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.
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.
142 different designs were found in 11 different houses. The densest ‘sediment’ consisted of 28 layers, the earliest of which dates from about 1850.
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.
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.
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.
The results of their work can be seen on the Splitting the Pattern website.
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.