Pictures and images of the great Sir Winston Churchill are not hard to find.
However, while in the process of demolishing the former recreation hall at St Mary’s Hospital, near Stannington, in 2010, workers from Bellway did not expect to come across a hand-drawn charcoal caricature portrait of the former Prime Minister drawn on a distempered brick wall supporting the main stage.
The artist added their initials, AZ, and next to that was ENSA and the date – it was drawn in 1943.
The firm’s Stannington Park development at the site and on surrounding land includes dozens of homes and other facilities.
“We knew that we had uncovered something special and of historical significance,” said Bellway’s sales director, Rob Armstrong.
“Who AZ was we will never know, but we can assume that the artist was probably a performer or stage hand from ENSA (the Entertainments National Service Association).
“Clearly this was something that had to be preserved and returned to the village community that we are establishing at Stannington Park.
“In preserving the caricature, we had to be particularly careful as the panel was already in a very delicate state having survived in extremely damp conditions and the structure of the wall after so many years of decay was also very weak.
“I am delighted to say that we have now relocated the Churchill panel into the chancel of the former chapel, which has also now been restored and brought back into use as a community centre.
“The mural will have pride of place as quite rightly befits one of this country’s greatest leaders.”
Bellway appointed specialist conservation architects Spence & Dower LLP to oversee the removal and protection of the drawing.
The design method involved the careful removal of the supporting wall, weighing around 1.5 tonnes, and placing it into storage.
Originally known as Gateshead Mental Hospital, near Stannington, the psychiatric hospital was built between 1910 and 1914 to designs by George T Hine and H Carter-Pegg of London.
It was built to accommodate up to 500 patients and comprised two storeys, built of brick as a series of pavilions, with a chapel, recreation hall and administration wing.
It later became a TB isolation hospital and during the Second World War, part of it was requisitioned by the British Army as an emergency admissions hospital.
From 1947, when absorbed into the NHS, it became known as St Mary’s Hospital, which closed in 1995.