Friday, 25 October 2013

Student style and a wallpaper sandwich

Louisa Knight, Assistant Curator of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, finds out more about an unusual wallpaper 'sandwich': 

In November 2003, wallpaper fragments from Peterhouse Cambridge were given to the museum. They were discovered during renovations of the college's dorm rooms and gifted to the museum as a large slab of papers stuck together and scraped off a wall. As the museum's conservator began work on the slab, 12 separate layers of papers were revealed which represented over 200 hundred years of wall decoration in the dorm room.

Petershouse Cambridge (source: Petershouse)

Peterhouse Cambridge is the oldest college of the university and was founded in 1284 by the Bishop of Ely. It had many eminent past students including Frank Whittle, James Mason and Michel Portillo.

For many years, Cambridge students were able to decorate their own rooms. The variety of patterns in the wallpaper sandwich reflects the choices and style of past students whilst the plainer and more modern fragments is the kind of wall covering more familiar to students of today (plain white woodchip paper!). The graphic below reveals how the layers were built up on top of each other over 200 years.

All layers of the wallpaper sandwich from a dormitory in the university college, Peterhouse, Cambridge, salvaged ca.1999, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (Badda4869)
Soon after the sandwich came to MoDA, a conservator separated part of it into individual layers, thus allowing us to identify and date each paper by it's printing or paper-manufacturing techniques, paper quality and pattern style. A piece of newspaper, which was also plastered to the wall, has also helped with dating it.

wallpaper fragment, 'Mallow’designed by Kate Faulkener for William Morris  & Co and printed by Jeffery & Co. 1879. Reg: GJ.9659 Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (Badda4689.3)
Wallpaper fragment with a pattern of white vertical and horizontal lines on a brown ground, 1930s,
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (Badda4689.10)

Wallpaper fragment of ivy leaves forming a lattice on a grey and cream ground, machine printed and manufactured from 1905-1920, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (Badda4689.7)

In the act of conserving each layer, we felt it was important to preserve its original condition as a sandwich of wallpapers. Part of it was therefore left intact, allowing the observer to appreciate the context and place for each individual layer which together says much about student style choices over time, from the late eighteenth to the twentieth century.

If you would like to see more of the wallpaper sandwich or other wallpaper samples at MoDA, please contact us to book a study room appointment.

1 comment:

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