The Newbridge Curtains of 1828 - Open House Dublin 2024
Journal •

The Newbridge Curtains of 1828

Newbridge Demesne, Donabate, owned by Fingal County Council for the benefit of the public, is the only surviving intact 18th-century demesne in Dublin and one of the few remaining in the country. It has changed little over the course of its history of over 230 years. Of significance are the unaltered interiors and the collections of paintings, objects, furniture and furnishings that they contain and the stories they tell about the times that they were made.

One of these important interiors is the red drawing room or saloon. It is one of the best-preserved Georgian interiors in the country, providing a rare opportunity to study an Irish collection in its historical context. 

Beneath a ceiling and cornice of rococo plaster, the furnishings and wallpaper remain substantially unaltered. The sets of curtains to the 5 windows in the room, together with pelmets and tiebacks, have been in position in the Newbridge House’s saloon since they were commissioned in 1828. The curtains and red carpet were supplied by the Dublin upholsterers and cabinet makers Mack, Williams and Gibton. 

The curtains are made from red silk damask, interlined with domette (a plain cloth with cotton warp and woollen weft), and lined with a plain weave red wool fabric. They are trimmed on both sides and at the lower edge, with a gold-coloured silk and wool braid. The shaped pelmets are gathered into box pleats featuring gold-coloured damask rosettes at the centre of each pleat and gold-coloured silk and wool thread bobble fringe trimmings. Tiebacks have an additional stiffener of jute/hessian between the interlining and lining. They are trimmed with a central rosette, formed from gold-coloured wool and silk, with lengths of gold-coloured silk and wool twist cording at each end. 

It is thought that there are very few complete decorative schemes surviving from this period, and Newbridge House may well be the only one in Ireland, so its preservation is of national importance. In 2014 it became apparent that a conservation project would be required to stabilise and preserve the curtains, as part of the interior of Newbridge House, for future generations. The curtains were ageing and badly damaged by light and moth attacks.

So, what was done? First, the curtains were photographed and recorded. All elements were surface cleaned using a low-power vacuum suction and a cosmetic sponge. Matching silk fabric and bobbins were dyed the right colour. Silk support was laid in behind the damask, and stitched in place using a fine polyester thread, with lines of couching to secure splits and loss. The same areas were overlaid with dyed nylon bobbin net for further protection, stitching to secure it. Any damage to the interlining was patched using a fabric of appropriate weight and colour. The wool linings were overlaid with dyed nylon bobbin net, stitching around areas of loss, into the interlining to contain what was left of the wool in place. Worn areas of braiding were checked and replaced as necessary. A new cotton sateen lining was fitted and secured with stitching around the edges and, finally, all the layers were stitched back together.

All of this was an incredible amount of work that was very labour-intensive. It was carried out in phases over 4 years by Annabel Wylie and Poppy Singer, textile conservators. This project was generously funded by the Apollo Foundation with enabling funding from Fingal County Council.

 

By Fionnuala May, September 2023     

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