The restoration of priceless 16th-century tapestries has been completed following a meticulous 24-year restoration project that cost £1.7 million. In 1592, the 13 tapestries, which depict the biblical story of Gideon, were acquired for Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire by its proprietor, Elizabeth Talbot, also known as Bess of Hardwick.
Bess and the Gideon Tapestries
Bess of Hardwick, who was married four times, became one of England’s wealthiest women and was a close associate of Queen Elizabeth I. She acquired the tapestries to adorn her newly built grand residence during a shopping spree in London. The Gideon tapestries are the largest surviving set in the UK and have remained in the Long Gallery in Hardwick Hall since the end of the 16th century.
The Role of the National Trust
The National Trust, a renowned conservation organization in the UK, is the current custodian of the Gideon tapestries at Hardwick Hall. The Trust is committed to preserving the nation’s heritage and open spaces, ensuring they can be enjoyed by everyone.
The Gideon tapestries, with their immense historical value and unique status as an intact collection from the Elizabethan era, are a significant part of this heritage. The Trust undertook the restoration project to safeguard these treasures for future generations, reflecting its dedication to the preservation of cultural artifacts.
The Restoration Process
Over the centuries, these historical artifacts accumulated significant damage and grime. A team of specialists painstakingly restored each 6-meter wall hanging—one at a time! The restoration process included sending the tapestries to Belgium for wet cleaning, followed by intricate needlework repairs.
Each tapestry took over two years to complete extensive repairs and stabilization work, with the final tapestry requiring over 5,470 hours of conservation stitching, lining, and reconstruction.
The tapestry restoration, initiated by the National Trust and a freelance studio, was later taken over by the Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk. Throughout the project, about 30 conservators worked on the 13-piece set, including a massive 6m x 9m tapestry.
Rehanging and Preservation
The team used scaffolding to rehang the tapestries due to their sheer size. Each tapestry was on a roll which was raised vertically and then unrolled from one side of the wall to the other. The top of each tapestry was secured with Velcro to two wooden battens fixed on the wall. The tapestries are left for at least two years without portraits hung over to allow them to be seen in all their glory, as originally intended.
Preserving the textiles for future enjoyment Hardwick involves several key steps:
- Protecting them from light, heat, and visitors’ fingers
- Cleaning them delicately with goat hair brushes and a museum vacuum
- Regularly surveying them and providing condition reports
Plan Your Visit
To experience the grandeur of the Gideon tapestries in person, you can visit Hardwick Hall, an Elizabethan masterpiece located in Doe Lea, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, S44 5QJ. For information about opening times and prices, visit the National Trust’s Hardwick Hall page. Please note that the Hall may occasionally be closed for private events or conservation work, so it’s recommended to check the website for the most up-to-date information before planning your visit.