The tapestries in both the Holly and Yellow bedrooms at Doddington Hall have been cut to fit the rooms they now hang in, much like wallpaper. Tapestries were generally commissioned and woven to fit the dimensions of a room. This suggests these tapestries were not originally made to fit these rooms when they were woven in the early seventeenth century and may have been acquired second hand, or perhaps hung elsewhere in the house.
In fact both sets of tapestry have evidence of previous hangs, where they have been cut to fit different features of a room, such as a fireplace or a door. These earlier cuts have been patched using bits of spare tapestry to allow them to fit into their current hanging positions in both the Holly and Yellow bedrooms, or new cuts have been made.
The tapestries are really quite a mystery and in trying to unravel some of it we have been piecing the tapestries back together with their correct parts (only digitally of course) to see how they might have looked when they were whole.
The Yellow bedroom tapestries have been particularly interesting to piece together. When taking down the tapestries in 2014 we discovered an old bricked up painted fireplace behind one of the panels and it became clear that the tapestries had not hung undisturbed in the room as we had originally thought, but had been rearranged perhaps during the Georgianisation of the house in the 1760s.
Image 1 – The old bricked up earlier fire place discovered behind one of the tapestry panels.
The panel that had hung over this older fireplace had been moved to hang over the current fireplace. Instead of moving the whole tapestry panel they had simply cut it along its height, leaving the floral border behind, (which hung down the left side of the fireplace) and moved the rest of the tapestry to hang over the new fireplace on another wall. As the older fireplace was taller than the current fireplace they had also had to reattach part of the horses legs which had been cut off to accommodate the previous fireplace, this piece of tapestry must have been retained in store. In fact the remaining parts of the horses legs and hooves can still be found in the Doddington Hall stores. See the image below.
Image 2 – The ‘tent scene tapestry’ which hangs over the current fireplace. The red line shows where the tapestry would have originally hung over the earlier fireplace and this piece of tapestry has been stitched back on to hang over the shorter current fireplace. The floral border on the left of the image belongs to this tapestry but still hangs down the side of the earlier fireplace. The horses’ hooves have been kept in store. The rest of the lower floral border can be found in the Peddler tapestry which hangs in the Holly bedroom!
One tapestry which we think might be Helen and the Trojan horse had been cut right through the middle, leaving Helen on one wall and the Trojan horse on the opposite wall! We hope to temporarily hang these two pieces of tapestry next to each other next year, although they will be hung back onto their opposite wall positions when the room is fully rehung in 2018.
Image 3 – Here is an image of the two halves lying next to each other after being washed in Belgium.
What would have been the largest tapestry of the Yellow bedroom set is one we have called the Fountain Scene. This tapestry has been cut almost in half. When it was whole it would have been over six meters wide. We thought what a shame it was that the lady in the beautiful brocade dress in the middle of the tapestry had been cut in half. Then we found a piece of tapestry in store that had been stitched to a piece of green fabric and realised that the beautiful lady was in fact a bearded man tipping his hat to a seated king! We do not know what happened to the remainder of the cut away tapestry.
Image 4 & 5 – The Fountain scene tapestry and the surviving patch we found in store showing the bearded man.
Pieces of the Yellow bedroom tapestries have been used as patches in the Holly bedroom tapestries but not vice versa. So perhaps the rearrangement of the Yellow bedroom took place at the same time that the Holly bedroom tapestries were hung. The Yellow bedroom tapestries are classical scenes, possibly the Trojan war, swords and armour don’t quite match the rural scenes of the Holly bedroom, as you can see in this image of the Courting Couple tapestry, a patch including a hand and dagger are a little incongruous in the scene!
Image 6 – The courting couple tapestry with a Yellow bedroom tapestry patch stitched in place.
There is a lot more research to be done to try to discover more about the history of the two sets of tapestries, where they hung before their current locations, how and when they were acquired for the house and why they were cut and pieced together the way they have been. Leah Warriner-Wood is currently undertaking a PhD on the Yellow bedroom tapestries and is exploring all the family archives to try to find the answers to some of these questions, we will hope to keep you posted.