Farmhouse at Weald & Downland Open Air Museum given major interior uplift


- Credit: Archant

Bayleaf, the Museum’s 16th century Wealden farmhouse, has been given a major interior uplift with the introduction of a new painted cloth decorating the upper end of the hall.

When Bayleaf was first furnished in the late 1980s it was provided with a woven wool and silk damask cloth to hang behind the table at the upper end of the hall which was copied from a surviving 16th century fragment. Over the years the cloth has faded and deteriorated and it has now reached a state where it cannot be repaired.

The Museum decided to replace it with a painted replica cloth made by Hastings-based designer, Melissa White, who specialises in hand-painted Elizabethan domestic interior decoration, including wall paintings and painted cloths.

The striking striped design alternates a pomegranate motif (in yellow) with rosettes in a diamond trellis. Using traditional techniques Melissa painted directly onto linen cloth (which has been prepared or ‘sized’ with rabbit-skin glue) using natural pigments, including yellow and red ochre, lamp black and whiting.

The Museum’s Historian, Danae Tankard, says: ‘this has been an exciting project to be involved with. We are all delighted with the results’.

Painted cloths were a common form of decoration in the 16th century but very few survive because of the thin and perishable nature of the linen. However, we know that their designs were similar to those of domestic wall paintings. Melissa based her design on the wall paintings at Althrey Hall (Flintshire, Wales) which are of the right date for Bayleaf’s furnished interior (about 1540) and are well preserved.

Unlike tapestries, which were only found in the houses of the wealthy, painted cloths were common even in lower-status dwellings. They were painted in bright colours and sometimes included large-scale figurative and narrative decorations.

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The new cloth will be showcased at our special-interest event, Colour in Historic Homes, on Sunday 21 September when Melissa will be on hand to discuss her techniques.

The Museum is open every day this summer from 10.30am – 6pm. The lakeside café will be open, plus there are indoor and outdoor picnic areas. Dogs on leads are welcome and there is ample free parking.

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