unique legacy of public art'.

His other work includes sculptures on the Prince of Denmark pub in Denmark Road; a panel on the Ber Street Gates pub and five plaques inside The Woolpack in Golden Ball Street.

More of his work from pubs around the county is on show in Cromer Museum, while some other examples are in the vaults of Norfolk Museum and Archaeology Service's stores at Gressenhall.

Yet the man, who died in 1958, remains surrounded in mystery. Moray-Smith was not even his real birth name and there are no known photographs of him.

Work on Moray-Smith's plaque on the Coachmakers pub started on Tuesday and is expected to continue for about a week.