The excitement is building within the bedroom team at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House as we are now well on the way to finishing the restoration of Elizabeth’s bedroom.
If you have visited Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, you will have seen our beautiful carpets in the main ground floor rooms. These were woven for us by Avena Carpets in Halifax, a company with a long history of weaving traditional “Brussels weave” carpets under the original name of Crossley Carpets. As the “Brussels weave” name suggests, these carpets originated in Brussels and were introduced into England towards the middle of the eighteenth-century. They are woven from coloured worsted yarns fixed into a foundation web made from strong linen then drawn through in loops to form the pattern.
Traditionally, the carpets were woven in 27” wide strips and stitched together by hand. This enabled carpets to be fitted to the edges of the room and also used on staircases. Crossley Carpets supplied us with a roll of carpet in a similar design to our existing ones. Frank and Adam from our bedroom team drew up a complex stitching plan to fit the carpet to the room and it was then sent to EdgeCo in Dunstable to be stitched in the traditional way. Our entire carpet has been hand-stitched – just like it would have been in 1860!
The carpet was delivered and fitted in early March and once this was done, we were able to start putting in the furniture, the centrepiece of the room being our magnificent four-poster bed which was treated with beeswax before adding the finishing touches with the hangings and bedding (read my earlier blog for more on the bed).
Visitors to the House love to ring for the servants, using the traditional wood and brass handled bellpulls in the ground floor rooms which are attached to cords leading down into the basement where our four bells are situated. Traditionally the servants’ bellpull in the bedroom would have been a long strip of fabric, very often embroidered tapestry work, which hung from the ceiling down to the side of the bed. The bellpull had brass end fittings with a loop on the bottom end which was used for pulling. It was from the position of the original bellpull mechanism in the bedroom that we knew the position of the bed. Our search for an original bellpull didn’t find any of the required length, as the bedroom ceilings are high. We did find a very pretty, Victorian tapestry bellpull with original brass fittings which we bought and luckily one of our volunteers from the House Sewing Bee is an expert at tapestry work so is currently stitching a longer replica for the bedroom. Just like the Victorian ladies would have done!
The curtains poles have been fitted and the curtains hung. The pretty traditional chintz patterned main curtains and the fine, delicate lace curtains add a light and feminine feel to Elizabeth’s bedroom. With the addition of our carefully selected collection of clothing, including some original Gaskell family lace and a stunning silk 1850s dress, the room is really starting to look as though Elizabeth still uses it.
We mustn’t forget William Gaskell, of course. William was Elizabeth’s husband from 1832 until her death in 1865. An important figure in Manchester, he has many fans among our team of volunteers. We recently found a very jolly knitted men’s nightcap and our textile expert is currently searching for an 1850s nightshirt and other items of clothing that a Victorian middle-class gentleman may have had in the bedroom.
Among the smaller items we needed, we now have two chamber sticks. These are short candle holders with a flat circular or ornamentally shaped base and a handle. They were used to hold the candle to light the way to the bedchamber without dripping wax on the hands, clothing, or floor; and while walking around the bedchamber.
We still have a few more items to source including an oilcloth for in front of the washstand and to have the cushions made and the chaise longue re-covered.
We aim to have the bedroom ready for when the House re-opens to the public in May and we can’t wait to be able to show it to our visitors!