Restoration of vast 16th century tapestry almost over - after 20 years

Textile conservators from the National Trust sewing the lower border onto the 400-year-old tapestry

Textile conservators from the National Trust sewing the lower border onto the 400-year-old tapestry which has returned to Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, after over two years of conservation. - Credit: National Trust/Trevor Ray Hart

A Norfolk studio's work to restore a set of "vast" tapestries telling the biblical story of Gideon is almost complete.

The 400-year-old tapestries are considered one of the most important sets in the country, and are being worked on at the National Trust's textile conservation studio at Blickling Estate. 

The tapestries have hung in the same place at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire since they were bought by the Elizabethan noblewoman Bess of Hardwick in 1592.

A National Trust conservator at work at the National Trust's Textile Conservation Studio.The tapest

A conservator at work at the studio on Blickling Estate. - Credit: National Trust

Twelve of the tapestry panels have been restored since the project began in 2001, and conservators are now at work on the 13th and final panel. The work on this piece alone will cost £287,169, and has been funded by a private donor.

Denise Edwards, Hardwick's general manager, said: "This is an extremely important set of tapestries – the largest surviving set in the UK which has hung in the Long Gallery since the end of the sixteenth century. They are absolutely vast in scale - nearly six metres high and 70.6 metres in length (20 ft by 230 feet) making this one of the most ambitious tapestry sets of the period, rivalling other great works of the 1530s and 1540s.


You may also want to watch:


“It is remarkable that they have hung in the same place since they were bought by Bess of Hardwick, and we have looked forward to welcoming this tapestry back from its conservation.”

National Trust conservators at work at the National Trust's Textile Conservation Studio. The tapestr

Conservators at work at the National Trust's Textile Conservation Studio at Blickling Estate. The tapestry, part of the largest surviving set in the UK which has hung in the Long Gallery at the National Trust's Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire since the end of the sixteenth century. - Credit: National Trust

Elena Williams, Hardwick's senior house and collections officer, said: “The main part of our work involves stitching by hand, section by section.

Most Read

"Weakened and broken threads are replaced, and the entire tapestry is sewn onto a linen scrim which provides support. The final stage is lining with cotton cambric and adding the fixing which allow it to be hung once more."

Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury (1520-1608) known as `Bess of Hardwick’ by follower of Hans Eworth

Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury (1520-1608) known as `Bess of Hardwick’. Painting by follower of Hans Eworth. - Credit: National Trust Images

Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, where the Long Gallery houses a set of tapestries currently being resto

Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, where the Long Gallery houses a set of tapestries currently being restored at Blickling Estate. - Credit: National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The tapestries were woven in the Flemish region of Oudenaarde for Sir Christopher Hatton, whose coat of arms and initials are woven into the borders.

When Hatton died in 1591 his nephew, Sir William Newport, sold most of the contents of Holdenby to pay off his uncle's debts, including the Gideon tapestries which were bought by Bess of Hardwick in London in 1592 for the huge sum of £326 15s 9d – the equivalent of £128,000 in today’s money.

Blickling's textile conservation studio was founded in 1991 and works on items from across the country, ranging from such huge pieces as the Gideon tapestries down to small-scale doll's house furniture. 

Before and after photos showing repairs to damage. The tapestry, part of the largest surviving set i

Before and after photos showing repairs to damage. The tapestry, part of the largest surviving set in the UK which has hung in the Long Gallery at the National Trust's Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire since the end of the sixteenth century. - Credit: National Trust

Before and after photos showing repairs to damage. The tapestry, part of the largest surviving set i

Before and after photos showing repairs to damage to the tapestries, which are being repaired at Blickling Estate. - Credit: National Trust

A conservator from the National Trust removing the lining from the rear of the tapestry to prepare i

A conservator working at the National Trust's conservation studio at Blickling Estate removing the lining from the rear of the tapestry to prepare it for wet cleaning. - Credit: National Trust

Wet cleaning the border from the tapestry at De Wit in Belgium. The tapestry, part of the largest su

Wet cleaning the border from the tapestry at De Wit in Belgium. - Credit: National Trust-Rachel Langley

Framing the tapestry ready for conservation work at the National Trust's Textile Conservation Studio

Framing the tapestry ready for conservation work at the National Trust's Textile Conservation Studio at Blickling Estate. - Credit: National Trust

A National Trust conservator at work at the National Trust's Textile Conservation Studio

A National Trust conservator at work at the Textile Conservation Studio at Blickling Estate. The tapestry, part of the largest surviving set in the UK which has hung in the Long Gallery at the National Trust's Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire since the end of the sixteenth century. - Credit: National Trust


Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus