Fears over fate of Sick Kids murals

THE trustees of one of Edinburgh's most celebrated artists have raised concerns about the future of elaborate murals at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children.

The 120-year-old murals were painted by Phoebe Anna Traquair, whose most famous work draws thousands of visitors to the city's Mansfield Traquair Centre.

But plans to move the Sick Kids from its Sciennes home have raised concerns about what will happen to the murals in the hospital's mortuary. It is thought the building is likely to be sold to housing developers if health chiefs press ahead with their plans.

The Mansfield Traquair Trust has called for a national debate on the future of the murals, which depict motherhood and the "journey of the spirit".

Trust secretary Rosemary Mann said: "Whatever the plans for the redevelopment of the site might be, it is essential that the preservation and restoration of the murals is assured.

"The mortuary is in the centre of the site and any developer will have to be very ingenious to incorporate it successfully into any scheme - bound to be predominantly residential."

Phoebe Anna Traquair was a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement and painted the murals, which feature gilded images of angels, in the 1880s.

They were originally incorporated into the mortuary of the previous Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Lauriston, before it was moved to the existing location at Sciennes in 1894.

Parts of the murals were damaged when they were moved, and the trust is keen to ensure its panels are protected if they are moved a second time.

If they remain on the site and are incorporated into any new office or housing development, historians are seeking guarantees that they will be protected.

The trust recently completed a two-year, 500,000 painstaking restoration programme of Traquair murals on the ceiling of the former Mansfield Church in the New Town.

The ceiling is now the star attraction of the Mansfield Traquair Centre and has been compared to the Sistine Chapel.

The Sick Kids mortuary is where parents can spend private time with their deceased children. Usually, the walls are covered by screens and the only time the murals are on public display is on Edinburgh's annual Doors Open Day.

A public consultation is currently taking place about the future of the crumbling Victorian hospital and one option is to have a purpose-built replacement at Little France.

NHS Lothian director of facilities John Jack said: "We are aware of the significance of these murals and have been in correspondence with the Mansfield Traquair Trust."