St Mary’s church, part of historic C12th Lanercost Priory just north west of Carlisle has recently completed a major project to repair and conserve their beautiful dossal which was designed by William Morris in the late 1800s and embroidered by Mrs Bulkeley, wife of the then vicar of Lanercost, working over five years with Mrs Chapman and Mrs Dodgson, widows of the two previous vicars. The dossal, a 24 foot textile hangs behind the altar and was being eaten by white spot spider beetle and possibly mice. A big fundraising effort followed by months of careful conservation and cleaning (which included the textile travelling to Belgium for flatbed suction cleaning) saw the dossal repaired and returned in all it’s glory to it’s original location in April 2013.
A careful regime of monthly cleaning around the dossal has been instigated to make sure there are no crumbs of food or provisions which attract the white spot spider beetle and other wildlife which could pose a threat to the delicate embroidered textile.The area is also monitored for damp which could cause mould and accelerated decay.
Lanercost Priory and church hosts a popular festival for 2 weeks at the end of June each year. As this involves construction of staging in the area beside the dossal it is taken down during the festival and stored safely out of harms way in a specially constucted ‘dossal box’.
To find out what was involved I joined the team on 19 June for the annual putting away of the dossal before the festival. The process included careful removal and hoovering of the dossal and its adjacent carpets, checking for any signs of animal or damp damage before rolling it up and fitting carefully into its dossal box which is monitored for moisture to ensure optimum storage conditions.
It was a lovely practical and sociable day and a rather a thrill to handle an actual piece of William Morris textile – albeit very carefully and with gloves on. Sadly I wasn’t able to join the team to rehang it after the festival and this is one of the things that Christine is looking for more help with – a day’s time in mid June and again in early July to help with the putting away and taking out of this wonderful historic fabric.
It is through the ongoing care of the volunteers that this historic art work can still be displayed in situ in its original home rather than ‘boxed in’ under more museum display style conditions. If you are interested in finding out what’s involved in helping with the annual putting away and taking out of the dossal, or in other ways you coud help please contact Christine Boyce at email@example.com.