Page last updated at 11:09 GMT, Thursday, 4 February 2010

Gallery staff 'stamped on rats'

A total of 34 rats were captured and killed at the gallery

Staff at the National Portrait Gallery dealt with unwanted visitors by stamping on their heads, according to previously unseen documents.

The visitors in question were rats which infested the central London gallery in the 1940s.

The records are part of a new online archive of papers belonging to the gallery's first director, Sir George Scharf, revealed this week.

The papers also show how staff dealt with a murder at the gallery in 1909.

Execution method

Last month the National Cataloguing Programme for Archives gave the gallery a £17,909 grant to publish Sir George's papers.

His work covers the first 38 years of the gallery from 1857 - with notes and drawings of portraits, places and people, including Winston Churchill as a baby.

They detail how workers tackled the rat population which occasionally infested the gallery in the 1940s.

According to the records, 34 rats were captured and killed between 1940 and 1946, with the staff's boots being the main weapon of choice.

Blood stains

The events surrounding the 1909 murder-suicide, in which a man shot his wife then himself in one of the galleries, minutes after they had been seen looking at portraits together, are recorded in detail.

Particular importance is attached to the need to wash away the blood stains which "badly marked the floor over the whole distance" that the woman's body had been carried, in order to take her to hospital.

Other documents in the catalogue show what happened to the gallery's works during World War I.

Some portraits were stored in the former King Edward Building, close to St Paul's Cathedral, where they were guarded by gallery staff carrying guns.

So far, one-third of the archive material has been made available, with more being added on a regular basis.

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