Conservation in action: wallhangings at Ham House

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'3 pieces of blew Damusk inpain’d and bordered wth.blew velvet embroidered wth. gould & fringed'
- 1679 inventory for Ham House

This is how the walls of the Queen's Antechamber were described in the summer of 1679. All houses of status then would have wanted this type of wall covering: silk damasks, silk velvets, rich embroidery in gold and silver thread.

Tapestries, made largely from wool, had long been popular. But these more refined and decorative coverings became a must-have in the Restoration period.

Their cost was high and, sadly, because of the delicate silks used, they didn’t last as long as tapestries.

Today, less than a handful of these hangings survive. Ham is the only place in the world where they survive in-situ.

In a sorry state

By the 1960s the hangings at Ham were in a sorry state. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), which then managed the house, carried out a series of repairs.

By 2005 these repairs had begun to fail. With the continued deterioration caused by light damage, full conservation treatment was needed if they were to continue hanging on the wall.

Preserving for the future

A tender process awarded the contract to May Berkouwer Textile Conservation, a practice based in Suffolk. In 2009 the first section of the hangings arrived in May’s studio.

The work is as painstaking as that done by the original creators. May and her team cleaned the hangings by vacuuming with micro-suction and, where necessary, also with solvents.

Failing previous repairs were removed and replaced with new couched stitching. Weak and deteriorated areas were also supported with new silk inserts and a dyed net support.

Any loose border trimmings were reattached and the lining was cleaned. The project was closely followed and supported by our conservators.

The hangings required over 5,000 hours of conservation work which was carried out over three years. The final panel was returned to the Queen’s Antechamber in January 2013, ready for you to enjoy for the next 100 years.