A partition wall from St Mary’s hospital almshouses, c.1802 onwards (Acc 13567)

04 Acc 13567 selection of wallpapers and documents

Chosen by Simon Hopkins, member of staff

(129) Conservation A44O3388

Early in 2006 I was called by the architect managing a redevelopment to the Almshouses in St Mary’s Hospital, St Martin’s Square, Chichester. Builders had removed the original partition walls, fixtures and fittings, and thrown them into skips. Partitions had been broken in half to remove them and, in the builders’ skip, documents were spotted on one.

St Mary's Hospital, Chichester
St Mary’s Hospital, Chichester (Old Almshouse), c 1936 (PH 19715)

Both parts were soaked until the wallpaper paste softened enough to separate the documents. There were 13 layers of wallpaper, and two layers of documents from a tailor’s account book, whose shop was in the environs of the Cathedral. The account book pages were made from good quality paper with stable ink, but the wallpaper was very thin and the printing sensitive to rubbing and dissolving.

I found holes that were repaired with plaster, tacks for hanging pictures, holes for an electric socket, pins and sellotape. Hessian remains were on the inside edges, tacks where the hessian had been fastened to wooden bearers to make the partition, and soot from coal fires, that had become lodged in the wallpaper paste and layers of paper. It gave a real sense of the many changes which had taken place to the house over the years.

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