Hardwick Hall’s tapestries: Gideon’s story continues

 In this post Gina Richards looks into what is being done with some of Britian’s most treasured tapestries… 

The National Trust own the largest collection of tapestries in Britain, with Hardwick Hall having over 100 in its impressive collection.

Within the property resides the internationally significant Gideon collection, which tells the biblical story of Gideon’s victory over the Midianites. Due to its historically unique nature, its conservation is essential. The collection is now in this long and delicate process right now.

In 1996, the collection was surveyed and discovered that an estimated £1.7 million was needed to conserve and repair this stunning collection for future generations to enjoy.

The Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall

The Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall

Originally woven in 1578, the tapestries are now looking grey and weathered. Due to the architecture of Harwick Hall, ‘more glass then wall’ as the jingle goes, it has meant the once vibrant colours of the tapestries have suffered significant light bleaching.  Other factors for their deterioration include the air pollution caused by nearby coal mines, which has absorbed into the threads.

Despite this, 436 years later they’re still hanging, even if it’s by velcro.  The long gallery, which was designed specifically to house these intricate tapestries, still doesn’t fail to impress the thousands of visitors each year.

Erecting a scaffold tower in the Long Gallery in preparation for conservation work at Hardwick Hall.

Erecting a scaffold tower in the Long Gallery in preparation for conservation work at Hardwick Hall.

Last week, the 11th tapestry of the collection was delicately taken down by a large team of experts and taken to The National Trust textile conservation studio in Norfolk. From there, the tapestry is sent to De Wit Royal Manufacture in Belgium to be wet cleaned and then carefully taken back to the studio to be thoroughly examined. After an intense analysis of the damage, it is lovingly mended by hand to restore quality.

Unfortunately, the tapestries original vibrant and lively colour pallet cannot be restored from prior damage. Nevertheless, by taking a closer look at the back of the tapestries, it gives you a unique insight into the exciting colours which once would of adorned the front. This skilful process of restoration takes about two years to complete, with the Trust looking to finish the collection in 2020.

The whole collection of thirteen were purchased as a bargain from the Heirs of Sir Christopher  Hatton for £326.6s. Bess of Harwick used her persuasive negotiation skills to further bargain an impressive £5 discount. Her justification was the great expense she would have to pay for editing out the orignal owner’s crest and having her’s embodied in. However, being the savvy businesswoman woman she was, Bess simply added antlers to the does on the existing crest, avoiding the tedious process of getting it re-embodied.

What can I do to help?

The National Trust is so thankful for the generous donations towards this essential work here at Harwick House. Thanks to you, there is only two tapestries left to restore. However, we still need your generosity to help complete the collection. The work is vital in saving these rare tapestries from disrepair.

To help the essential work that is taking place please donate to : www.justgiving.com/HardwickGideons.


Gina, is a Media and Communications intern focusing on producing video to support the many upcoming National Trust projects. As a Graphic Design graduate, she is passionate about communicating inspiring ideaGina Richards blog images and important issues.


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