Archive for the ‘Back to Backs’ Category

Peeling back history

July 6, 2012

Selection of some of the wallpapers found at the Back to Backs. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

An exhibition at Back to Backs, a courtyard of preserved working-class houses in Birmingham literally built back-to-back, shows the layers and layers of wallpaper salvaged from the walls when the houses were restored after being acquired by the National Trust in 2004.

The houses and shops built back to back around a courtyard off Hurst Street and Inge Street, Birmingham. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

Collections management trainee Husnara Bibi co-ordinated a project to conserve, catalogue and research the wallpaper fragments, which have now gone on display at Back to Backs.

One of the laminates of wallpaper from the Back to Backs. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

142 different designs were found in 11 different houses. The densest ‘sediment’ consisted of 28 layers, the earliest of which dates from about 1850.

Wallpaper conservator Graeme Storey treating one of the rescued papers. ©National Trust

In some cases we know who lived with particular papers. A series of Victorian floral patterns belonged to a Police Constable, and a set of Arts and Crafts-style papers was found in the house where a brass bedstead caster lived.

One of the preserved sections ©Newman University College/Sarah Bagshaw, Hannah James, Taz Lovejoy

As part of this project, oral history material was collected from people who have worked in wallpaper manufacture and  retail and from decorators, and this is featured on a dedicated blog called Uncovering the Past.

Reconstruction of the original design by James Orton. ©Newman University College/James Orton

Students and staff at Newman University College, Birmingham, have also participated in the project by creating reconstructions of the wallpaper designs and by producing backdrop designs for the exhibition and art photography of the wallpapers and the conservation processes.

Small section of wallpaper. ©Newman University College/Sarah Bagshaw, Hannah James, Taz Lovejoy

The results of their work can be seen on the Splitting the Pattern website.

Reconstruction of the original design by Jenny Woodhouse. ©Newman University College/Jenny Woodhouse

Wallpaper afficionados may also be interested to know of the existence of the Wallpaper History Society, which for the last twenty-five years has been promoting awareness and understanding of wallpapers.


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