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Rare Chinese wallpaper uncovered at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire

The wallpaper uncovered. Photo: ITV Anglia

With Easter weekend on the way some of you may be thinking about a bit of decorating at home...stripping back some old wallpaper perhaps.

Well they have been doing something similar at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, only what they have uncovered is quite out of the ordinary.

The Duchess of Bedford has exposed a rare Chinese wall covering, one of the first of its kind exported to Europe, and now it's going on show in a new exhibition.

Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire. Credit: ITV Anglia

Unseen for over 200 years, the priceless wallpaper hangs in Woburn Abbey, exactly where it was placed in the 1750s.

The Abbey itself had only recently been rebuilt when the paper was exported from China to decorate the private bedchamber of the 4th Duke of Bedford. After his death in 1771 the luxury print was papered over and forgotten until the recent discovery of an invoice dated 1751.

The 4th Duke's descendants then started the painstaking task of stripping the room of centuries of wallpaper, and were amazed to discover such a complete piece.

Louise Russell, Duchess of Bedford. Credit: ITV Anglia

"We all got unbelievable excited - because when we started off we didn't know how big a piece it would be. There are one or two other little fragments around the room but only small fragments. So we were jumping up and down with excitement really."

– Louise Russell, Duchess of Bedford
The Exhibition was officially opened by a diplomat from the Chinese embassy. Credit: ITV Anglia

The artwork is one of the four earliest examples of Chinese wallpaper exported to Europe and the best preserved.

"We have the original colours because it was covered up in around 1780 which was only 30 years after it was hung. You have these incredibly vibrant colours and out of the other surviving examples, one has been restored and the other has been over painted and the other one is a small fragment."

– Lucy Johnson, Exhibition Curator

The fragment now forms part of an exhibition, 'Peeling Back The Years'. This includes a reconstruction of what the original wall might have looked like, and also loans of other early Chinese decorative work, including from Oakley House in Bedford.

The original wallpaper (left) next to a modern reconstruction Credit: ITV Anglia

The 4th and 5th Dukes of Bedford enjoyed Chinese art and the exhibition takes in a trail of the works they commissioned in the house and gardens, including an 18th century Chinese dairy.

And when summer comes, observant visitors may even spot Chinese peonies blooming, a mirror image of those painted hundreds of years ago.

The 18th century Chinese dairy at Woburn Abbey Credit: ITV Anglia

For more on this story watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Elodie Harper below: