Unintentional time capsule: the wallpapers of Spitalfields

This lovely post from Spitalfields Life profiles a house in Fournier Street that was found to contain wallpaper fragments dating from 1690 to 1960. (The owner undertook an extensive renovation and uncovered fragments behind layers of cladding).

Wallpaper was one way owners could update a home to reflect current fashions. It was not necessarily cheap, but many old buildings (such as the Tenement Museum in New York) have been found to contain over 20 layers, reflecting the changing tastes and times of generations of inhabitants. The current owner of the house in Spitalfields has identified a particularly expensive wallpaper from the late 19th century and an early 20th century modernist Scandanavian design, a surprise for a house in an area considered a slum at the time. (Spitalfields was part of the Whitechapel District, infamous for the murders of Jack the Ripper).

Early wallpapers (before 1700) were hand painted or printed using wood blocks and stencils, to emulate tapestries. In the late 18th century, machine printing techniques were developed. Further 19th-century developments in machine papermaking and papermaking allowed wallpapers to be mass produced and thus affordable for the middle-class, though the most expensive continued to be hand printed. Now, of course, wallpapers may even be printed on vinyl or digitally printed.

To purchase a copy of Materiality: TIME, please visit the pinknantucket press shop. Or perhaps we’ll see you at the official launch! (20th September, 5.30-7.00pm at the Sticky Institute).

Fragment of an 1880 William Morris wallpaper, from the house in Spitalfields (image from Spitalfields Life)

Fragment of an 1880 William Morris wallpaper, from the house in Spitalfields (image from Spitalfields Life)