Tapestries at Doddington Hall: Collecting, Conservation and Display
Essay by Leah Warriner-Wood, Helen Wyld
This study examines tapestries as part of the collecting and display strategies of the Delaval family at Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire. The Doddington tapestries are the focus of the author’s doctoral research within the School of History and Heritage at the University of Lincoln. The work centres on the alteration and deployment of seventeenth-century tapestries in two bedchambers at Doddington during the eighteenth century. A summary is given here of selected material evidence for the tapestries’ cycle of display, repair and re-display, in order to illustrate some of the research questions provoked by the study. The key theme is: as material evidence, not subordinate to the documentary archive, what new narratives of the historic decorative interior, and of identity and taste, do the Doddington tapestries have the capacity to relate? As well as contributing to discourse on Doddington Hall, the Delavals and tapestry in the domestic interior, the research thus aims to push forward appreciation of the added value that conservation – or any direct study of material culture – may contribute to dialogues on the past.
The Flemish tapestries hanging in the Holly and Yellow bedrooms at Doddington Hall date from the first half of the seventeenth century and are the last vestiges of a once more extensive collection of textile hangings in the house. It is not known how or when the tapestries came to be at Doddington, but it seems likely that the Delavals’ antecedents, the Hussey family, had them hung at some point during their occupation in the seventeenth century, as no reference is made to tapestries being either purchased or transported by Sir John Delaval after his accession to the land on the death of his mother in 1759.1 Since no documentary evidence is known to exist from the tenure of the Husseys, however, this cannot be proven conclusively. What is known is that the tapestries were taken down, repaired and rehung in the mid-eighteenth century, and that they remained in this configuration until 2010, when an ambitious programme of tapestry conservation was begun by the Doddington Hall Conservation Charity in collaboration with the University of Lincoln.2 It was at this point that the author became involved with their treatment and research, first as a student conservator and later as an academic.
Woven of wool with some limited silk details and highlights, and with approximately five warp threads per centimetre, the Doddington tapestries are of a quality that Thomas Campbell labels as being ‘coarse’ or ‘moderate’. They would have been produced by a weaver at the rate of around one square metre per month, and when new would have cost less than 25 per cent of the value of more finely woven tapestries such as those in the Scenes of Country Life set at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, which have a warp count of nine per centimetre and a silk-to-wool weft proportion of around 50 per cent.3 In relative technical terms the tapestries at Doddington are thus somewhat unremarkable, although the skill in their execution remains quite astonishing, even to one who has been studying them for the best part of a decade. It is my view, however, that being unremarkable in their manufacturing context in fact contributes strongly to making the tapestries remarkable in a modern one. Those tapestries of such high quality as to make them the preserve of the supremely wealthy – woven perhaps with gold or silver threads, and costing over twenty times the value of tapestries such as those at Doddington – are disproportionately represented in academic literature on tapestries as art, and as objects of conservation. The opportunity to explore a more ‘moderate’ form of tapestry, which was once so commonplace in middling country households, was therefore of considerable interest to me when I first sought an object-based doctoral research project.
In relation to that research project this study will present some of the Doddington Hall tapestries as evidence of the display strategies of the Delaval family, asking what a study of tapestries as material culture can tell us about the history of decorative interiors, and those who employed them.
Inventories of Doddington Hall dated 1753 and 1760 show that textile wall-hangings occupied five out of the nine first-floor rooms, as well as one ground-floor and one second-floor room (fig. 1).4 Proportionally, this is comparable with the distribution of such ‘old luxury’ goods at Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, whose material culture has been the subject of a recent AHRC-funded study.5 As at Stoneleigh, the use of textiles as part of the historic interior decorative scheme at Doddington declined in the eighteenth century. It is notable that a subsequent Doddington inventory of 1786 omits any record of tapestries or other textile wallcoverings,6 while estate accounts for the extensive remodelling of the early seventeenth-century Doddington in the Georgian style between 1761 and 1778 include only a single receipt for £1 10s 6d for ‘mending Tapestry’, and a payment of 5d for thread to do so.7 Landowner Sir John Hussey Delaval was a prodigious administrator who did much of his own record keeping, and considering that these accounts run to over 8000 leaves it is reasonable to suggest that textile wallcoverings were not high on the interior design agenda.8 These insubstantial records are telling, however, in their alignment with the far more palpable, physical evidence presented by the tapestries themselves: most have been deliberately cut up, reordered and re-stitched, in order to be re-displayed in very different configurations from those in which they had hung before the time of the Delavals. The material evidence testifies that the tapestries retained during the 1760s alterations were valued more highly for their potential as part of a historic decorative scheme than for their integrity and materiality as textile wallcoverings. Thus, by studying tapestries in their contingent contexts, we are able to augment research on the history and meaning of display in country house interiors.
The Holly Bedroom
The tapestries in the Holly Bedroom are one of two sets referred to fleetingly by Doddington steward William Portes in a letter dated July 1762:
I am Hanging The Tapestry In The 2 Bed Chambers adjoyning The Best Stair Case according To Lady Hussey Delavals orders . . . I have Had a Taylor all This Week mending the Tapestry befor We hung It up.9
Two elements of this communiqué are noteworthy: the role of Lady Hussey Delaval in the tapestries’ deployment, and the choice of rooms at the head of the staircase to display them.
Susannah, Lady Hussey Delaval (née Robinson), was wife to Sir John. On their marriage in 1750 the couple made Doddington Hall their home and, following the death of Sir John’s mother nine years later, took ownership of the estate. A programme of remodelling in the Georgian style was embarked on around this time, and was escalated after 1761 when Sir John was created a baronet. While Sir John appears to have taken overall responsibility for the architectural reconfigurations and commissioning of new portraits that went hand-in-hand with this social elevation, we may adduce from Portes’s letter that the selection of decorative elements and furnishings fell to his wife. Certainly, while Sir John’s correspondence at this time is concerned with builders’ delays, panelling and the qualities of stone for the floor of the Great Hall, Susannah’s correspondents over a similar period write of having purchased fabrics and other such luxury goods on her orders, in Paris and London.10 This reflects ideas examined in recent literature, about the gendering of eighteenth-century consumerism within the interior, a theme to be examined further in the author’s thesis, but for which there is not scope to consider here.11
The ‘Best Stair Case’ mentioned in William Portes’s letter was one of the grandest alterations to Doddington Hall in this period, with updates and queries on its progress featuring regularly in correspondence between Portes and Sir John Delaval. The staircase, and the two bedchambers adjoining it on the first floor to which Portes referred (now known as the Holly and Tiger bedrooms respectively), were clearly intended to make an impact on this, the main social route through the house from the entrance and Great Hall to the Drawing Room above (fig. 1). The tapestries that once hung in the Tiger Bedroom were sold in the twentieth century and little is known about them beyond the fact that they featured fantastical beasts, including a great, marauding tiger. The tapestries in the Holly Bedroom remain, however, having been conserved between 2010 and 2016. They depict pastoral scenes of rural life against verdant backgrounds. Charming as these are, there is arguably more to be gained from examining the second of the two remaining tapestry rooms, the Yellow Bedroom. Here the reconfiguration of tapestry is more widespread, and yet also tantalisingly absent from Portes’s correspondence. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of ‘antique’ tapestry with the use of fashionable and expensive flock wallpaper in the adjacent Drawing Room hints that the display strategy employed by the Delavals was not in fact as cohesive and uniform as the word ‘strategy’ implies, but rather part of a more personal and variegated expression of the Delavals’ desire to connect consciously with the past, without losing touch with the present.12
The Yellow Bedroom
The Yellow Bedroom was arguably part of what John Cornforth and Erving Goffman have referred to as the ‘private’ or ‘back stage’, rather than the social function of Doddington Hall.13 The 1786 inventory designates rooms in the southern wing of the building quantitatively, according to their family occupants (the Yellow Bedroom, for example, is ‘Lady Tyrconnel’s Bedchamber’), whereas rooms on the social circuit of the north wing tend to be named more qualitatively, according to their goods or interiors (the ‘Tapestry Room’ and ‘Yellow Worked Bedchamber’ being just two examples). The northerly Holly Bedroom, on the ‘best staircase’, appears then to be a ‘room of parade’ – one of several spaces designated (consciously or otherwise) as means of showcasing goods or interiors, in contrast to less formal, family spaces such as the southerly Yellow Bedroom and other family bedchambers beyond.14 While the Holly Bedroom tapestries bear witness to sociability in the Delavals’ interiors, those in the Yellow Bedroom’s decorative scheme narrate another, perhaps more intimate, side to the story.
Documentation compiled by the author in 2014 as part of the conservation record indicates that there are nine substantive pieces of tapestry making up the Yellow Bedroom decorative scheme, and that these represent elements of at least three distinct sets of tapestries (see fig. 2, which gives a plan view of the relative position and scale of each piece of tapestry). One of these sets can be identified as being an account of the Trojan Wars but the others, though also depicting military scenes, are unidentified.
There is no meaningful attempt at consanguinity in the hanging scheme in this room; tapestries from the different sets are hung contiguously, or in some cases even stitched together to create new composites. Whether this was because the existence of three discrete sets was not recognised or whether it was simply not seen as significant is unclear. In either case, it can be seen that the authenticity of the tapestries, and their integrity as art objects, was less valuable to the eighteenth-century display strategy than their potential as part of a decorative scheme.
The tapestries in the Yellow Bedroom are heavily altered, having been cut up and reconfigured with, superficially at least, a blasé hand. Like the disconnection of tapestry sets in the hanging scheme though, this apparent nonchalance is expressive. While small sections of Yellow Bedroom tapestries appear as patches to holes or losses in the Holly Bedroom, for example, this exchange is very much one-sided: no pieces of the Holly Bedroom tapestries have so far been discovered in similar repairs in the Yellow Bedroom. Furthermore, in some cases, the insertion of in-fill patches in the Holly Bedroom shows little appreciation for how a tapestry ought to be oriented (with the unseen warp threads running horizontally and the coloured weft vertically – see fig. 3). The process of repair thus demonstrates how the tapestries were approached in the Delavals’ reinterpretation of the Doddington interior: these were not tapestry schemes arising from a respect for the craftsmanship or physical characteristics of the material, but decorative schemes with tapestries where the overall aesthetic effect and what it connoted were accorded precedence.
Further evidence of this fundamentally decorative approach is apparent in the mindfulness, in individual repairs, around visual cohesion of the overall scheme. Where the border of The Bagpiper in the Holly Bedroom has been damaged by fire, for example, a strip of border from another tapestry has been hung over it. Care has been taken to fold this in such a way as to align the spiral carving motif that frames the central roundel in each side border (fig. 4), but whereas the damaged border is a right-hand one, the surrogate is its mirror image, taken from a left-hand border. A sense of superficial visual integrity is thus maintained as one scans the room, in direct contrast to the lack of material integrity demonstrated through closer inspection. It is noteworthy that this careful contrivance of visual integrity applies almost exclusively to the Holly Bedroom. In line with the designation of spaces in the north and south wings as 'front' and 'back' stage respectively, the material evidence demonstrates that the scheme in the Holly Bedroom was actively prioritised over that of the Yellow Bedroom, the latter tapestries almost taking on a sacrificial role to their fellows hanging near the ‘best staircase’. Where in-fill patches are present in the Yellow Bedroom less care has been taken over continuity of image, and more emphasis placed on obscuring them from view: the most heavily patched area is in the darkest corner of the room, for instance. Here, at least eight or nine patches, cut from several other tapestries and inserted in various orientations, fill in the area around a fireplace (fig. 5).
Closer examination of this heavily patched tapestry – known in the conservation record as The Military Camp (fig. 2, panel number 3) – shows that it has in fact been altered at least twice in its lifetime. A section cut away and in-filled now accommodates the fireplace mentioned above, while a second horizontal cut, higher up (where a section of horses’ legs has been cut away and later pieced back in), indicates that the tapestry once hung en suite with a taller architectural feature. In association with this, the border piece in the north-west corner that now adjoins The Seated Lady (fig. 2, pieces 4A abd 4 respectively) is actually the detached left-hand border of The Military Camp. We can see therefore that The Military Camp has been divided along the fold in the north-west corner of the room, and moved, leaving its left border as evidence of its earlier position. The taller architectural feature that the tapestry had been cut horizontally to accommodate was thus found through conservation to be an earlier fireplace on the north wall (fig. 6), this having been covered by The Seated Lady tapestry at the same time as The Military Camp was moved.15 Tantalisingly, an off-cut strip of tapestry featuring the missing hooves of the horses in The Military Camp was also found in storage during conservation work, demonstrating that this tapestry had at one stage been in the Doddington textile collection as a complete panel, before undergoing these phases of alteration and re-use. The Yellow Bedroom tapestries may yet, therefore, inform research into the history of decorative interiors of an earlier period.
It is necessary at this point to return the reader’s attention to the phrase ‘almost exclusively’, above, which was used to define the contrivance of visual cohesion in the decorative scheme of the Holly Bedroom. This phrase was used advisedly, since there exists a significant deviation from the ‘rule’ that demonstrates, perhaps most strongly of all, how a study of these tapestries contributes significantly to the study of historic decorative interiors.
The north wall in the Yellow Bedroom has a shallow dog-leg, forming two wall faces of approximately equal width (fig. 7). The Riding Men is a small, complete tapestry that occupies the right face, while The Seated Lady hangs on the left. The Seated Lady is itself the left half of a larger tapestry, featuring a woman indicating to her companions the presence of the Trojan Horse in the distance. The right half of this tapestry, featuring the Trojan Horse itself, hangs facing The Seated Lady on the south wall. The two halves were separated for reasons unknown.
At the time of the separation a new border (fig. 2, panel number 4B) was fashioned out of tapestry fragments, and hung to the right of The Seated Lady, disguising the cut edge. That tapestry, and The Riding Men thus appear to be two evenly sized and, crucially, complete tapestries that give the impression of having been woven to fit the two faces of the north wall. They have, in point of fact, been consciously engineered as such from no fewer than six separate pieces of re-purposed tapestry belonging to some three different sets. The result, particularly when viewed from the perspective of the bed – the room’s defining piece of furniture – is an impression of proportion, balance and regularity that would no doubt have been pleasing to the eye of those influenced by the classical style.16 Indeed, this seems to have been something of a Delaval preoccupation, with paintings in the Great Hall having had their canvases extended to match the proportions of the mouldings created for that room during the 1760s refurbishments, and false doors having been inserted to contrive balance among the architectural features. The impression of order having been engineered from disarray in relation to the tapestries is only enhanced when it is considered that the largest and most complete of the Yellow Bedroom tapestries – The Boat Scene – is showcased in that room’s other prime position, alongside the bed on the east wall, where daylight falls directly on it throughout the afternoon and evening. In contrast, the more fragmentary configuration of partial and heavily patched tapestries is all but obscured behind the bed and in the dark south-west corner (fig. 2, panel numbers 2A, 2B, and 3). Here again we get a sense that the Delavals’ use of tapestry was part of a meaningful approach to interior decoration – this time signifying contemporary taste and personal aesthetic preference – and was not really about tapestry at all.
The physical characteristics and intrinsic material value of the objects in question may not have been central to the Delavals’ deployment of the tapestries at Doddington Hall, but they are central to the approach I am taking in my research. The selection evident in the retention of these particular textile hangings after 1760, the patches used to repair tapestries in the Holly Bedroom that speak of precedence and designation in interior spaces, the alterations made to adapt the Yellow Bedroom tapestries to architectural revisions in the Georgian style, and the conscious engineering of visual coherence (and concealment of incoherence) at the expense of material integrity testify to the intersection of tapestry as material culture and historic interiors research. Without interpretation, though, the voice of material culture is mute.17 Object-based analysis of the tapestries as part of a wider consideration of historic interior decorative schemes allows sophisticated networks of meaning and significance to be nuanced and developed, and new narratives on themes such as identity, taste and consumption in the history of the domestic interior to be articulated and interrogated. In a world where textiles are often overlooked as ubiquitous elements of day-to-day human experience, and where tapestries are studied predominantly within their manufacturing or artistic contexts, their potential as a new lens through which to study domestic interiors is both refreshing and stimulating.18
The movement of other household goods for Sir John Delaval by sea from the family’s main seat at Seaton Delaval in Northumberland to Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire, is recorded in archival records: Northumberland County Council, 2/DE/20/1/17 – Letter from William Portes to Sir John Hussey Delaval, 29 August 1761.1
More information on the conservation work can be found on the charity’s website: http://www.doddingtonhall.com/doddington-charity/ (accessed 14 November 2017).2
For discussion of tapestry quality and case studies on the Hardwick Hall Scenes of Country Life tapestries, see respectively: Thomas P. Campbell, Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence, New York and London: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2002, p. 6; Danielle Bosworth, ‘The Conservation of Four Tapestries from Hardwick Hall’, in Ksynia Marko, ed., Textiles in Trust, London: Archetype, 1997, pp. 142–6.3
Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Special Collections, MS Top. Lincs. c. 13 – Inventories of Doddington Hall, 1753 and 1760.4
For ‘old’ and ‘new luxury’ goods, see Jan de Vries, The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 44. For detailed analysis of eighteenth-century Stoneleigh Abbey and the Barons Leigh, see Jon Stobart and Mark Rothery, Consumption and the Country House, first edn, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, p. 73.5
Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Special Collections, MS Top. Lincs. e. 6 – Inventory of Doddington Hall, 1786.6
Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Special Collections, MS Top. Lincs. c. 15a, f. 72 – Account of Payments for 'Mending Tapestry from July 16th 1762 to and with July 23rd 1762'; Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Special Collections, MS Top. Lincs. c. 15a, f. 56 – Account of Payment to Ann Chatterton.7
Martin Green, The Delavals: A Family History, Newcastle upon Tyne: Powdene Publicity, 2009, p. 88; Richard Terry and Helen Williams, ‘John Cleland and the Delavals’, Review of English Studies, vol. 64, no. 267, 2013, pp. 795–818, 798.8
Northumberland County Council, 2/DE/20/1/25 – Letter from William Portes to Sir John Hussey Delaval, July 1762.9
Northumberland County Council, 2/DE/20/1/1-29 – Letters from William Portes (Main Resident Land Steward of Doddington Estate), 1760 Nov – 1762 Aug.; Northumberland County Council, NRO 650/D/12 – Personal Letters and Letters to Lady Delaval Re the Administration of Doddington and Seaton Delaval Hall.10
Jon Stobart and Mark Rothery give an overview of these studies in their chapter ‘Men, Women and the Supply of Luxury Goods in Eighteenth-Century England: The Purchasing Patterns of Edward and Mary Leigh’, in Deborah Simonton, Marjo Kaartinen and Anne Montenach, eds, Luxury and Gender in European Towns, 1700–1914, New York; Abingdon: Routledge, 2015, pp. 97–114.11
A portion of the wallpaper from the Delavals’ Drawing Room at Doddington Hall is in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum (Museum Number E.476-1914). For an overview of the history and status of flock wallpaper in the eighteenth century, see Victoria & Albert Museum, Flock Wallpapers, http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/f/flock-wallpapers/ (accessed 4 September 2017).12
John Cornforth, Early Georgian Interiors, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004; Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, New York: Doubleday, 1959. It is acknowledged that Cornforth and Goffman’s respective ‘public’ or ‘private’ and ‘front’ or ‘back stage’ models for country house spaces are problematic. While it is expected that a full critique of discourse on room function in the context of the Doddington Hall case study will ultimately appear in the author’s thesis, there is not the scope to embark on such an examination in this study.13
Stobart and Rothery, 2016, pp. 66–7.14
The north fireplace has no discernible flue, and may be an imitation. The marbled surround, however, was found to be in keeping with a painted border around the top of the room on the south wall. Architectural paint research and other techniques to shed light on these findings is ongoing.15
Though it cannot be conclusively proven that the bed has always been situated in its current position against the south wall, it is likely that this was the case. There are simply few other positions that it could reasonably occupy, the only other being against the east wall, which is unlikely given the regular pattern of fading across the field of The Boat Scene tapestry hanging there.16
Lorraine Daston, ‘Introduction’, in Lorraine Daston, ed., Things that Talk: Object Lessons from Art and Science, New York: Zone, 2004, pp. 9–26, p. 20.17
Mary M. Brooks, ‘Textiles Revealed: Object-Based Research’, in Karen Finch and Mary M. Brooks, eds, Textiles Revealed: Object Lessons in Historic Textile and Costume Research, London: Archetype, 2000, pp. 1–4, 1.18
- by Leah Warriner-Wood, Helen Wyld
- 20 November 2020
- House Essay
- CC BY-NC International 4.0
- Cite as
- Leah Warriner-Wood, Helen Wyld, "Tapestries at Doddington Hall: Collecting, Conservation and Display", Art and the Country House, https://doi.org/10.17658/ACH/DNE510