The library at Lyme Park before its recent transformation. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel
After the acquisition of the fifteenth-century Caxton Missal for Lyme Park in 2008, the opportunity was taken to refurbish the library at the house. It was decided to take the room back to about 1873, the date that the Missal was rediscovered there.
The Lyme library as illustrated in The Ladies' Field, 1901
James Rothwell, the curator for Lyme, worked with the National Trust’s adviser on interior decoration, James Finlay, to research how the library would have been furnished at the time.
Evidence for the wallpaper was found in a 1901 issue of the magazine The Ladies’ Field that showed a photograph of the Lyme library. A few precious scraps of this paper were found underneath a later wallpaper. It had also left faint shadows of its pattern on the underlying wall, but frustratingly no other surviving examples could be traced.
The Turin Shroud-like shadows that the wallpaper had left on the wall. ©James Finlay
James Rothwell searched through the early Victorian wallpaper patterns in the registers of designs at the National Archives at Kew, photographing similar examples. It became clear from the stylistic evidence that Lyme’s paper must have been produced in the 1840s, possibly at the time of Thomas Legh’s second marriage in 1843.
The distemper being applied at Atelier d'Offard. ©James Finlay
All this evidence – the scraps, the shadows, the photograph, the similar examples – then allowed James Finlay to redraw the design. The fragments showed that the colourway had been a warm stone-coloured distemper ground with a damask design made up of bright metallic gold and deep red flock.
The flock being dyed. ©James Finlay
After a close-run selection process the commission to produce the wallpaper was given to Atelier d’Offard in Tours, a company that combines modern technology with traditional techniques and materials. Under James F.’s supervision blocks were cut, colours prepared and wool flock dyed.
David Wynne in action. ©James Finlay
The wallpaper was delivered in June 2010. Experienced local decorator David Wynne of Albert W. Wynne and Sons was called in to hang the paper, a sight that the visitors to Lyme enjoyed witnessing.
Both Jameses were relieved to find that the wallpaper is not at all overpowering. In fact, it blends in very well with the regrained oak ceiling, the red velvet upholstery (from Lelièvre of Paris) and the cleaned oak bookcases. The Lyme Caxton – and the visitors who come to see it – have been made to feel very welcome.
A more detailed article about this project by James F. can be found in the latest issue of the National Trust’s ABC Bulletin. And you can see and hear James R. waxing lyrical about the project here.