Research last year into the decoration in the 4th Dukes Bedroom led to the initial discovery that in 1771 it was hung with ‘India’ paper, the name both given to goods from the whole of Asia and wallpapers imported from China which were transported in East India Company ships. Discovery of the original invoice dated 1752 was a great find, as it described what this wallpaper looked like, who hung it, when and what it cost, along with similar information on a number of other Chinese wallpapers.
This was enough information to justify physical investigation in the room, and conservator Mark Sandiford peeled off the later wallpapers to reveal what was underneath. Our initial search was disappointing as it revealed a mid-19th century wallpaper hung over a late-18th century wallpaper and we found that the panelling in this area had been replaced at the same time so there was no evidence of the Chinese wallpaper. We carefully chose another part of the room to investigate, and in June found a number of fragments of the Chinese wallpaper revealing flowers, leaves and rocks which confirmed that it was a printed paper, which was hand painted, on a plain coloured background. The printed papers mark the beginning of the import of Chinese wallpapers, and we could tell from these fragments that this paper was similar to those at Felbrigg, Igtham Moat and Uppark.
Once the house closed for the winter, we dismantled the 4th Dukes Bedroom and just before Christmas discovered a large fragment of the hand painted Chinese wallpaper underneath three, later layers of wallpaper in addition to many smaller fragments throughout the room. This wallpaper was hung here in 1752, and has been hidden since the room was redecorated in the late-18th century. It is an important discovery as it is a large piece of one of the earliest, surviving Chinese wallpapers exported to Europe.
This presented the rare opportunity to show the different layers of wallpaper on the walls and explain how they can be read to determine the function and status of a room alongside interpreting the process of how to reveal a room’s history. The idea for the exhibition came from this and the stories of other lost, Chinese wallpapers as well as the diverse selection of Chinese wallpapers hanging at Woburn today.
Her Grace, The Duchess of Bedford and Lucy Johnson (Historic Interior Consultant)