The Sheldon Tapestry Maps Conservation Project

The Sheldon Tapestry Maps for Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire are woven in wool and silk, and are fine examples of cartography and decorative art dating from the 1590s. Commissioned by Ralph Sheldon for his home at Weston, Warwickshire, the series illustrates these four midland counties of England, the tapestries’ geographical extent covering the country from the Bristol Channel to London. The tapestries are of major significance for cartographic history, forming a unique representation of the landscape, at a period when modern cartography was still in its infancy. Their content was largely derived from the county maps of Christopher Saxton which were surveyed and published in the 1570s, but this set of four have no forebears in English mapmaking tradition. They were groundbreaking developments at the time of their creation.

Two of the original set, Oxfordshire and Worcestershire, are owned by the Bodleian, which received them in 1809 as a gift from Richard Gough. Furthermore, a sizeable proportion of the Gloucestershire tapestry map was purchased by the Library at auction in 2007, complementing two smaller sections already held in the collection. More of the Gloucestershire map is held in private hands. The final tapestry in the set illustrates Warwickshire, and is held by Warwickshire Museum. The Warwickshire map is the only one of the four which survives completely intact. The remainder are only partially complete, with Oxfordshire and Worcestershire having lost significant portions of their content to moths, whilst Gloucestershire has been broken up into many parts, not all of which have survived. All four tapestry maps were in the Sheldon family’s possession until 1781 when they were sold along with the remainder of the contents of Weston House.

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