Restoring the Drawing Room at Farringford (2012-17)

Rebecca FitzGerald

The restoration of the drawing room was part of a major programme of works to the main house spanning five years. Before tackling any internal works, we had to repair the roofs, nine in total.

1 bay window exterior shot looking into the room   2 bay window and original shutters freed from layers of paint

Our initial approach, as with the rest of the house, was to carefully strip back the layers of hotel-era paintwork and wallpaper in order to fully assess the conditions of the ceiling, walls, cornice, and bay window.

3 corner ceiling showing water damage. much of the cornice needed to be replaced  4 Fitted bookcase listed in Emily's 1860 inventory uncovered. In location of original chimney

The room had an enormous mirror which was original to the room; it hung full height on the south wall as you entered. It was taken to Arnold Wiggins in London who did a wonderful job of re-gilding and repairing the frame. Its removal exposed historical paint and wallpaper fragments, the most recent predating the 1940s when the family sold the house to Thomas Cook Holidays who converted the building to a hotel. Specialist conservators, Crick-Smith Conservation, researched and complied a report on the papers throughout the house, and identified two fragments from behind this mirror dating from the middle decades of the nineteenth century. One was a star pattern, which I had made for one of the four principal bedrooms, the other a small fragment of a large-scale pattern. I made an informed guess as to how it might have looked in its entirety. I found something suitable with Bruce Fine Papers.

8 First section of wallpaper
There was quite a lot of water damage to the Tennysons’ drawing room. About 25% of the timber in the bay window needed to be replaced due to wet rot, most of this at sill level. 30% of the original cornice had to be taken down due to water ingression through the flat roof, but the walls in general were in good order.

5 detail thereof 6 Detail of cornice in progress 7 Detail of finished cornice The first attempted

We discovered that the fireplace had been moved from the north end of the room to its current location sometime between 1843 and 1853 by The Rev R. Seymour, who sold the house to the Tennysons in 1856. On lifting the floorboards in order to install the under-floor heating we found one with the handwritten instruction, ‘For collection by R Seymour for Farringford.’

Several visitors’ accounts refer to the drawing room being a room predominantly red in colour scheme. It is known that when the family rented the house between 1853-1856 they lived with a red wallpaper, before re-papering once they had raised the funds to buy the property. The paper Ian Crick-Smith identified is in tints of beige, soft gold and dove grey. All of the soft furnishings chosen are nonetheless in shades of crimson, also the ‘lustres’ [sic] and oil lamps, so to recreate that crimson glow so often alluded.

I referred constantly to Emily’s inventory from 1860 (held in the collection of the Tennyson Research Centre in Lincoln) when it came to sourcing furniture and objects for the room, and selectively, to visitor’s accounts. The low organ, described as being in one of the two alcoves at the north end of the room, came from the wonderful Finchcocks Musical Museum, the other alcove is taken up with an étagère as before. A chaise longue is positioned to take full advantage once more of the view from the bay window that Emily so loved. Rosewood occasional tables, a crimson sofa, and an assortment of chairs have found their allotted place. The only piece of furniture original to the house, however, and almost certainly to this room, is a very large walnut Queen Anne style centre table, which occupies the space in front of the bay window.

Leonée Ormond’s publication, Tennyson and the Old Masters (1989), was indispensable when it came to researching the paintings that originally hung in this room. Now, Titians grace the walls once more, albeit digital copies thereof!!! We also gained permission to have copies made of the portrait of George Clayton Tennyson (originally hung in the entrance hall), and another of a youthful Tennyson, for each alcove.

The fitted carpet in shades of crimson and plum was the last item of soft furnishing to arrive, the delay the result of the loom having broken down. Everything of course had to be moved out of the room. It was worth the wait, and now everything is in place and the furniture restored to the room, we are ready to receive our first visitors.

9 Room complete, excepting portraits of George Clayton Tennyson and a youthful Alfred for each alcove


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