A MEDIEVAL wall painting and boarded walls covered with engravings dating back to the 18th century are just a few historic gems kept within the Guildhall.

The Harwich Guildhall is a familiar building in the town’s landscape, situated in Church Street near St Nicholas’ Church.

But people more often walk by than go in and so miss the treasure trove of history behind its doors.

The Guildhall used to be an inn named the Bear before it was bought by the council in 1673. The building was rebuilt in Georgian times, with its present design dating from 1769.

It is a Grade I listed building, having an exceptional national, architectural and historical importance.

In 1974, the Guildhall became the home of Harwich Town Council and still remains a meeting place and administrative home of the council today.

Harwich mayor Alan Todd said he sometimes thinks of mayors going back 300 years.

He said: “When I was a kid I never imagined I’ll ever be in the Guildhall as you have to be important to go in there.

“When I got elected I was amazed by it because I have never been in there before. It was really an eye-opener for me.

“Every time I’m in the chamber I wonder how many people have sat here, making decisions which affect residents’ lives. At times I’ve got the feeling somebody is still here.”

Back in 1974, restoration works revealed a medieval wooden wall painting, which contains carvings from Napoleonic times.

Nowadays, this unique feature of the Guildhall is called the Carvings Room, which once used to hold prisoners waiting to be tried or sentenced by the judge.

Etched into the wooden walls are elaborate carvings of ships, gallows and symbols to ward off evil spirits, all dating from the late 18th century.

The Guildhall also contains the council chamber and the mayor’s parlour. The chamber is an oak panelled room, its walls adorned with portraits, and its windows including a stained-glass illustration of the town crest and the motto Omnia Bona Bonis meaning “To the good, all things are good”.

The chamber also houses the 17th-century mace and the mayor’s and mayoress’ chain of office.

The mayor’s parlour remains the domain of the mayor and it houses items of significance. Among these treasures are the town’s imperial brass yard and a portrait of Charles II painted in 1675.