THE SHELDON TAPESTRY MAPS
This tapestry fragment forms a part of the set of four famed 'Tapestry Maps' that were supplied to Ralph Sheldon for the dining-room, Weston House, Warwickshire in the late 16th or early 17th century. The series depicts the midland counties of England: Worcestershire; Oxfordshire (both owned by The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford and presently on loan to the Victoria & Albert Museum); Warwickshire (Warwickshire Museum, Warwick) and; Gloucestershire (four fragments, including the present lot). Each of the maps has its titular county in the centre on a white background and named in red letters, the county border is shaded red and the surrounding counties are depicted in varying colours from yellow to shades of green. The present fragment is from the Gloucestershire map and here includes parts of Avon, Somerset, Wiltshire and Monmouthshire. One cartographical source for the maps was Christopher Saxton's Surveys of the Counties of England, 1579 although it has been shown that due to discrepancies in detail between the tapestries and the printed maps, a variety of other sources were probably relied upon (cf. Turner 2002 & 2003).
They are recorded hanging in the dining-room at Weston in the later diaries of Anthony Wood (1632-1695), an Oxford antiquary, who writes that Richard Hyckes 'was bound prentice to a Dutch arras weaver in Holland by Ralph Sheldon (who built the great house at Weston in Com. Warw. in 1588) and being out of his time settled at Barcheston a mannor yt belongs to the Sheldons, and made and weaved those fair hangings yt are in ye dining roome at Weston' (E. Barnard, 'The Sheldon Tapestry Weavers and their Work, Part I. The Weavers', Archaeologia, vol. 78, 1928, p. 259 & note 2).
Three fragments of the earlier Tapestry Maps were purchased by the antiquary Richard Gough for £1.1.0 and bequeathed by him to the Bodleian Library in 1809. His diary states 'I purchast for £1.1.0 three fragments of these maps containing the inland counties of Hereford, Salop, Stafford, Worcester, Warwick, Gloucester and Oxford and part of Berkshire' (Wingfield Digby, op. cit., p. 76).
A second, later set of maps, of larger scale and with 'Palladian' or 'Jonesian' classical borders, was woven no earlier than 1647 and quite possibly in the 1660s for Ralph Sheldon the Younger (1624-1683) great-grandson of Ralph Sheldon the Elder (1537-1613) who commisioned the earlier set of four (infra). The former was an antiquary and his arms are found on the large map of Warwickshire now in the Warwick Museum, as is the date 1588. This map was, until recently, thought to form part of the later, seventeenth century series, on account of its classical borders. However, it has been convincingly argued that Warwickshire can be regarded as part of the original set of four tapestry maps (Turner, 2002). The two later maps: Oxfordshire and Worcestershire were purchased by Horace Walpole for £30 at the 1781 Weston Park sale and presented by Walpole to Lady Harcourt who honoured this generous gesture by creating a special room for them at Nuneham Courtney. Oxfordshire is now on loan to The National Trust at Chastleton, Oxfordshire (previously at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk) and Worcestershire is at the Victoria & Albert Museum. In 1831 Edward Vernon-Harcourt, Archbishop of York and a descendant of Lord Harcourt, presented these to the Yorkshire Philosophical Society who subsequently sold them along with Warwickshire, at Sotheby's, London, 8 April 1960, lots 112-114.
RALPH SHELDON THE ELDER: THE EARLIEST ENGLISH TAPESTRIES
William Sheldon acquired land at Weston in South Warwickshire in 1544 where his son Ralph was to build a house known as Weston Park in 1588. It was under William's patronage that the technique of tapestry manufacture was introduced to England. In this venture, he employed a Richard Hyckes, almost certainly Flemish, to manage his tapestry workshops and by 1569 he was appointed the Queen's 'arras maker' (Turner 2002, op. cit., p. 294). By 1570, at nearby Barcheston Manor in Warwickshire, the manufacture of tapestries under Hyckes' supervision was underway, quite probably with the assistance of immigrant Flemish weavers. Following Sheldon's death in 1571, his extensive will records in a codicil that he expected his son Ralph to continue the business he had begun and that 'Richard Heeks [Hyckes] will contyneue the excercysing of the same trade to so good a purpose as he hath begun' (Humphreys, op. cit., p. 184). The purpose of the business was primarily for profit, but also to provide tapestries for those prosperous enough to afford them and which would otherwise have been acquired abroad. Sheldon was probably also motivated to impart this trade to the local people of Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire & Berkshire. It was clearly quite an enterprise, moving Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester to reply, when implored for assistance with conditions among the poor at Warwick 'I marvaile you do not devise some ways amongst you, to have some speciall trade to keep your poore on woork as such as Sheldon of Beolye which me thinkith should not only be very profittable, but also a means to kepe your poore from Idelnes' (Wingfield Digby, op. cit., p. 72).
Sheldon's business continued until at least 1611 at both Barcheston under the management of Richard Hyckes and at Bordesley, near Beoley in Worcestershire (H. Turner, 'Finding the Sheldon Weavers: Richard Hyckes and the Barcheston Tapestry Works Reconsidered', Textile History, vol. 33, no. 2, November 2002, pp. 138-161).
Besides the maps, the manufactory produced several major tapestries series including The Judgement of Paris and four Judah tapestries: these were originally commissioned by Walter & Eleanor Jones for Chastleton House, which had been purchased by them in 1602. The house is situated only 12 miles from Barcheston. The undisputed masterpieces of the Sheldon Manufactory is the Four Seasons, made for the Tracy family of Toddington, Gloucestershire and later purchased by the 2nd Marquess of Salisbury (1791-1868) for Hatfield House, Hertfordshire where they remain. The Sheldon manufactory at Barcheston also produced numerous smaller works such as the popular cushion-covers and valances as well as curious smaller objects such as gloves and book cushions (ibid., p. 77 passim and P. Britton, A Tapestry in Time, Barcheston, 2001, pp. 12-13).