Nostalgia: The mystery of the Tudor tapestries

PUBLISHED: 12:24 13 July 2006 | UPDATED: 10:28 06 May 2010

Part of the tapestry

Part of the tapestry

IN SEPTEMBER 1954, Wells and Winch Ltd, the Biggleswade brewers, decided to redecorate the old coffee room at the Royal Oak and turn it into a lounge. The brewery decorating team found three large panels of tapestry below 10 layers of wallpaper. The tap

The demolition of The Royal Oak in 1983

IN SEPTEMBER 1954, Wells and Winch Ltd, the Biggleswade brewers, decided to redecorate the old coffee room at the Royal Oak and turn it into a lounge.

The brewery decorating team found three large panels of tapestry below 10 layers of wallpaper.

The tapestries were mounted on wooden frames, covering two large alcoves and two previously unknown doorways.

Jim Brown was a member of the team and took the tapestries back to the brewery where the directors were informed and they instructed the company secretary to consult the county archivist at Bedford.

After some discussion between the parties, it was decided to send the fabrics to Luton Museum for safekeeping. They were safely stored away and forgotten.

Many years later, Jill Draper, the keeper of costume and textiles at Luton Museum, found the tapestries safely intact.

It was established that they were woven in Flanders between 1525 and 1575 and the theme is the biblical story of Solomon and Bathsheba.

But how did they end up at The Royal Oak?

Lord Ongley obtained wooden carvings from Flanders for Old Warden Church and I suspect that he either gave or sold them to the Royal Oak for decoration.

The three portions recovered must have been trimmed to fit the room. A fourth fragment has disappeared.

Luton Museum restored two of the panels for display in the art gallery at Wardown Park in 1992.

Special lighting was used so as not to lose any of the stunning colours. The display was a great success.

Following the planning application in 1976, the developers were given permission to demolish this ancient inn.

But the county planners, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and the North Beds Preservation Society opposed the demolition of the Royal Oak on several counts.

These included considerable architectural merit, undoubted historical associations and that the street scene grouped with the Sun Inn next door should be retained.

The developers obtained a public enquiry in May 1977, conducted by an inspector appointed by the environment minister.

The hearing lasted for one day and afterwards, the inspector ruled that demolition could take place.

He said that the inn had only modest architectural and no special historic interest. So the old inn was pulled down in 1983.

After demolition, the planning application was changed to the provision of houses and flats.

The whole site is now redeveloped into 11 flats at Acorn House and 44 houses at Royal Oak Close.

* From the first article in this series, Eric Farr has asked where Market Hill was. In answer to his question, the Market Square has been known as Market Place and Market Hill in the past.

The next two articles will feature The Sun Inn.


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