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13 May 2022

Generations of wallpaper at Moirlanich Longhouse

Written by Emma Inglis, Curator (Glasgow & West Region)
Two box beds sit alongside period furniture in the Parlour of Moirlanich Longhouse
If wallpaper is your thing, then Moirlanich Longhouse is the place for you! The many layers of pattern in this tiny cottage record the popularity and practicality of wall coverings across several generations.

Dating back to the mid-1890s, the wallpaper at Moirlanich is abundant. Every room and almost every surface is coated with thick layers that have been built up over time.

Many of the earlier papers in the house contain only two or three colours so wouldn’t have been very expensive to produce or buy. Later papers display a shift towards stronger colours and more detailed designs, but the poor-quality paper shows they were aimed at the cheaper end of the market. A handful of the later papers bear the Crown trademark and pattern numbers, and several others bear the stamp of Wall Paper Manufacturers, the major UK wallpaper manufacturing consortium in the first half of the 20th century.

Wallpapers through time at Moirlanich Longhouse

The most extensive range of papers is in the tiny back room of the house, which served as a bedroom. By the 1990s, when Moirlanich was taken on by the National Trust for Scotland, damp walls, failing wallpaper paste and the sheer weight of so many layers had caused slabs of papers to collapse away from the wall and the ceiling structure of the built-in wooden bed. In other rooms it was a similar story. Thankfully, paper conservators have helped to salvage as much as possible, lightly cleaning away dirt, mending tears and devising methods to support the heavier slabs of paper in situ.

Large and regular nail holes along the top of one wall show that the wallpaper layers in the back room had probably been shored up before with a more rough-and-ready method. In this room everything was once papered: the walls, ceiling, sides, structure and undersides of the wooden bunk bed. Aside from being decorative, the paper in this room must once have formed an insulating cocoon.

It appears that the approach to wallpapering at Moirlanich was fairly pragmatic, likely from necessity. Different patterns of paper have been added over time, with apparent disregard for matching. In some cases the pattern is upside down or has been placed sideways to fit a particular space. Within the large sheets of papers salvaged from the ceiling of the back room there is plenty of dirt, with soot deposits clinging to the edges of the papers, where it had filtered through the simple wooden partition dividing the bedroom from the back of the kitchen fire. On the reverse of one section of paper there are tell-tale signs of pest activity where insects have tracked their way through the many layers, no doubt enjoying the starch in the old wallpaper paste.

The papers preserved from the damp and dirt of this cottage form an important record of Scottish rural life. With layers of history to look at, come and see Moirlanich for yourself. Flowers, stripes, geometrics – there’s a pattern for everyone.

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