Have you ever wondered what’s hiding beneath the walls in your house? We did, so asked Mary Luckhurst, a Project Conservator at Audley End House to explain the great lengths the conservation team have gone to, to ensure this popular stately home is brought into a good state of repair and that it is cared for, for future generations of visitors
One of the focuses for this £1 million repair project was the Howard Dressing Room located on the first floor of the North wing. It contained the paintings and furnishings associated with the State Bedroom Suite, created in 1786 in the South wing (now the site of the Drawing Room, South Library and Library). The aim of the re-presentation was to display the displaced contents of the State Bedroom Suite together.
The approach for the Howard Dressing Room was to reproduce a wall covering that was consistent with what was originally in this room. Removal of the modern paint and the hessian allowed for analysis of the surviving fragments by wallpaper curators and conservators and therefore helped to establish if this really was the paper that historically hung in this room.
The wallpaper conservator, James Caverhill, peeled back the layers and found evidence of 5 different wallpapers:
- The top layer was a modern lining paper which had been painted with emulsion
- The second layer was a machine printed paper in brown and yellow, probably 20th century
- Beneath this layer were several fragments of paper with a pale pattern, however they were too small and damaged to get any sense of the pattern
- The fourth paper was a striped grey with poppies. It appeared to be on a fairly smooth even paper which suggests it was not particularly old
- The fifth paper was adhered via a lining paper to the hessian. This paper and the lining were hand-made, hand-laid and hand-joined and would suggest an early paper. The pattern was fairly simple, a greeny/brown floral pattern on a yellow background which was hand block printed
The layers were removed by saturating with water and gentle easing away from each other. Then the samples were laid flat to dry out slowly on blotting paper where they were used to establish their history.
The conservation team have now been able to recreate a historically accurate wallpaper taking into account of the historic significance of the room and as a result, is more consistent with the presentation and conservation philosophy of the rest of the house.