Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Influence of Textiles on Early Wallpaper Design

The first examples of wallpaper date from the 15th Century and were used not only on walls but also to decorate ceilings and some items of furniture. At this time wallpaper was produced as small single sheets which could be used alone or joined to make a pattern. England led the way in the development of wallpaper and by 1700 had invented the role of wallpaper still common today. The length of 12 yards or approximately 10 metres is still a standard length for wallpaper today and the common width of 21 inches (56.5 cm) was the width of the silk which inspired many of the designs.

Wallpaper replaced fabric hangings and tapestries as a popular wall covering, although paper was expensive it was cheaper to reproduce a fabric design on paper and either hang it or paste it on to the wall. Early papers imitated textiles - mostly embroidery but also printed fabrics and lace. I was surprised to learnt whilst researching these papers that some of the best examples come from Epsom in Surrey, my home town and specifically from a house called The Shrubbery. The Shrubbery was demolished due to vandalism but it once stood on South Street, the same street that I live on now, it was also built in 1680, around the same time as the house that I live in and used for my initial project.

"Many examples of these early papers have been found at Epsom in Surrey, which was not only a spa own but was a place where wealthy merchants from London liked to live. The papers could even have been made there." The Papered Wall: The history, patterns and techniques of wallpaper.

The Shrubbery in Epsom - demolished due to vandalism, the site is now a roundabout.

Example of early 18th Century wallpaper from Epsom: Pre-joined single sheets grounded in yellow and stencilled and block-printed in various colours.

The V&A is home to most examples of early wallpaper; including some of the Epsom papers. You can search their collection for wallpapers from a specific time and place and it will bring up an information sheet detailing where and when it was found and any details about the origins or manufacture that are available. One of the papers in the V&A Collection is from Uppark in Sussex. It is an 18th Century design and depicts a 'spare and delicate pattern of trailing blue flowers with a simple cable border, closely resembling the embroidery of Spitalfields silk patterns.'

London was important in both the manufacture of silk and wallpaper. One of the most well known and technically advances wallpaper warehouses in London was located in Aldermanbury - just the other side of Liverpool street to Fournier Street, in the heart of the City of London. Spitalfields is approximately 1 mile away which further strengthens the links between the fabric and wallpaper trades.

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