Tapestry Conservation at St Mary’s Guildhall

Published Thursday, 24 September 2020

A specialist textile conservator paid a welcome visit to St Mary’s Guildhall recently to carry out a visual survey of the Guildhall’s stunning tapestry.

Pictured: Cllr Jim O' Boyle and Wendy Toulson
Pictured: Cllr Jim O’ Boyle and Wendy Toulson

The tapestry, dating back to the turn of the 16th Century, sits proudly in its original location in the Guildhall, which is widely recognised as one of the finest medieval guildhalls in the country.

Although the tapestry has been subject to visual inspections, most recently in 2019, the last time any major conservation was carried out is thought to be around 40 years ago.

This survey was made possible thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Councillor Jim O’Boyle, Cabinet Member for Jobs and Regeneration, said:

“This stunning tapestry is over 500 years old and it needs to take pride of place in this fantastic space for future generations to come and enjoy.

“As people will know, over the next few months there’s a lot of work planned to go on at the Guildhall and showcasing the tapestry is a key piece of that work.

“With the planned opening-up of the fantastic medieval kitchen alongside other improvements, our ambition is to have somewhere Coventry residents and visitors can all be proud of.

“It’s no longer Coventry’s best kept secret. Our ambition is to have an attraction that people from across the country and indeed all over the world know about and want to visit.”

Previous inspections have all been carried out with the display case glass intact, so whilst it appears the tapestry is in reasonable condition, to enable a proper condition survey to be undertaken, the glass frontage to the display case was removed with the support of a specialist contractor.

Wendy Toulson, the specialist textile conservator employed to inspect the tapestry said:

“The tapestry, which was clearly specially woven for this space in the Guildhall, was probably made around the turn of the 16th Century. It’s in fairly good condition largely because it was comprehensively conserved at the Textile Conservation Centre in Hampton Court Palace in the late 70s, early 80s.

“The main purpose of my visit was to look at the way in which it’s displayed and, in particular, to see if there are improvements that can be made, especially to the display case, so that people can see this amazing jewel more clearly.

“This may include possibly modifying the glass, or the way in which the tapestry is fixed into the back of the display case so that people have an even better chance to see it.”

Following the survey visit, the next step will see a conservation report or proposal prepared detailing the extent of conservation works required, including potential for the tapestry to be cleaned or have some other expert conservation carried out to assist its long-term preservation so it can be displayed to its best advantage.

The survey work was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of the Development Phase works being undertaken at the Guildhall and forms part of the overall National Lottery Heritage Fund Bid for St Mary’s Guildhall.

If successful, the actual conservation works would start in the new year.

Coventry City Council