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Wallpaper Training Day at Sunnycroft

February 7, 2013

This week Sunnycroft got to play host to a training session on, of all things, wallpaper! Although it sounds pretty unusual when you tell people you’ve spent the day studying wallpaper, it was incredibly interesting, especially for me as our visiting experts: Andrew and Graeme (wallpaper and paper conservators extraordinaire) were able to tell me a lot more about the wall-coverings here at Sunnycroft than we had ever previously known.

Some example wallpapers for us to handle

Some example wallpapers for us to handle

Andrew and Graeme brought samples of wallpaper through the ages. These ones are more modern papers, and you can see little circles of vinyl 1960s wallpaper. Don’t think they’d suit Sunnycroft!

The Billiard Table display of wallpaper

Once again Sunnycroft’s billiards table found itself being used for anything other than billiards; not storing embroidery this time though, but examples of beautiful wallpaper, including oriental designs and a William Morris paper that was very familiar to the staff attending from Wightwick Manor!

 We spent the morning learning about types of wallpaper and how it is constructed. The bit I loved the most was the tour of Sunnycroft’s papers, and learning more about when they were likely produced and examining the condition that they are in. These are a few of my favourite examples here in the house:

The 1920s/1930s wallpaper in the Master Bedroom

The 1920s/1930s wallpaper in the Master Bedroom

This pattern in the Master Bedroom is one of the ones that visitors often claim they would have in their own house. It just shows that all styles come back around, if you wait long enough! You can see that the pattern is in a series of large ‘frames’, which was a common design feature of wallpapers in the 20s and 30s. The wallpaper in this room has been considerably faded by light from the large windows although, when you come visit, take a look at the paper above the bed – it has far more pinks and oranges in its pattern, as at one time a large wardrobe stood in this spot and has protected the paper from further light damage!

Varnished "sanitary" wallpaper in the Servants' Areas of Sunnycroft

Varnished “sanitary” wallpaper in the Servants’ Areas of Sunnycroft

This paper is actually called “sanitary” paper and was varnished at the factory, and then often varnished again in situ, to make it wipe-clean! It was used predominantly in Servants’ areas of houses, as the wallpaper answer to linoleum on the floor! Sunnycroft has a rare surviving example of this, and it’s intriguing to see that there are at least two other layers of paper underneath this one that are peeking through – make sure you have a look when you wander the house! When the house was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1997, this beautiful paper was actually covered with modern Laura Ashley wallpaper, and a team of conservators had to delve beneath to reveal this paper from 1899!

At the end of the tour we were given an area of wallpaper that might be suffering or require monitoring to ensure that it does not deteriorate further, and shown how to examine the area and record our findings. Some of these papers are over one hundred years old, so it’s hardly surprising that they’re feeling a bit delicate!

Examining the damaged areas of paper

Examining the damaged areas of paper

The area I looked at was the sanitary wallpaper you saw above; I chose a small area behind the door in the Servants’ Corridor. It’s an unusual place to have damage, as the door covers the area when the house is open to visitors, so there is no risk of any accidental damage or abrasion. It is a good area to monitor, as we can track if there are any changes to the environment or if it deteriorates further and a conservator is required to stabilise it.
Flaking paper in the servants' corridor

Flaking paper in the servants’ corridor

We took photographs of the paper under a raking light, which highlights if it is lifting, bubbling underneath, or how large any areas of tears or flaking are.

We measured the area with a ruler, filing out a condition monitoring form which is filed, and drew a diagram on it to show the location and size of the problem area. We dated this information, so that periodically we can return to the area and quickly check if any change has occurred. Hopefully though, it won’t!

Who knew you could get so excited about wallpaper?

by Rebecca Farr, Assistant House and Visitor Services Manager

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