Wallpaper In Ireland.....a series

Herewith an examination in serial form of David Skinner's recent book Wallpaper In Ireland 1700 - 1900.


...One of Ireland's lesser-known trades, its history largely forgotten, wallpaper manufacture employed many hundreds of people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when locally-produced papers were sold and used alongside those imported from other countries. Charting the history of wallpaper use by examining surviving examples and the documentary record, this book aims to awaken some echoes of the people who bought wallpaper in Ireland or who spent their lives in making it, and to trace the contexts of its production and design…

Paper-staining, as the trade came to be known, took root, flourished and declined in Ireland in an arc of activity spanning the century and a half between the 1720s and the 1870s…In England wallpaper manufacture was developed by well-capitalized companies like the Blue Paper Company, backed by investors with an expansionist outlook on foreign markets, while in Ireland artisanal family businesses, passed on from fathers to sons, operated in an isolated and hermetic economy, training apprentices who, when they became masters, had either to carve out a share of a limited market or emigrate. By the 1830s Dublin was said to have more master wallpaper makers than all of Britain, but only a few of them were doing much more than eking out a living. To a great extent, what differentiates Irish wallpapers from those made in Britain is not so much their design as the circumstances and conditions of their production…

A central aim of the present study is to chart the rise and fall of the Irish paper-stainer, from the artisan workshops which supplied the wealthy elite of Georgian society to the clandestine garrets which sent contraband wallpapers to Victorian Britain....This book illustrates the richness and diversity of the styles and patterns which formed the backdrop to domestic lives in Ireland over two centuries...


(from Chapter 1)

Single women, either widowed or unmarried, owned a significant proportion
of paper staining and related businesses in Dublin. One of these was the widow
Catherine McCormick, whose career path, from humble beginnings, through early
widowhood and into prosperous old age, shows how an astute and determined
woman could thrive in the artisan milieu. When she appeared as a witness in the
trial of Richard Annesley, Lord Altham - one of eighteenth-century Dublin’s
most notorious legal cases - McCormick gave her occupation as 'stamping or print-
ing papers for rooms'. Her evidence at the trial provides some details about her station
in life before she entered the wallpaper trade. 

In 1714, she had been a servant at the rooming house of a Mr Vice, near Temple Bar. It is not known when she married the paper-stainer John McCormick, but she was widowed in Christmas
week 1741 when her husband was 'taken out of the Liffey at Aston Quay, greatly
wounded in the head and died immediately'. According to a newspaper report he
had been in the company of a friend, and 'being in liquor they both fell into the
river together'. From the time she was widowed in 1741 until she formed a business 
partnership in her sixties with another paper-stainer Thomas Benn, she ran the business on her own from her house in Essex Street. 

A typical advertisement from Faulkner’s Dublin Journal in 1762 gives a picture of a feisty businesswoman intent on seeing off competition: 'The Widow McCormick, Paper-Stamper, ...
continues to make all kind of Paper Hangings, and has lately imported a great
variety of new English Papers - her chief End in importing being to have it in her
power to select the best Patterns, and copy from the Originals, and has at present
finished several Patterns, that, from the great Care taken in executing them, vie in
competition with the English, and which, she presumes, must far excel the copies made after hers'.


(from Chapter 2: Flock And Chintz Papers)

Among the print works which sprang up on the rivers around Dublin, that of Thomas and
Margaret Ashworth in Donnybrook was unusual in that it produced both textiles and wallpapers. The Ashworths specialised in printing chintzes both for furnishing and 'for ladies' wear in Indian sprigs', and from 1753 expanded their output to include their 'Donnybrook papers for hanging rooms', designed to match their 'chintz patterns for furniture in the cotton and linen way'. Chintz is one of the styles most frequently mentioned in advertisements from the 1750s until the early
1770s, and nearly every Dublin paper-stainer supplied his - or her - own version.

The evident popularity of chintz-patterned papers is reflected in the number of examples which have been found in Irish houses of all sizes, from Castletown, County Kildare, to Dublin's Eustace Street….In copying the appearance of textile chintzes, Dublin paper-stainers used a similar palette of purples, pinks, blues and yellows, contained within black, or sometimes red, outlines, often selecting those pigments which could, in a gum medium, emulate the transparent shades found on printed cloth. Chintz patterns were frequently printed straight onto the paper surface, without a preparatory ground coat of colour, allowing the creamy tone of the rag paper to stand in for the white background usual in Indian cottons. The black or red outlines were block-printed and the remaining colour applied by stencilling or hand-brushing - a process known as ‘pencilling’ - which was often carried out by young girls.

(photo below) Fig. 28: Chintz-patterned wallpaper, block-printed outlines and pin dots on ungrounded paper, stencilled colours, mid-eighteenth century. Casteltown, County Kildare.


(from Chapter 3: Stucco And 'Architect' Paper

The rivalry between Augustine Berville and Thomas Fuller was conducted very publicly, if relatively politely, through the pages of the Universal Advertiser from 1753 until 1757, when John Gordon, having apparently poached one of the Frenchman’s Irish employees, advertised his own version of paper stucco, claiming that his 'designs, models and moulds, are entirely new and conducted by a native who he engages, whose performance convinces the public, that he is a better hand than any brought from abroad'. This announcement provoked a three-way media tussle, with Berville, Fuller and Gordon taking out lengthy advertisements which sometimes appeared on the same newspaper page (see below, Universal Advertiser of 19 April 1757). 

Gordon appealed to his customers' patriotic sentiments, while Berville responded that 'though not a native, he employs none but natives'. As the quarrel escalated, Berville complained that 'one in particular' of his rivals had 'maliciously reported that he [Berville] had left the Kingdom and that no more of his Manufactory was to be had'. Perhaps in an attempt to hit back at Gordon, Berville began selling paperhangings in July 1757,but this venture was shortlived, and he may have actually left Ireland soon after, as no more is heard of him. Gordon continued to advertise paper stucco into the late 1760s, describing himself as 'Paper-stamper and Stucco-maker in Papier-machi'.


In Chapter 3 David Skinner discusses two wallpapers shown in "An Interior With Members of a Family". On p. 48 of Wallpaper in New England (WINE) there are further references - see above for fragments now at Historic New England taken from the General Glover house in Marblehead. The fragments show a woman leaning against the balustrade. Fig. 3-16 in Lynn (Wallpaper In America) shows the English model for the chimney breast paper. Her fig. 3-17 shows an American knock-off, with pattern reversed, from the shop of Zechariah Mills of Hartford.

Skinner, p. 201: The design of the main paper comprises a round arch supported on paired columns resting on sections of wall joined by a balustrade, behind which is a domed tempietto. These features correspond with a wallpaper which was used in the stair hall of Sparhawk Hall
in Kittery Point, Maine, some time after 1759, described in R. Nylander, “Wallpaper in New England” (Boston 1986), 48-51. There, the pattern was further embellished with a pair of birds and the figure of a woman resting on the balustrade - details which may have existed in the Irish example painted by Lowry but were too small for the artist to show. 

The slightly different wallpaper used on the chimney breast in the painting has the same arrangement of arch and columns, but the space beneath is filled with a view of further colonnades in perspective. A similar paper to this was found in the Samuel Buckingham house, Old Saybrook, Connecticut, built in 1768. This is illustrated in Lynn, “Wallpaper in America”, 82, fig. 3-16. Both this and the Sparhawk Hall paper carried English excise stamps.

(see this link for related photos)



(from Chapter 4; India Paper and Chinoiserie):

From his shop in Capel Street, Samuel Dixon sold sets of India paper, as well as 'India pictures for Japanning or mock China' and an array of art materials for ‘gentlemen and ladies' amusements', while the upholsterer Claude Duplain suggested these might be used for 'screens, doing up rooms, or making China and French flowered silks'. On a visit to Lucan House, County Dublin, in 1749, Mrs Delany spent the afternoon with her friend Mrs Vesey, who 'had a whim to have Indian figures and flowers cut out and oiled, to be transparent, and pasted on her dressing-room window in imitation of painting on glass'. 

An early scheme which employed small Chinese paintings as wallpaper is the set of around twenty-four individual pictures framed in borders painted to resemble bamboo, bought by Archbishop Cobbe for the museum room at Newbridge, County Dublin, built around 1737. Although the original paper is no longer in Newbridge, it has been replaced by a skilfully painted copy, so that the impression of the room's original appearance has been retained. References in eighteenth-century inventories suggest that the use of Chinese papers was more widespread than the handful of surviving examples would allow: eleven panels of  'India paper pictures' adorned the marble hall of Dromana, County Waterford, in 1755, while those in the parlour of Stackallan, County Meath, were dismissed as being ‘very ordinary' by a valuer in 1757.

photo below, top: Westport House, County Mayo, Chinese wallpaper detail. The group of figures has an identical counterpart in Ballyfin, the only differences being in the colouring. It seems that various methods of serial production, including tracing and the use of printing blocks, were practised in the manufacture of Chinese wallpapers.

photo below, bottom: Detail of Chinese wallpaper now at Ballyfin, County Laois, originally from Schloss Marienburg, near Hanover, Germany.


Figure 89

(from Chapter 5; The Distinctively Un-French Wallpapers Of Edward Duras, Irish Paper-Stainer Of Bordeaux):

Edward Duras was an Irish paper-stainer with a twist: he moved his business from Dublin to France. Duras's papers employ a number of ingenious devices to suggest the appearance
of brocade and lace. One, printed in black and white on a yellow ground, uses the
'slip print' technique to create an effect of relief (fig. 89). This method of printing
required the printer to use the same block for two consecutive colours, off-setting
the print slightly the second time in order to create the impression of a shadow.
In another pattern, horizontal dashes printed in white onto crimson and pink
stripes convey the shimmer of silk brocade (fig. 90). A similar, though somewhat
cruder, paper with a rich red ground has been found in a small first-floor room in
Dublin's Eustace Street, where it had been hung over an earlier chintz-patterned
paper, probably in the late 1770s (fig. 91). 

Figure 90

The resemblance underlines the fact that Duras's patterns are distinctively un-French and correspond closely with styles described by his Dublin contemporaries in their advertisements. Wallpaper patterns based on Dresden lace and lustering were among those offered by an
anonymous English manufacturer at an auction in College Green in 1770, while Thomas Gibton sold 'lace, compartments and other patterns of the newest and most elegant taste’. Gibton's 'compartments' may have been similar to another of Duras's patterns at Dax, in which the background to a main pattern printed in white is filled in with areas of smaller floral motifs in black, contained within solid black boundaries (fig. 92). The palette of greys, yellows and pinks favoured by Duras reflects the range of newly popular colours advertised by Dublin paper-stainers in the 1770s, which continued to be used mostly as backgrounds, with the main patterns printed in black, white or grey.

Figures 91, 92


(from Chapter 5):

Of Ulster Scots descent, Moses Staunton of Belfast, 'room paper manufacturer,' was the founding father of the wallpaper industry in Canada…Moses was established in business by 1843, when an advertisement placed in the Ulster Directory informed the public that his factory on Arthur Street was producing 3,000 rolls of wallpaper per week ‘for the English and Scotch markets’, and listed some of the types held in stock - 10,000 rolls of bedroom paper, 5,000 of parlour and drawing room papers, and 1,000 rolls of oak paper. Both 'common Sorts' and 'finer Sorts' of room papers were offered, including a large stock of the novel machine-printed papers imported from factories in the north-east of England, which could be purchased from five pence ha'penny per roll.

...some mystery surrounds the dramatic decision he took in 1854 to emigrate with his wife and six children to North America…after initial hardships, Staunton was able, once again, to set up in the paper-staining business. Staunton’s pride in triumphing over adversity is evident in the Christmas letter he wrote in 1856… 'If I had not laid off my coat and went and done my own paper hanging here, I believe I would have been beat', wrote the former factory owner…'I often make a pound a day putting up paper. I get 10d per piece and it is no trouble to do 15 to 20 of them in the day'. 

Three of his sons, Moses, James and Albert, worked with him, while his daughter Mary ran the small rented shop. By the end of 1856...Staunton was able to write that 'I have got into the finest paper shop I ever had' in 'the very best corner of the city'. With a turkey in front of the fire and the children 'out on a pond with their skates on…we have the happiest house in the Empire, all doing the best they can for each other'.

(above): 3-colour blockprint by Moses Staunton, registered for copyright with National Archives (Britain) 1845.


A family of moderate or comfortable means shopping for wallpaper in Dublin around 1810 would have encountered locally made and imported papers across a broad range of prices. At the bottom (and illicit) end of the scale, wallpaper could be bought 'free' of tax for as little as 1s 4d per roll, considerably cheaper than in England, and at a level of affordability which accounted for the more widespread use of wallpaper in Ireland by 'the humbler sort', as a government inquiry of 1835 put it. 

The same inquiry found that wallpaper was generally cheaper in Dublin than in London, and was used by a greater proportion of the population in Ireland than in England. At the top end of the scale, Patrick Boylan could charge his affluent clients anything from 12s up to 10s per roll. Wallpaper prices were dictated largely by the number of blocks - and hence the length of time - taken to print a pattern, but also by other factors such as the quality of the pigments used, or the time spent on additional finishes such as 'satining'. This process imparted a silky sheen to the otherwise matt distemper ground colour before the pattern was printed, and was produced by rubbing the painted surface with a smooth stone and talcum powder or wax. When picking a pattern, customers were given the choice between satin and plain grounds, as references in order
books and on invoices attest.

The same pattern could be supplied with variations at different costs. In 64 Eccles Street, Dublin, the sprig pattern used in the rear attic bedroom is a two-colour print, but for the front bedroom a third block has been employed to add a pin-dot ground pattern. The promise of novelty and exclusivity could also be used as persuasive selling points and justified higher prices. Papers bought in from English producers or designs purchased by the paper-stainer from free-lance pattern drawers with an eye for current trends may have attracted a higher premium than the standard efforts produced in-house. This perhaps explains the names attached to relatively expensive patterns supplied by Patrick Boylan for Mount Bellew in 1810, such as 'Cooke's damask paper on blue sattin' or 'Cheever's damask paper, black flock on plain scarlet', the most expensive paper on the bill, at 20s per roll.

fig. 100 (below): Wallpaper, block-printed in one colour on ungrounded , poor quality paper, c.1836-40. An example of the cheapest quality of paper available in the early to mid-nineteenth century.

fig. 101 (below): Wallpaper, block-printed in two colours on ungrounded, poor quality paper. Like the example in fig. 100, this was cheaply-produced using low grade materials. Both are hand block-printed on the continuous roll paper which became available to paper-stainers following the abolition of the wallpaper duty in 1836.


(from Chapter 7):

While richly patterned papers based on rococo silks continued to be made by Edward Duras in Bordeaux and his contemporaries in Dublin well into the 1770s, a simpler fashion developed for plain coloured, unpatterned walls set off with narrow block-printed or papier mâché borders. Schemes of this kind suited the linear, compartmentalised style of neo-classical furniture and decoration generally, and might be compared to the delicate satinwood tables made in Dublin by William Moore, with their inlaid edging and crossbanding. The move to a more simplified decor reflected wider changes in social practice and attitudes, as manners became less formal, dress more comfortable and hairstyles less elaborately constructed and powdered. In North America and England, forward-thinking democrats favoured the new style - George Washington bought 'a handsome plain paper' as early as 1763, and some years later, describing his plans for decorating Mount Vernon, wrote that he had 'seen rooms with gilded borders; made, I believe, of papier Mache fastened on with Brads or Cement round the Doors and Window Casings, Surbase, &ca.: and which gives a plain blew, or green paper a rich and handsome look'.

None of these papier mâché borders have survived in Ireland, but a collection of unused block-printed borders of around 1800 from Killadoon, County Kildare, is of the kind which might have been employed in such schemes (see photo below). The top two examples would have been used with plain papers with matching ground colours, while the bottom two may have had co-ordinating patterned papers.

To decorate a room in this way, the walls would first be lined with a paper of relatively coarse quality before being hung with sheets of 'elephant' - a large-format paper of fine quality often mentioned in paper-stainers' bills. The sheets would be applied with the edges slightly overlapped and, when dry, these would be rubbed carefully with pumice stone to minimise the visibility of the seams. The colour, usually distemper, would then be applied in up to three coats. For country customers the paper could be supplied in rolls, ready painted. In 1776 at her Essex Street shop, 'the Britannia Stampt Paper Warehouse,' Anne Kent offered 'a variety of plain coloured papers prepared for the country'. Five years earlier 'various patterns of gold and white papier-maché borders' were supplied by George Kent of Arran Quay to set off rooms which he offered to 'paint to perfection'.


(from Chapter 8):

Although the concept of a non-repeating sequence of images has an obvious antecedent in Chinese wallpapers, a more immediate and contemporary stimulus for the invention of scenic papers in France around 1800 can be found in the popular painted panoramas which were displayed in European cities in the 1780s and ‘90s. The idea of painting a 360-degree topographical view onto the interior walls of a specially constructed cylindrical room seems first to have occurred to Robert Barker (1739-1806), an Irish portrait painter living in Edinburgh in 1787, where he produced a view of the entire city as seen from Calton Hill. Barker patented his invention, for which he coined the term 'panorama', and took it to London. Some years later the American engineer, Robert Fulton, introduced similar panoramas to Paris, opening two 'rotundas' on the Boulevard Montmartre in 1799, around the time that the first 'panoramic papers were conceived.

In Dublin they were available from the Grafton Street shop of John and James Boswell.…The Boswells announced that they 'have personally opened a communication with the Principal Houses in their Line in Paris', and go on to list some of the sets in their stock, including 'Cupid and Psyche in bistres and Indian ink’…

Dufour’s monochrome sequence depicting the tale of Cupid and Psyche was based on a 1669 novel of Jean de Ia Fontaine, and was commissioned from the leading neo-classical painters Louis Lafitte and Merry-Joseph Blondel. In the 1860s a set of Cupid and Psyche was installed on the ceiling of the library of Stradbally Hall, County Laois - an unorthodox and probably unique instance of a scenic paper being used in this way. 

(below): Stradbally Hall, County Laois, detail of wallpaper “Psyché recueillie par un Pêcheur”.


(from Chapter 9; Commerce And Contraband):

Throughout the nineteenth century the upper classes in Ireland continued to employ London decorating firms such as Cowtan... or Dublin firms such as Sibthorpe's, whose intricately stencilled ceilings can still be seen at Fota in Cork, and who can be seen as the successors to Boylan. The middle classes who bought furnishings covered a very wide spectrum of occupations, income levels and types of accommodation, and most suppliers stocked papers across a correspondingly broad price range. Thomas Dockrell of South Great Georges Street, for example, supplied English, French and locally produced paper hangings from 3d to 15s per roll. 

An 1856 advertisement of J. Cosgrave of Dublin's Henry Street is useful in that it provides a range of price levels for different areas of the house, including drawing room 'satins' from 1s 6d to 2s 6d per roll, parlour papers from 1s to 2s, oaked and marbled papers for the hallway or saloon from 1s and 'an endless variety of beautiful Chintzes' for bedrooms from 6d to 1s. These prices are at the lower end of the scale, yet suggest customers whose homes offered a degree of spaciousness and comfort. Papers at this price level may have been largely destined for the rental sector, which constituted the greater part of the housing stock. As “The Irish Builder” noted in 1868: ‘A very large number of houses are always changing their tenants - houses of the middling and cheaper classes more particularly - and a 'fresh paper' is the usual complement of a new tenant'. Machine printing offered affordable decoration in an 'infinite variety of pattern and design', as the anonymous author noted: 'It is one of the advantages of paper-hangings that the commonest and cheapest are often the most agreable or prettiest'.

(below): Block-printed in five colours on a rainbow ground. An example of the type of ‘fancy flowered, rainbowed’ papers sold by Boswell in the 1830s. Killadoon, County Kildare.


(from Chapter 10; Victorian Abundance):

James Boswell's papers featuring multi-coloured birds and flowers combined with rococo or arabesque scrollwork against white grounds were typical of many French-inspired designs....By 1851, the popularity of French styles with the buying public and the dearth of originality among English manufacturers drove several prominent critics to launch a campaign for artistic reform....The drive to educate public taste began with the identification of styles which were judged to be unacceptable, through events such as the ‘Exhibition of False Principles in Design' staged in London in 1852.... 

Many of the designs registered by Boswell and other Irish paper-stainers exemplify those attributes singled out for criticism: ‘florid and gaudy compositions, consisting of architectural ornament in relief, with imitative flowers and foliage... rendered with the full force of their natural colours and light and shade’, as the artist and designer Richard Redgrave, one of the leading reformers, described such elaborate and popular patterns.

Edith Somerville, recalling the decoration of her grandmother's house... in the 1860s, wrote of the drawing room as 'a place of great sanctity, wherein the foot of child never trod save by special invitation...Its wallpaper was white, spaced into large diamonds with a Greek pattern of gold and it shone like satin. It was less dashing in design than the paper of the inner hall and the staircase, whose pattern was of endless ladders of large blue and orange flowers (tropic, one believed them to be) that raged from the bottom of the house to the top, but the drawing room was devoted to the ladies, and in it dash gave way to refinement'. The 'tropic' blue and orange flowers used in the hallway sound very much like the kind of patterns produced by Boswell in the 1840s and '50s. 

(photo above): Wallpaper block-printed in twelve colours, James Boswell, Dublin, 1842. National Archives, London.


the conclusion of the series..... 

David Skinner On Preserving The “mild grandeur” Of Irish Country Houses

The author and Irish peer Lord Dunsany wrote in 1935: 'There is a right and a wrong place for antiquity; it is right in walls, wrong in carpets; wrong too in curtains and wallpaper'. Yet this view does not seem to have been universally shared in Irish country houses, where there is ample evidence of efforts on the part of the occupants to preserve wallpapers beyond what might be considered their natural lifespan. Ingenious makeshifts such as the gramophone needles used
to hold up the paper in the dining room at Strokestown, or the cuttings from colour magazines used to patch the Chinese paper at Narrow Water, seem to imply something more than mere financial constraint, and suggest that the owners of these houses believed, like Henri Clouzot, that wallpaper 'has always been the echo of somebody or something', and might, for that reason, be worth preserving. The novelist and short story writer Elizabeth Bowen expressed something of this kind of veneration in her reminiscence of the literary house parties she gave in her family home at Bowens Court, County Cork:

‘The last act of any Bowen's Court day plays itself out in the drawing
room or library...Pink curtains drawn, lamp lit, with a fire in a
wreathed Victorian grate, my grandmother's drawing room has the
effect of keying us up to its mild grandeur. It was decorated, and has
not been changed since, when that Elizabeth came here as a bride:
1859. She loved its grey-and-gold scrolled wallpaper, and plaster frieze
swagged with roses - and I don't wonder.’

(fig. 111 below): Ballindoolin, County Kildare. Intricate cutting enhances the impact of the prominent border, originally highlighted with silver leaf, now tarnished, which surrounds a vibrant paper printed in the irisé style, and installed in the Drawing Room of Ballindoolin in the 1820s.

Many of the wallpapers illustrated in these pages are found in privately owned houses, whose owners appreciate and look after them as best they can. Beyond a certain stage in its natural ageing process, however, the physical preservation of wallpaper calls for time-consuming and expensive attention, a step which, given the negligible economic value of most old wallpapers, might understandably be regarded by home-owners as a sacrifice to posterity. Replacement with a reproduction is a solution which at best preserves the outlines of an individual pattern within its historic framework or scheme, but comes at the cost of losing a direct link to the hand of the artisan and the eye of the original purchaser. 

Effacement of the artefact entails losing not just genuinely historic paper, binder and pigment, but also the physical embodiment of an entangled network of materials, technologies, skills and human relationships, some of which have been examined in this book. The foreseeable and - it is hoped - gradual loss of authentic examples of wallpapers in their original contexts may be balanced by ongoing research into the wider outlines of the subject. Any piece of historic wallpaper can be the starting point of a web of object-centred lines of enquiry, leading down multiple paths and building into something which might, in its own way, create a pattern worth tracing.

— the end —

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