On the paper trail

Fragment of a pomegranate wallpaper found under a tapestry in the Tapestry Room at Erddig. ©NTPL/Barry Hamilton

The National Trust’s wallpaper detective, Andrew Bush (his actual, but far too sensible title is Paper Conservation Adviser), has recently discovered a fragment of an early wallpaper at Stowe, Buckinghamshire that is identical to a rather bold pomegranate or proto-Paisley wallpaper found at Erddig in Wrexham.

View of the New Inn at Stowe in 1809 by J.C. Nattes. ©National Trust

The New Inn at Stowe was built in about 1717 to cater for the increasing numbers of people that were coming to visits its famous gardens. It stayed in use as an inn until about 1850, and after years of dereliction it has now been restored to serve as the National Trust’s visitor centre for Stowe.

Some of the wallpapers discovered at the New Inn. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Andrew was called in for a one-off visit to check if there were any significant wallpapers, but this turned into a more substantial project as more than sixty wallpapers gradually came to light, dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.

The wallpaper fragment discovered at the New Inn, with the same pattern as the section found at Erddig. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

A tiny scrap of wallpaper found beneath one of the floorboards turned out to be of the same pattern as the Erddig paper, which could be dated through tax stamps to about 1715-20. The wallpaper would seem to be too grand for an inn, so it remains a puzzle as to how it ended up in an estate building at Stowe.

More about this story can be found in the latest edition of Arts, Buildings and Collections Bulletin. In this issue Sarah Kay also summarises the findings about the Regency card racks at Attingham which keen readers of this blog so generously helped us to unearth.

7 Responses to “On the paper trail”

  1. KDM Says:

    Brilliant – and so enjoyed the article in ABC too. Wallpaper is a guilty pleasure of mine – KDM

  2. Parnassus Says:

    First of all, Kudos to the National Trust for preserving the inn instead of razing it, the usual excuse being “at least we are saving the main building”. Everything I learn about the Trust’s modus operandi make me admire it more.

    Your story about the wallpapers in the inn reminded me of an old Federal period house in Fair Haven, Connecticut. The house was long abandoned, but inside there were many old wallpapers, some of them quite early. I tried to alert a wallpaper researcher to this find, but I doubt that anything was salvaged, as the house was demolished shortly thereafter.
    –Road to Parnassus

  3. little augury Says:

    it is fascinating to see the papers and of course the idea of pasting over and over papers. of course today-we would say strip the old paper first-the moral of the story-Don’t strip that paper! It is history in the making. the papers are so charming and someone should reproduce the last one especially! pgt

  4. style court Says:

    The lively greens and golds in the Erddig fragment are wonderful. Headed over to the Bulletin now.

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Keith, I don’t think you need to be ashamed of your wallpaper interest – be proud 🙂 Wallpaper deserves more attention.

    Parnassus, thank you. To be honest, it has taken a while for the New Inn to be taken in hand, as there are so many things in need of preservation and restoration at Stowe. But now that it has been done its new use – as a visitor centre – is quite close to its original use, which is rather satisfying.

    Gaye, yes our conservators love sloppy, cover-it-all-up decorators who leave lots of evidence in place 🙂 And yes perhaps we should launch a historic wallpaper range inspired by Andrew’s archive…

    Courtney,some of the surviving early eighteenth-century furniture at Erddig has equally bold upholstery with stylised floral and leaf patterns – all rather Baroque and probably a bit in-your-face when all seen together, but that is why this evidence is so interesting.

  6. Gésbi Says:

    These are so interesting and the patchwork image conveys a lot of charm. I was thrilled to find several wall papers and a carton de bal behind the mirror of one of my Paris apartments. I’m glad to know that wallpaper detectives exist!

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Gésbi, how thrilling – almost Proustian – to find an old invitation to a ball behind a mirror!

    Yes wallpaper detectives are rare, and we are lucky to have one as a colleague.

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