National Trust completes restoration project after 24 years

Image: Conservators Elaine Owers and Yoko Hanegreefs vacuum clean the final tapestry in preparation for wet cleaning. National Trust Textile Conservation Studio

A set of 16th century tapestries have been retuned to Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, completing a project which began in 1999.

The National Trust has announced the completion of its longest running conservation project to restore ‘late Renaissance masterpiece’ tapestries.

A set of thirteen 16th-century tapestries in the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire were taken down for conservation treatment in 1999.

Now, 24 years later, the final tapestry has now returned to the hall, marking the completion of the £1.7 million project.

Hardwick Hall’s Gideon tapestries are the largest surviving set in the UK at nearly six metres high and over 70 metres in length.

The conservation of each tapestry has taken over two years to complete, having been vacuum cleaned, and then documented in detail before being sent to Belgium for specialist wet cleaning.

The 13th and final tapestry almost fully rolled out and hung in Hardwick Hall's Long Gallery (National Trust Jon Scrimshaw)

National Trust conservators used specialist conservation stitching – with hand-dyed yarns – to repair damaged areas, improve the appearance of 20th-century reweaves, and strengthen the structure of the tapestry.

To maintain consistency over the life of the project, precise records were kept, including ‘recipe books’ with instructions on how to make bespoke dye colours for the threads. Conservators used ‘stitch guides’ to ensure stitches were correctly spaced to achieve the desired effect, and so that they can be discerned from original stitches.

Elaine Owers, Textile Conservator, who worked on all five tapestries that cover the main wall of the Long Gallery, said: “It’s been such an amazing experience to work on the Gideon project. I started working on the project as a Tapestry Conservation Intern in 2008, progressing to project manage some of the larger tapestries.

“It is the largest tapestry conservation project ever undertaken by the National Trust and everyone at the studio has been involved at some point. There is a real sense of pride as we see the final tapestry hung in position.”

The west front of Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire. (National Trust ImagesRobert Morris)

Textile Conservator Yoko Hanegreefs added: “Our conservation work secures the future of the tapestries for at least 100 years. Being able to safeguard these beautiful and important tapestries for future generations gives us as conservators a great sense of achievement.”

Following the tapestry’s return to Hardwick Hall, visitors will be able to see the set reunited for the first time in over two decades.

This conservation project was backed by funding from The David Webster Charitable Trust, the Wolfson Foundation, the Royal Oak Foundation, National Lottery Heritage Fund and other charitable trusts and foundations and individual donors.