Lancashire and Cumbria English Heritage members have learned the £150,000 restoration of Mount Grace Priory, one of the gems of the Arts & Crafts Furniture movement, is finally complete. The discovery of original William Morris wallpaper, plus 1940s photographs and inventories, enabled the English Heritage team to restore two rooms to their original 1890s condition, right down to the secretaire antique desk and Victorian dining chairs .
Like Lancashire abbeys Sawley and Whalley – also owned by English Heritage – much of Mount Grace is a ruin, a victim of Henry VIII’s dissolution period. However the chapterhouse was left intact, to be used as a country home. It became dilapidated in later years, but was given a new lease of life by wealthy Teeside industrialist Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell (1816 – 1904). A keen historian and follower of William Morris, he restored the mediaeval and 17th century elements to their original condition, before commissioning Morris to redesign the interiors. The manor, including its furniture, remained largely unchanged until the outbreak of WWII, giving the English Heritage team plenty of material with which to “reverse engineer” their project.
There was much excitement when the William Morris wallpaper was uncovered. Identified as an 1892 Double Bough pattern, the original printing blocks were still in existence, allowing the paper to be remade for the 21st century.
The Arts & Crafts furniture and mediaeval “antique” chests that Cumbria and Lancashire visitors see at Mount Grace are also likely to be copies. However, rest assured that, from Victorian dining chairs to antique desks, Preston antique dealers never sell anything which isn’t genuine.
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