'Secret squirrel' restored to rare tapestry at South Gloucestershire estate

Sophie Wells makes final adjustments to one of the re-hung tapestries. Credit: National Trust/Barry Batchelor

A "secret squirrel" that had worn off a rare 17th century Flemish tapestry has been painstakingly restored. The tapestry is one of two sets of this type in existence in the country, both of which reside at the National Trust's Dyrham Park estate in Dyrham, South Gloucestershire.

The red squirrel was originally woven with wool and silk and hidden in the foliage of the large Enghien tapestry, but years of damage caused it to fade off. The woodland animal was restored as part of £140,000 of specialist cleaning and repair work.

The set at Dyhram Park estate - which depicted fountains and parterres of the famous gardens at Enghien near Brussels - had suffered damage over the years.

They were taken to Norfolk where they were found to be "soiled, heavily stained and light damaged" with "large areas of loss".

Detail of the lost red squirrel recreated in the border of the tapestry. Credit: National Trust/Barry Batchelor

Textile conservators who were working on the tapestry in Norfolk spotted a gap in the wool weft of the lower border. 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.

Conservators used brittle adhesives to painstakingly removed using a process involving solvent application and a specialist vacuum suction.

The works went to Belgium for specialist wet cleaning before returning to Norfolk for intense conservation stitching work.

National Trust staff unroll the tapestry ready to rehang it at Dyrham Park near Bath. Credit: National Trust/Barry Batchelor

The restored artworks are now back on the walls of the Tapestry Bedchamber ready for the reopening of the house in mid-May.

Eilidh Auckland, property curator at Dyrham Park, said: "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."

Removing adhesives from one of the tapestries at the National Trust's Textile Conservation Studio, Norfolk. Credit: National Trust/Maria Pardos Mansilla

Dyrham House was founded by William Blathwayt in the late 17th century. The Tapestry Bedchamber is furnished with four-poster bed, five tapestries and Dutch delftware.

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