‘Secret squirrel’ painstakingly restored by Norfolk specialists on 17th century tapestry

Conservators spotted a gap in the border of the tapestry where the squirrel should have been Credit: Barry Batchelor/National Trust

Norfolk specialists have painstakingly restored a “secret squirrel” on a rare 17th century Flemish tapestry.

The red squirrel was originally woven with wool and silk and hidden in the foliage of the large Enghien tapestry.

The tapestry is one of two that resides at the National Trust’s Dyrham Park estate, near Bath.

The red squirrel has been restored as part of £140,000 of specialist cleaning and repair work to the two tapestries.

The missing squirrel was spotted by textile conservators undertaking the work in Norfolk who noticed there was a gap in the wool weft of the lower border.

The National Trust has specialist textile conservators based in a studio in Norfolk Credit: Jane Smith/National Trust

Experts compared the area to other tapestries in the set, which revealed the missing area used to depict a red squirrel hiding within the foliage.

The tapestries, complete with once-lost squirrel, are now back on the walls of the Tapestry Bedchamber ready for the reopening of the house in mid-May.

They are one of only two sets of this type in existence in this country – with the collection at Dyrham being the more complete and well preserved.

Tapestries were a status symbol of wealth as well as keeping rooms warm and being easy to transport.

Depicting the fountains and parterres of the famous gardens at Enghien near Brussels, they had suffered damage over the years.

The tapestries were taken to Norfolk where they were found to be “soiled, heavily stained and light damaged” with “large areas of loss”.

Brittle adhesives were painstakingly removed using a process involving solvent application and a specialist vacuum suction.

They then went to Belgium for specialist wet cleaning before returning to Norfolk for intense conservation stitching work.

The tapestry has now been hung back on the walls of Dryham Park near Bath Credit: Barry Batchelor/National Trust

“It’s just brilliant to have these amazing tapestries back and looking fantastic,” said Eilidh Auckland, property curator at Dyrham Park.

“There had been some splitting and loss of detail due to the application of adhesives on old repairs and patches replacing parts so it’s wonderful to see them back to their former glory and with the added bonus of a new squirrel.

“The tapestries appear more cohesive while also being protected for the future.”

Dyrham house was founded by William Blathwayt in the late 17th century.

The Tapestry Bedchamber, furnished with a four-poster bed, five tapestries and Dutch delftware, is on the first floor, with views of the beautiful formal gardens.

It was built as part of Blathwayt’s private suite with an ante room, bedchamber and two richly decorated rooms beyond that were once filled with exotic silks, lacquered furniture and Dutch paintings.