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Hardwick tapestry conservation award

Three ladies sitting in chairs face a huge tapestry. They are sewing the lower border onto the tapestry which shows a biblical scene from the story of Gideon
Conservators attach the lower border to one of the Gideon Tapestries returned to Hardwick Hall | © National Trust Images/Trevor Ray Hart

A 24-year conservation project of a set of tapestries has won an international heritage award.

We were given the Europa Nostra Award for our work to conserve the Gideon tapestries at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire – our longest conservation project which cost £1.7 million to complete. The work was done by hand by our textile conservators, and involved traditional sewing and stitching techniques.

The 2024 European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards, co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union, announced 26 winners with only four, including the Gideon tapestry project, from the United Kingdom.

Hardwick Hall's tapestries

Hardwick Hall is renowned for its textiles, including an extensive collection of irreplaceable tapestries.

The set of 13 Gideon Tapestries were bought by Bess of Hardwick, a friend of Elizabeth I, in 1592 from their original owner, Christopher Hatton. They are nearly six metres high and total over 70 metres in length (20ft x 230ft), making them one of the most ambitious tapestry sets of their time and the largest surviving set in the UK.

The conservation work involved treating the set of tapestries as a complete whole rather than individual pieces. That meant our conservators used hand-dyed yarns following recipe books to ensure the same colours, and stitch guides so stitches were accurately spaced to achieve consistency over the length of the project.

Claire Golbourn, National Conservator, Textiles, said: ‘I am extremely privileged to have worked on the first Gideon tapestry at the studio as the Conservation Technician in 2000 where I remember removing the old lining and finding the embroidered monograms of Christopher Hatton in the corner of the tapestry. I am lucky enough to have seen the last tapestry leave the studio as the Textile Studio Manager.

Receiving this award is recognition to the team of dedicated people that have worked on this project, past and present. A huge number of people made this project happen and it has been a triumph but will also be strange not to have a Gideon tapestry in the studio.

A quote by Claire GolbournNational Trust National Conservator, Textiles

The Europa Nostra Awards jury said: 'This 24-year endeavour exemplifies unparalleled dedication and collaboration, showcasing the depth of European heritage preservation. Through meticulous research the remarkable Gideon Tapestries have been safeguarded for future generations. This project is a testament to professionalism and the level of skill in conservation which are often unseen, but are very much worthy of celebration.'

The tapestries tell the story of Gideon, one of the 12 Judges to appear in the Old Testament Book of Judges, who leads an army to save his people from the Midianites.

Tapestries on show in the Long Gallery

The work to conserve the tapestries, mostly carried out at our own Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk, started in 1999 and was completed last summer (July 2023) when the final one of the set returned to Hardwick Hall’s Long Gallery.

Senior National Curator for Textiles Emma Slocombe said: 'These astonishing tapestries have been in the Long Gallery since it was first decorated at the end of the 16th century. Extraordinarily, that’s where they remain.

'Unlike many tapestries they’ve never been moved to another home, dispersed or cut up. Everything at Hardwick is pre-eminent and these tapestries are unique, an ambitious statement at the heart of an architectural masterpiece.'

The conservation project cost £1.7 million in total and was made possible over many years because of 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.

Tapestry, wool, silk and metal thread, Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge Tapestry Company, 1934. An aerial view of a Cambridgeshire landscape with Anglesey Abbey and its garden in the centre.

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