But if it wasn’t for a unique piece of very expensive home improvement by a former resident, Temple Newsam House’s fabulous Chinese Drawing Room might have looked very different.
Now, after several weeks of painstaking protection and preservation work during the house’s seasonal open hours, the drawing room, along with the rest of the Tudor Jacobean mansion, is almost ready to open to the public for the spring and summer.
The extravagant wallpaper was a gift from the then Prince of Wales, a close friend who had visited Lady Hertford in 1807.
Twenty years later, when she came to put it on the walls, Lady Hertford decided it needed to be more lively, and pasted on birds cut out from her copy of John James Audubon’s famous book, Birds of America. Today, first edition copies of Birds of America have been known to sell for up to £7.3m.
For Temple Newsam House’s new curator Rachel Conroy, working on the drawing room has proved the perfect introduction to life at the 500 year-old house. She said: “It’s such an extraordinary room and it’s made all the more special because it’s largely been decorated by a former resident of the house and most of the furniture which is still on display was chosen by Lady Hertford herself.
“My previous roles have been in a more of a traditional museum environment, but Temple Newsam House is so different because it’s actually been a home where people have lived alongside their families.
“That opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for interpreting the house and the collection for visitors through those people and their stories.”
Work on the drawing room, which is on the house’s ground floor, has seen all the items removed, blinds raised and carpets exposed. Specialised cleaning has taken place using delicate brushes and miniature vacuums to remove surface dirt.
Antique furniture from the room has been waxed and polished, ceramics dusted, mirrors shined and intricate carvings brushed clean with tiny paint brushes and cotton buds.
Rachel added: “There’s so much to learn about the house, but the team have been fantastic and it’s been great to be involved with the work they’ve been doing during the clean. The house has been very busy during my first month with lots of school visits, public tours and object loans coming in and out.
“It’s a unique place and I’m really looking forward to welcoming lots more visitors when we are fully open once again.”
Councillor Brian Selby, Leeds City Council’s lead member for museums and galleries, said, “The Chinese Drawing Room is just one of the many fascinating stories about the people who have called Temple Newsam home through the ages and knowing how much work goes into keeping the house so beautiful makes it an all the more precious and important place.”