Film follows careful restoration of 17th century Doddington Hall tapestries

Newly restored 17th century Flemish tapestries have gone on display at Doddington Hall near Lincoln, following a 10-year-long conservation project.

The £375,000 project to restore the 1620s tapestries was made possible with conservators, volunteers and funders, and was documented from start to finish by local filmmaker Sean Strange.

Filmmaker Sean Strange with the conservators behind the project.

Doddington Hall, an Elizabethan mansion west of the city, has proudly lifted the pieces back on display. Visitors will now be able to view the tapestries back in their original home in the Yellow Bedroom – Open to the public for the first time.

Stitched stories depicting ‘Scenes for a Rural Life’ and ‘The Trojan Wars’ were chopped up and nailed to the walls of the bedrooms of the hall back in the 1760s – at which point they were already considered antiques.

This time, Velcro replaces the thousands of nails that previously kept them in place. The interpretation display alongside shows how the tapestries looked before conservation and what the conservators discovered beneath the tapestries.

The finished tapestries are now on display at Doddington Hall, near Lincoln. Photo: Sean Strange

It reveals how 15 bags of soot were vacuumed from the tapestries before 40 hours of washing. It also shows how conservators spent 5,348 hours stitching the tapestries in a studio created within Doddington Hall so visitors could see the work take place.

Claire Birch, who with James and their family have lived at Doddington since 2006, said: “It has taken a long time to fundraise and complete the conservation, but the wait has been worth it. The tapestries look amazing. A lot of work has gone into saving this important piece of history and we are grateful for all the support we’ve received to make this happen.”

Watch the full documentary below:

Fundraising began in 2006 to save the tapestries. The conservation programme began with a grant of just under £50,000 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2008 to take down and clean the tapestries.

The following year a ground-breaking project between the Doddington Hall Conservation Charity and Lincolnshire County Council saw conservation begin at the Heritage Skills Centre in the grounds of Lincoln Castle.

This work captured the interest of visitors and lead to the creation of a studio within Doddington Hall itself to complete the work, costing £89,000.

The tapestries were revealed at a special launch party in the hall on Wednesday, June 27. Photo: Sean Strange

Inside the Elizabethan mansion. Photo: Sean Strange

This was funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Country Houses Foundation, The Mercers’ Foundation, The Pilgrim Trust, Dulverton Trust, Lincolnshire Community Foundation, The Laura Ashley Foundation, and the Veneziana Fund along with many smaller trusts, local organisations and individuals.

The project was made possible with the support of conservators and volunteers; many of whom were students, alumna and staff at the University of Lincoln and Bishops Grossteste. In fact, the project has been responsible for launching the careers of some of those students.

The team behind the project. Photo: Sean Strange

The tapestries are back in their original home. Photo: Sean Strange

The tapestries are important for two reasons. Firstly, the way they were chopped up and nailed to the walls like wallpaper, is very unusual. Normally tapestries were woven to fit panels and treated like a painting within a decorative scheme.

Secondly, the Doddington tapestries are very rare examples of the coarser, every day tapestries which were made in large quantities but not cherished and looked after like their more finely stitched and expensive counterparts. While more of the expensive, fine tapestries survived, there are few examples like those at Doddington.

Claire said: “We’re so excited to be able to unveil the newly conserved tapestries. We took an unusual approach in doing the work in full view of our visitors, but it was worth it; visitors have been fascinated and they, along with us, the conservators, funders, volunteers are all thrilled to see the result.

“As owners and guardians of the Hall our focus is always on the upkeep, maintenance and preservation of the house and estate for the future and this project has helped show visitors just what this involves.”