Patterns and Layers – What’s Hidden Beneath?

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Paid a visit to Stawberry Hill recently.  Horace Walpole, son of Britain’s first Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole, created Strawberry Hill in the 18th Century, between 1748 and 1790.  He built and extended what was known as the ‘old small house’ to create the masterpiece of Gothic splendour that opens its doors to visitors today.  The originally ‘old small house’ was known as ‘Chopp’d Straw Hall and was owned by a Mrs Elizabeth Chevenix, a well-known ‘toy woman’ or seller of trinkets.

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Its a remarkable building and well worth a visit.   Timed slots are booked in advance, in order to keep numbers to a manageable level within the rooms.  Almost all the rooms have guides within who are well informed and tell the history of each room.  Each visitor is also presented with a booklet, based upon Walpole’s original publication ‘Description of Strawberry Hill’ which guides the visitor through the house, room by room.  I won’t go into detail here about each room, better to pay a visit to Strawberry Hill yourself – however something in one room caught my interest which I will share with you now.

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Horace Walpole was very particular with the decor and furnishing of his grand summer villa.  Indeed it was originally designed to hold his vast collections amassed when he was on his Grand Tour.  Mr Walpole’s bedchamber was chosen by him due to the view it afforded over the acres of parkland in which the house was then situated.  After Walpole’s death, the house passed through the family via tenuous links until it became under the possession of a Frances Lady Waldegrave in the mid 19th Century.  She redecorated Walpole’s bedroom in 1856 with a rose patterned paper as was popular at the time – she also had built a closet.  During the restoration some of the rose patterned paper was torn and beneath it was clearly visible a blue and bronze coloured flock wallpaper.   The Lady’s rose bedroom had been achieved by papering over Walpole’s original paper.  Sufficient pattern was visible for the restoration team to have reproduced in order to restore Horace Walpole’s Bed Chamber to its original decor.   Flock wallpaper was a hand-made luxury product.  It was made by applying adhesive to a roll of paper formed of joined sheets, using a carved wooden pattern block and shaking over it finely chopped wool fibres.  The printed rolls were then pressed to imbed the fibres to create a velvet-like pattern.  The flock wallpaper was originally hung in Walpole’s room in 1755-56, just over a hundred years later Frances Lady Waldegrave covered it with rose pattern machine print paper, made in France, and a hundred and fifty years or so after the lady had redecorated, the room was restored to its original pattern and colour.

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Patterns and Layers form the natural world – look at plants, flowers – the symmetry and patterns are truly a wonder to behold.  Crystals too have their patterns.   One particular stone I’ve been looking at recently, Obsidian, displays some fascinating patterns.

Obsidian itself is a volcanic glass (SiO2 plus MgO, Fe3O4) – naturally occurring and produced when ‘felsic’ lava extruded from a volcano cools rapidly with minimum crystal growth.  Felsic refers to igneous rocks relatively rich in elements that form feldspar and quartz.   Obsidian, although mineral-like, is not a true mineral because as a glass it is not crystalline.  Obsidian is hard and brittle and fractures with very sharp edges, in the past it was used for cutting and piercing tools and has even been used experimentally as surgical scalpel blades.

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Pure obsidian is usually dark (black) in appearance, colouring varies depending on the presence of impurities.  Sheen obsidian contains patterns of gas bubbles remaining from the lava flow – whereas Rainbow Obsidian is so called due to an iridescent, rainbow-like sheen considered to be caused by inclusions of magnetite nano particles.

The pattern of Sheen Obsidian is fascinating to see and enhanced by polishing and shaping the obsidian pieces.

Take a look around, can you see the patterns in your environment, surroundings, look beneath the layers…  What’s hidden beneath?

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Lizzy Clark

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