Textile collection: the Gideon tapestries

Hardwick is renowned for its textiles, including an extensive collection of tapestries. Amongst these are a set known as the Gideons, depicting the biblical story of Gideon.

Furnishing a home

By the mid-1590s, when Hardwick was taking shape, Bess had already furnished her great house at Chatsworth but could only bring a small proportion of the contents with her when she moved back to Hardwick. So, in the winter of 1592/3 Bess went on a shopping spree while in London. Amongst her purchases were the Gideon set of tapestries bought from the estate of Sir Christopher Hatton for the huge sum of £326 15s 9d (that's about £56,000 in today's money). Bess negotiated a £5 reduction in the prices because she had to change the Hatton coat of arms to her own. 


The set comprises of 13 tapestries which line the Hall’s Long Gallery and portray the biblical story of Gideon. 

The Long Gallery at Hardwick
The Long Gallery at Hardwick
The Long Gallery at Hardwick

Conservation in action

To halt the deterioration of these irreplaceable objects these tapestries have been the subject of a conservation project which has already spanned twenty years.

It costs £278,000 to conserve a Gideon tapestry and takes over two years in which time it will undergo extensive repair and stablisation.

To date, 11 tapestries have been conserved and re-hung in the 28ft high Long Gallery, while one is away being worked on and one remains to be conserved. 

Painstaking work

Each tapestry is taken to the National Trust's Conservation Studio in Norfolk. The process begins first with sending the tapestry to Belgium for specialist cleaning. Once back at the Studio the team work to repair tears and replace stitches where possible, all by hand.

Conservator working on Hardwick Hall's Gideon tapestries at the National Trust Textile Conservation Studio in Blickling, Norfolk
Conservator working on Hardwick Hall's Gideon tapestries at the National Trust Textile Conservation Studio in Blickling, Norfolk
Conservator working on Hardwick Hall's Gideon tapestries at the National Trust Textile Conservation Studio in Blickling, Norfolk

When the tapestry returns to Hardwick, rehanging involves the use of scaffolding due to the sheer size of each one (approximately 7m x 6m). The tapestry is on a roll which is raised vertically and then unrolled from one side of the wall to the other. The top of the tapestry is secured with Velcro to two wooden battens fixed on the wall. The tapestry is then left for at least two years without portraits hung over it to allow it to be seen in all its glory, as originally intended.

Conservators rehanging Gideon tapestry
Conservators working on site at Hardwick Hall
Conservators rehanging Gideon tapestry

A big thank you

It is thanks to your generous donations over the years that we’ve been able to conserve the Gideon tapestries which hang in the Long Gallery. 

One is currently away being restored, so there is just one Gideon tapestry left to conserve. Help us raise funds to continue our work and complete the set of Gideon tapestries.

Conservators working on the Gideon tapestry at Conservation Studio,Blickling
Conservators working on the Gideon tapestry at Conservation Studio,Blickling
Conservators working on the Gideon tapestry at Conservation Studio,Blickling

Caring for our fragile textiles

Keeping the textiles at Hardwick in the best condition involves us…

  • Keeping them safe from light, heat and visitors' fingers
  • Delicately cleaning them with goat hair brushes and a museum vacuum
  • Have them surveyed and get regular condition reports