An 18th century linen damask tablecloth from Ireland
Note from the editor: Members of Craigavon Historical Society living in an area that was once the world centre of the linen weaving industry will find much interest in this article. Here is the earliest known evidence of the quality of the finished linen cloth and the extensive skill of the workmanship.
The writer of the article, Elizabeth Lewis, is curator of the Winchester Museums Service and a contribution on the conservation is by Marrion Lamb. Permission was obtained for reproducing the article from Pasold Research Fund, Leeds on behalf of the Journal of Textile History. Thanks are due to Miss Lewis for all her assistance.
The tablecloth described here was rediscovered and examined in 1981 when it was found among the civic regalia kept in the Guildhall of the City of Winchester.1 There is no surviving record of its provenance or how it passed into the City's collections. From the laundry marks it was probably in use during the 19th century for the opulent dinners given by the Mayor, when the City's silver and plate, with which it was kept, would be on display.
The tablecloth is of linen damask, measuring 11 feet long by 9 feet wide, woven in one piece of exceptional size and made in Waringstown, County Down. The subject of the design is the 'Coronation and inauguration of George Augustus King of Great Britain, France and Ireland Defender of the faith God save King George' with the date 1717 set between 'the' and 'faith'. George Augustus became George II and was crowned in 1727, which must be the true date of the tablecloth; as will be shown, the weavers drew heavily for inspiration upon material published after the coronation of George I, whose coronation was in 1717.
The design (Figs. 1 and 2) is in three sections with a border round the outside. The design on the two side panels is repeated twice on each side, designed to hang down on the long sides of the table. These show parts of the coronation procession, all labelled, some with the identity of the participants. The middle panel has the royal arms in the centre, surmounted by the cypher "G R" between the English rose and the Scots thistle. Below are two crowns with the inscription between them "Wrought in Warrings town in the County of Down in the north of Ireland'. The lower part has a map of the City of London 'Since the great fire of 1666 ... published 1717'. Above the royal arms there is a scene showing the king seated in an architectural setting (representing Westminster Abbey) on a stepped dais beneath an awning. He is shown at the moment of coronation, the crown held poised above his head by two clerics while he sits bewigged in full robes holding the orb and sceptre. He is flanked by courtiers, and in the background heralds blow a fanfare.
The source of this part of the design has not yet been traced, but other parts of the tablecloth are quite clearly derived from contemporary sources.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, as in our own time, coronations provided a rich diet of ceremonial and pageantry for the publishers of popular broadsheets and engravings. These set out to acquaint their readers (and those who could not read) with all the ritual of an ancient tradition: the order of precedence, the duties of the participants, each detail of gesture, costume and regalia. One of these pamphlets was published for the coronation of George II by J Roberts of Warwick Lane, London in 17272 (Fig. 3 shows the title-page). This was a reprint of material already assembled from previous occasions, hastily printed in advance of the coronation, to secure sales when up-to-date information was not yet available on the likely candidates for the honour of walking in the procession. The dilemma of the publisher in recycling old material is evident in the title; two pamphlets are amalgamated and an earlier engraving bound in.
The title-page reads:
A complete account of the ceremonies observed in the coronations of the Kings and Queens of England. The ceremonies of the Proceedings at the coronations of King William and Queen Mary, of Queen Anne and of his late majesty King George l. By comparing which with the proceeding History, the Reader will be able to form a complete idea of the ceremonies which will be observed at the Coronation of his present majesty King George 11 and his royal consort Queen Caroline. To which is also prefixed a very large and curious copper plate exhibiting (in that of King William and Queen Mary) the magnificent form of the Procession usually observed in the coronation of the Kings and Queens of England.
It was probably a copy of this book that was despatched to the linen weavers at Waringstown and formed the basis of the design of the cloth. The copper plate engraving of the coronation procession of William and Mary (Fig. 4) shows the order of procedure on six lines, the procession walking from right to left, preceded by the 'King's Herbwoman and her two maids' and with the Yeomen of the Guard bringing up the rear. On the tablecloth, the procession walks from left to right, and includes some but not all of the figures on the engraving, with some alterations. For example the figure of Queen Mary has been removed from the group of King and Queen under an awning. The awning and surrounding figures are faithfully represented, but a few banners are added. On the tablecloth, the procession is headed by the Lord Mayor, who appears nowhere on the engraving, although sheriffs and aldermen of London do.3 On the other hand the figure of the kettle-drummer and his assistant, the trumpeters, the children of the choir, the countesses, barons, judges and bishops are all recognizably based on the figures in the engraving.
The most significant difference is that whereas in the engraving the figures are anonymous, on the tablecloth the most important participants are identified. Thus the Duke of Derby carries the Sword of State, the Duke of Grafton is shown with St Edmund's Crown, Viscount Longueville with one of the sceptres, and the Earls of Sunderland and Lincoln are represented empty-handed (Fig. 2). These particulars are derived from the account published in Robert's book of the coronation of George I, where there is a list of the 'Lords who bore the regalia'. Here too there is a discrepancy between the original and the tablecloth version, as Viscount Longueville is recorded as carrying the spurs and the Earl of Dorset the sceptre with the cross, while the Earls of Sunderland, Pembroke and Lincoln carried swords. However, the basic source of the design of the tablecloth can be seen as an amalgam of the processional details as recorded for George I's coronation, with pictorial reference to the engraving of William and Mary's coronation procession. A certain, even a drastic amount of abbreviation and simplification would be expected in the process of transferring the design to the pattern for the loom; in fact the extraordinary amount of detail that is included, and the complicated text (given in the appendix), is the real cause for surprise.
The map of London illustrates very well this meticulous fidelity to an original. On the cloth it states that this is 'A new map of the city of London much enlarged since the great fire in 1666 in which are several streets, places and buildings of note which hath been added since any other maps of London before this hath been published in 1717'. This is, word for word, the title of a map of London published by John Overton at Newgate, as early as 1706 (Fig. 5).4 On the cloth the map itself has been contracted to fit the space, but nevertheless most details have been included, with special emphasis on decorative effects (the ships on the Thames) or places of significance - Westminster Abbey is squeezed in on the bottom left, St Paul's church is marked SPCH in the centre of the map. Abbreviations such as PAR STA and FER HO seem to refer to Parliament Stairs and Horse Ferry on the original.
The source of the design of the coronation at the top centre of the cloth, and the coat of arms5 beneath has not so far been traced, but are probably from popular prints of the time. The design for the border surrounding the cloth is probably from a Dutch original - Cavallo6 has shown how the linen weavers of Scotland before 1750 drew heavily in imported linens for the inspiration for design motifs.
The sentiments expressed in the couplet 'The Weaver's art it is pronounced, so that rich nor poor without it cannot go' must surely be the contribution by the linen weavers themselves, although the jingle about the King seems to come straight from a popular contemporary ballad sheet (untraced):
For mighty George now ascends the throne
Who for his valour excellent is known
George with acclamations here is crowned
And with the name of justice is renowned.
Although, as we have seen, the details of the tablecloth are largely derived from English sources, the concept and overall plan follow the tradition of commemorative cloths and napkins which originated on the continent in the 16th century and centred largely on Haarlem in the 17th century.7 These were highly valued prestige items specially woven for the nobility, whose arms and devices might be incorporated. Several of these showing the royal arms and portraits of the Tudor, Stuart and Hanoverian kings are known; in 1613 the States General of Holland presented Elizabeth Stuart with some linens on her marriage to Frederick V, later King of Bohemia.
Representations of capital cities were favourite subjects, often shown in elevation or perspective, as London is shown on the table-cloth with a portrait of Queen Anne8 or that of William and Mary made in Courtrai. 9 Arms and trophies of war were favoured devices; typical is the cloth in honour of James II where a triumphant king on horseback is crowned with the victor's wreath, surrounded by a frieze of captured weapons and armour, in the manner of a Roman triumph. A cloth celebrating George I10 shows the same theme and motifs, with the addition of a view of the city of London. All are thought to be of Dutch or German manufacture, and this is often evident in the hybrid language of the headings - for example, 'George Konig in England and London'.11
The easy and familiar inclusion of popular English doggerel and the reference to English engravings rather than to foreign prototypes mark the Waringstown cloth out as exceptional in the general range of ceremonial damasks. The text announces that it was 'wrought in Warrings town in the Counti of Down...' and if we accept 1727 as its true date of manufacture, this is the earliest known product of this centre of the Ulster linen industry. Waringstown was founded by Samuel Waring who had travelled widely abroad and brought Flemish weavers back to settle in the new weaving town. A speciality of the industry here was damask weaving, and indeed Waringstown had a reputation for enterprising new developments in linen weaving throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. 12
The minutes of the meetings of the Irish Linen Board, of which Samuel Waring was a trustee, record the applications for improvement grants made by the linen weavers of County Down. 13 In 1730 John Houlden of Waringstown (one of Samuel Waring's tenants)14 petitioned for assistance in developing a new loom for making linen diaper, and was awarded a subsistence allowance and equipment for him to carry out his experiments. In 1728 the Board despatched one of its petitioners, James Bradshaw, to Holland:
... to inform himself of the methods used there in weaving of diapers and mounting the looms, and to inform himself whether any, or what sleoing table is made use of there, and what weights are made use of in mounting their looms in proportion to the fineness of the yarn, and to inform himself of anything else that he finds may be of service to the Diaper or Linen Trade.
The Royal Dublin Society also encouraged new developments in linen manufacture, as a branch of the decorative arts, and gave grants to Henry McClery of Waringstown for making flowered damask napkins and in 1741 for apiece of damask with Lord Howth's arms, worked by a boy instructed by him, with the agreement that he would undertake to carry on manufacture for seven years and instruct weavers recommended by the Society.15
It would seem that McClery and Houlden were both master craftsmen with the capability of weaving a large damask cloth, though their connections with Waringstown can only be proven after 1730. [Both were Churchwardens before this date - Editor]. McCutcheon16 had dated the introduction of the draw loom to about 1730, but the ambitious design and size of the Waringstown cloth would certainly have required the greater complexity of action, enabling the transferring of elaborate patterns to the weave, that the new loom provided. The indications are therefore that not only were draw looms established by 1727 but that the weavers had attained an easy mastery of the specialized craft, and the pattern designer was remarkably free from established convention.
As an example of their meticulous approach, the pattern is not in reverse or point repeat which was the common way of designing damasks on the continent; this inevitably means the lettering appears back to front.17 To avoid this the weavers of the Waringstown cloth have designed it so that the major part of the text falls in the centre panel of the cloth and the text of the side panels, though repeated, is not reversed.
The circumstances surrounding the manufacture of the cloth and its subsequent arrival in Winchester can only be guessed at. The literal references to the coronation procession might seem to indicate that it was specially made for the occasion of the coronation of George II on 11 October 1727, and the festivities that accompanied it. However; there is little evidence as to who commissioned the work and for what occasion it was used. The reference to London, and in particular the prominent position of the Lord Mayor, suggest at first that it might have been made for the entertainment for the King given by the City Corporation in 1727. However, the extremely detailed accounts of this event18 (which include 'drawing a copy of the cavalcade and sending them to print') list a butler's bill for £210 'for the use and loss of all sorts of linen both damask and diaper tablecloths and napkins', indicating that linen was hired specially for the occasion. It is also perhaps noteworthy that neither the arms of the City of London nor those of Winchester appear on the cloth, which would seem likely if the Corporation of either had paid for the cloth.19
Perhaps a more likely explanation, supported by the references to the place of origin and to the weaving trade, is that it was a chef d'oeuvre designed and presented by the linen industry under Samuel Waring as a gesture of loyalty to the Crown and as a demonstration of the weavers' skill.
After the tablecloth was found in the Guildhall in 1981, it was brought to the Textile Conservation Centre at Hampton Court for treatment. The cloth had been stored folded in a small cardboard box, and was consequently creased, and yellowed along the foldlines and on the surface which had been uppermost. The cloth was otherwise in good condition showing few signs of wear except in a small number of tiny darns, and a few stains.
The cloth was wet cleaned at a pH of 8.5 20 and rinsed with deionized water to neutral. It was then smoothed out, face down, on a flat surface, and the warps and wefts realigned. When it was dry (the next day) the cloth was rolled between acid-free tissue paper onto a plastic tube, 10 feet long and 6 inches in diameter, ready for photography.
As a result of cleaning, the tablecloth is smooth and flat, generally cleaner and much more lustrous. Although the stains and yellowed areas are less obvious, they have not been removed completely. It was decided not to bleach the cloth;21 the stains do not prevent the design from being read.
The tablecloth is made of bleached linen, both warp and weft are Z-spun. There are on average 38 warps and 35 wefts per 10 cm. The cloth is damask woven in 5 shaft satin. Both selvedges are present and loom width is approximately 9 feet.
Notes and References
TRANSCRIPTION OF THE TEXT
(figures and text are repeated twice on each side)
THE: CORONATION: AND: INAVGV / RATION: OF GEORGE: AVGVSTVS : KI / NG : OF: GREAT BRITAIN : FRANCE : AND IRELAND: DEFENDER: OF THE: 1717 / FAITH: GOD: SAVE: KING: GEORGE
Cypher: G R
Coat of Arms: HONI - SOIT - QWVI - MAL - Y - PENSE DIEV ET MON DROIT
WRAVGHT - IN - WARRIN / GS - TOWN - IN - THE - CO/VNTI-OF-DOWN -IN-THE-CO/VNTI-OF-DOWN - IN - THE - NORTT - OF IRE / LAND
A - NEW - MAPP - OF - THE - CITTY - OF - LONDON - MUCH INLAR / GED - SINCE - THE - GREAT - FIRE - IN - 1666 - IN WHICH - ARE - SEVERAL / STREETS -PLACES - AND - BVILDINGS - OF - NOTE - WHICH -HATH - BEEN ADDED - SINCE - ANEY - OTHER -MAPPS - / OF - LONDON BEFORE - THIS - HATH -BEEN - PVBLISH / ED - IN 1717.
THE - WEAVERS - ART IT - IS PRONOVNCED / SO - THAT - RICH - NO / R POOR - WITHOV / T - IT - CAN -NOT-GO.
John Houlden of Waringstown is mentioned in this article as having in 1730 petitioned the Irish Linen Board, for assistance in developing a new loom for making linen diaper and was given an allowance. His connections with Waringstown can only be proven after 1730.
Checking the list of Churchwardens in Holy Trinity Church, Waringstown John Houlden was one of two Churchwardens in 1722. Close to the village is Houlden's Valley and the relics of what once was a fine dwelling which according to local tradition was the home of John Houlden. An interesting topic for more research.
This cloth has been recognised as the earliest known dated example of Irish Damask. The ambitious scale of the work and the detailed design is without parallel.