Gabby Swaffield, our Museum, Collection and Learning Manager is finding out everything you need to know before you embark on the voyage of conserving 17th century tapestries; be prepared for the unusual combination of bird poo, hours of stitching and hundreds of pairs of gloves! This is her first post with a bit of history about the life of the tapestries in the Great Chamber up to today.
Brian Reeve, one of the Charterhouse Brothers, and I recently set off to Greenwich to visit the textile conservation studio of conservator Marilyn Leader. Marilyn has taken on the painstaking yet fascinating task of restoring our six Flemish tapestries dated to c.1600, which before their temporary holiday in Greenwich, were situated on the walls of the Great Chamber.
The Great Chamber is currently undergoing a major HLF funded refurbishment, or ‘Beautification and Refreshment’. As part of these renovations, our 17th century portraits will take the place of the tapestries on the walls. Following their conservation treatment, one of the tapestries will be displayed in the Great Chamber ante-room and the other five will be rehung on the walls of the Great Hall, so the Brothers will be able to marvel at them every day over their cornflakes.
The history of the tapestries and how they came to be housed at the Charterhouse is somewhat beguiling. Archivist Stephen Porter recounts:
“As part of the decoration of the newly converted buildings, in 1615 the governors bought from Edmund Traves, presumably a London merchant, a set of eight Flemish tapestries. They were hung in the ‘Great Chambers’ and would have covered virtually all of the available wall space. Those now hanging in the Great Chamber probably are part of that purchase.
The architect Edward Blore, in 1841, renovated the Great Chamber and recommended that the tapestries should be permanently arranged on the walls ‘with suitable borders’. As well as this, moulded frames were made for them.
In 1899 a report was made for decorative repairs to the ceiling, chimney-piece and tapestries in the Great Chamber. The work was carried out by the Needlework Society in 1908, by which time they were badly decayed.
During the fire in May 1941, the tapestries were removed before the flames reached the Great Chamber. They were cleaned in 1956 by the Anglo Persian Carpet Company.”
The tapestries consist of three principal panels and three smaller ones. The principal panels show:
1. Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
2. A queen and attendants being shown a portrait of a suitor
3. An elder sending his son, a warrior, to battle
The three smaller pieces have sections of border joined vertically, depicting figures, houses, fruit and flowers.
In her next post, Gabby will report on what’s been happening at the conservator’s studio.