Sometimes a brilliant opportunity comes along and although you know it’s going to be a challenge, you can’t resist saying yes.

Here is the story of how a wallpaper and a series of prints were developed for the beautiful wedding venue, Hodsock Priory. It was a privilege to work on this project, as well as a testing design. I have enjoyed every minute of it.

I have met George Buchanan of Hodsock Priory on many occasions, and we have often discussed wallpapers and fabrics.

So, when George said that they needed to do something about the toilets at Hodsock, he thought of me (hopefully, I’m not being pigeonholed here as my wallpaper seems to be very popular in bathrooms!!).

I though awesome, an English Countryside design, lovely illustrations, some I already have. Trees in the grounds, pheasants, a lovely toile de jouy wallpaper, a heavenly, nice simple project.

Mmmmm I may have been just a little wrong with this one!!

At the end of November 2023, I received this email from George.

‘Here are photos of the ladies and gents (glamorous work this isn’t it?)

We’d love to tell the story of brother and sister Henry and Anne Mellish in the wallpaper. Might that be something you could play with?

Henry owned 40 racehorses, dressed like a Regency dandy and gambled most of the Hodsock estate away in 1805 by challenging the Prince Regent whether a pat of butter would stick to the ceiling of the dining room.

After Henry died in 1817, Anne inherited what was left and set about landscaping the gardens, planting flowers, snowdrops and the trees, building our family home as we know it today and adding Priory to our name. Her legacy lives on 200 years later.

Let me know what you think.’

Hodsock Priory Toilets original Snowdrop Wallpaper
Hodsock Priory Toilets original Snowdrop Wallpaper

My response;

‘I have visited those toilets & remember the wallpaper.

This is definitely something to work with, I remember you telling the story on one of my visits to Hodsock. Although, I can’t remember whether you have paintings of Henry & Anne as this would definitely help.

There are large enough areas on the walls to show a story.

I’d love to do a design for you.’

The snowdrop wallpaper was a legacy from when Hodsock Priory opened the grounds to the public every spring. A wide variety of snowdrops carpet the woodlands surrounding the beautiful building. I have enjoyed many hours walking within the grounds and luckily have toured the interior on a few occasions. These visits had secretly developed into a desire to have my work within those walls.

Hodsock Priory Toilets original Snowdrop Wallpaper
Hodsock Priory Toilets original Snowdrop Wallpaper

Design Development

As soon as the email landed in my inbox, I needed to find out what I’d let myself in for.

It piqued my interest and I loved doing the research. I wanted to take as much information as possible to my first meeting with George, I like to be prepared.

So, who were Henry Francis Mellish and his sister Anne? Were there any images of them? I also needed to decide what style I should do the drawings. Should the design be in full colour or monochrome? What would sit well within the walls of Hodsock Priory?

I am used to drawing from photographs with a certain amount of realism, however, my usual style wouldn’t be appropriate for this project.

Investigation for Hodsock Priory History

Thankfully, there is a wealth of information about the greatest character who lived in Blyth and Hodsock Priory. Along with the story itself, my initial research suggested that the design should be influenced by artwork from the Georgian period. I love the fashion and interior design illustrations. There are a lot of hunting and horse racing paintings in oils and watercolours to use as inspiration.

Political caricatures and satirical drawings have great interest and would have been great fun as an influence. However, these wouldn’t have been appropriate for this particular commission.

So, the Journey Begins

During our first meeting, we looked at the evidence collated so far, It is quite the story and definitely needed telling.

We looked at the spaces to discuss what form the wallpaper design would take.

We also discovered a few issues, but then, this is what site meetings are for.

Toille Wallpaper and Fabric Design

When the snowdrop wallpaper was installed the mirrors were glued on top of it. Which would make installation of an all over wallpaper very difficult as the mirrors could not be removed.

However, this actually created an opportunity. I was initially thinking of designing a French toile de jouy wallpaper, but a long panel would be much more effective at telling the story. So, the concept of a linear story at the top of the walls was born, edged with a picture rail forming a frame. Art in the loo.

I also spent rather a lot of time measuring and remeasuring the space. Even so, I was still a little nervous when we unpacked the final printed wallpaper. Thankfully, the measurements were perfect, but more about that later.

George sent me a photograph of his favourite view of Hodsock. This would be a great ending to the story, bringing us to the present.

Hodsock Priory

The First Sketches and Planning the Wallpaper

Any excuse to draw horses, my first sketch, being a horse lover, was Sancho and Frank Buckle. We decided that the story should be told chronologically. I also determined that I should attempt to have a facial likeness of the principal characters where possible.

And, so begins the design process.

Drawing Sancho, rider Frank Buckle
Hodsock Priory drawing chimneys

The Race – Panel One

Henry Francis Mellish was well known for his interests in horse racing and gambling. Two of his horses won the Doncaster St Leger in 1804 with the jockey Frank Buckle riding Sancho and Staveley ridden by John Jackson in 1805.

The jockey Frank Buckle and Henry Francis Mellish

Colonel Henry Francis Mellish

Sancho ridden by Frank Buckle

Frank Buckle riding Sancho in the foreground beating Hannibal in 1805 at Brighton. His victory in the St Leger at Doncaster Racecourse was in 1804.

Frank Buckle

A portrait of Frank Buckle by Thomas Arrowsmith

Planning the composition, it was important that the race horses in the first panel led the eye into the wallpaper. When designing something like this, a story is being told. In western cultures we read from left to right, it is the same when we look at designs.

When investigating I discovered that Doncaster racecourse is right handed and always races anti clockwise. Therefore, the horses run from right to left when in front of the Doncaster stand. Re-thinking the problem, if I drew the horses in the foreground and the stand in the far distance, the composition and the historical accuracy would all align.

Doncaster racecourse 1800

Doncaster Racecourse 1814, artist unknown

Doncaster Racecourse 1812

Doncaster Racecourse St Leger, date and artist unknown

Digital Drawing of Doncaster Racecourse Pavillion

Digital drawing of Doncaster Racecoursec 1804, I then sketched by hand from this.

It can take hours to draw the separate sections of areas for the wallpaper (as it did in some areas). Seeing that the 1804 racecourse building was rather complex, I used my Wacom drawing tablet and Photoshop to create an image. I very rarely begin a drawing using computer graphics and prefer a pencil and paper. To save time I drew sections and then used copy and paste when areas were repeated. When creating a commission, we have to be mindful of how much time is spent on the whole design. The building is such a tiny part of this panel, however, it still needed to be well drawn. From this, I sketched the final drawing.

I still used the original horse drawing (top above) by flipping it in Photoshop, I just needed to ensure the correct sock was white on the horse.

Racecourse drawing for wallpaper

Blyth Hall – Panel Two

I live in Blyth and have a fascination for it’s past. Blyth Hall was built by Edward Mellish between 1684 and 1865. It was built on the site of an old priory to the north of St Mary and St Martin Church Blyth.

Edward Mellish died unmarried in 1703, leaving the property to Joseph Mellish, his cousin’s son.

Henry Francis Mellish inherited the Blyth and Hodsock estates when his father Charles Mellish died in 1797, his older brother had been disinherited for being irresponsible .

Blyth Hall Nottinghamshire
Blyth Hall Nottinghamshire
Blyth Hall Nottinghamshire
Aerial view of Blyth Hall
Drawing of Blyth hall Nottinghamshire

The Bet – Panel Three

I don’t draw people very often, so saw this as the most challenging section of the design. However, it soon became the most rewarding.

The image needed to tell the story of Henry Francis Mellish attempting to win a bet with the Prince Regent by flicking a pat of butter to hit the ceiling.

There would probably have been many more people in attendance at the dinner, however, to keep the viewer focussed on the story itself, I needed to edit the composition. The addition of colour (see later colouration) emphasised the pat of butter and hopefully suggests movement. The decanters and wine glasses alluding to a wine fuelled party.

Interior view of Blyth Hall Nottinghamshire
Interior view of Blyth Hall Nottinghamshire
Henry Francis Mellish dining with the Prince Regent

The Duel – Panel Four

This panel represents the story of the duel in 1807, between Henry Francis Mellish and the Honourable Martin Hawke. It was well reported at the time and represented in the satirical cartoon by artist Isaac Cruikshank.

The story goes that the two were supporting a candidate in a parliamentary election in Yorkshire when they argued over who had acquired a vote for the candidate, Lord Milton. The argument developed into a challenge to a pistol duel. Mellish missed, but Hawke wounded his opponent.

As the legend goes, they left the venue as friends.

A satirical cartoon from the time was my main reference for my illustration, obviously I could not copy this because of copyright issues ( I wouldn’t anyway on principal).


Hodsock – Panel Five

As far as research is concerned this was the easiest section to complete, however, the pressure to get this illustration right was immense. George had sent me a photograph of his favourite view of Hodsock. I needed the drawing to be accurate but still in the style of the rest of the wallpaper design.

Hodsock is a beautiful but quite complex building having many architectural details. I had to take care to continue using the drawing style which I found difficult as I wanted to include each tiny detail.

Hodsock Priory Wedding Venue

The Shield

The shield or coat of arms is a combination of symbols used by members of the Mellish family. There is no known coat of arms for Henry Francis Mellish,

A visit to St Mary and St Martin’s Church in Blyth shows other Mellish family members Coats of Arms.

The Next Step – Approval of the Initial Designs

Armed with A3 black and white printouts Sellotaped on the back to create A2 illustrations. We laid them consecutively on the floor in an office at Hodsock Priory. I couldn’t help but be a little nervous. I needn’t have, the response was very positive and I could relax.

After the meeting I moved the shield from the centre and placed it at the end of the panel as a natural divider showing the beginning and end. And, of course, we needed to add Anne.

The Addition of Anne

At the time of this drawing there was no known artwork of Anne, which is a big shame because she had a huge influence on how Hodsock is today. It was decided that she should be on the wallpaper as a sign of things to come. In her basket are some snowdrops (also in the flower bed) and hellebore representing famous flowers of Hodsock. These are out of season, but I felt that they should be illustrated somewhere.

There is the potential of a painting of her being found, it will be very interesting to see how close I am to a representation. I’ll let you know, how this goes.

Anne Chambers nee Mellish, sister of Henry Francis Mellish

From Individual Illustrations to a Cohesive Design

I had the line drawings printed onto A2 watercolour paper rather than redrawing to save time. I realised that consistency of colour was very important throughout the design. Therefore, I chose to use water colour pencil crayons and created a colour chart for all the main colours. Consistent clothing colours, uniformity of the sky and I needed to use the same tones of green for the landscape.Henry Francis had been pictured wearing a blue jacket in a couple of different artworks. So, I decided to repeat the jacket colour in all the scenes as it allows the viewer to follow the story more easily.

May 2023 Development of the Final Design

Once coloured, the individual artworks were scanned and put together in Photoshop, this created a design 2.12m long by 40cm high. It was a combination of many drawings and layers in Photoshop.

The join between the beginning and end of a design is very important. The design will be repeated along the larger walls, so the transition needs to be seamless.

Feedback about any design is very important, any commission is a collaboration between all parties involved. It is great to get other points of view, it gives the artist a different perspective.

The feedback from staff at Hodsock was the following:-

‘I think losing the intense green of the snowdrops and replacing with that much green again may close the bathroom in.’

Re-looking at the full design, I couldn’t help but agree.

Thankfully, using Photoshop makes the changes relatively easy.

Having changed the interior wall colour to blue to tone with more closely with the sky, I decided that extra shrubbery was needed to frame the room. This creates a natural division between the exterior and interior scenes, giving the impression of walls.

A second feedback comment made me laugh.

‘The wedding team are positive but just wonder if Anne can look less like a giant?’

Re-looking at this part of the design, I totally understood the impression it gave. I had wanted to make sure she was a prominent part of the illustration. However, lost the perspective.

This was more difficult than changing the background colour of the inside of Blyth Hall. I copied Anne and moved her into the foreground, I then needed to cover the area where she had been, thank goodness for copy and paste and blending.

She is also much more visible with these changes, so I’m really pleased that she needed moving.

20th March PDF Showing the Room Simulation

I like to ensure that any client understands what they are getting from my work. I often create simulations using Photoshop. This also helps me to see the full picture.

This was also given to CreateInn as guidance for them to print.

August 2023 – Sample Print

‘The feedback of the sample is everyone LOVES it and appreciates you making the tweaks’.

The final design needed to be 42 cm to create trimming, this was added digitally. We had great advice from Jon at CreateIn who eventually printed it. He had recommended a slightly textured peel and stick wallpaper, this would be perfect for a public space. He also gave us advice on installation.

27th November Necessary and Unnecessary Changes

I’m a stickler for detail, this can be a blessing, however, at times it can be a curse. With further research I did discover more information (maybe I needed to stop).

I changed the date of Frank Buckles birth to 1767 as further investigation suggested that this was more accurate. Although, there were a few different dates including 1770, but I wonder whether they have rounded up to get this figure.

Thankfully, when checking the proofs, George picked up that I had missed the E from Annes name.

I also found evidence written at the time (a news report) suggesting that Henry Francis was shot in his left wrist, contradicting the cartoon. I then spent an afternoon adjusting the artwork. However, I realised that it was too late for changes as we had already had the wallpaper printed. It is interesting that historical evidence is often conflicting, and we can only try our best to be accurate in our portrayal.

Apparently, he objected to the reporting and wrote a letter to the Sporting Magazine of 1808, see below.

Artwork Prints

Hodsock is a very busy wedding venue, so squeezing in installation time was very difficult. The rooms needed to be stripped of the snowdrop wallpaper and the painted.

There were a few provisional dates, however, we managed to find time to create prints with text telling the story, ahead of hanging the wallpaper.

These would hang in the vestibule, outside the toilets.

Having designed the wallpaper, you would think this would be a quick process. However, the areas on the wallpaper are different widths, so I had to create standard the print sizes. Again, Photoshop and my Wacom drawing pad are a valuable asset, copy, paste and partial erase to blend.

I have all my artwork reproduced by the same fine art printing company. The giclee prints on A2 Hahnemühle German Etching paper, look and feel like original artwork. I use this process for all prints, the company who produce these for me, create high quality products that are beautiful reproductions, won’t fade, lasting a lifetime.

George and I looked at a few potential frame and mount samples, we immediately agreed on the final choices. I could shop and order the bespoke frames, framing tape, pH neutral tape, mirror plates, screw covers, screws and rawlplugs.

The Race, Doncaster St Leger 1804

Henry Francis Mellish (1782 – 1817) and the Jockey Francis (Frank) Buckle (1766 – 1832)

1804 Doncaster St Leger, Frank Buckle riding Sancho owned by Henry Francis Mellish. Frank Buckle was so convinced he had the rest of the field beaten, he signalled to the horse’s owner in the stands by raising his whip. Henry Francis didn’t wait to see Sancho pass the winning post but rushed down to the betting ringto start collecting his winnings.

Blyth Hall Nottinghamshire

Blyth Hall 1685 – 1973

Blyth Hall was built by Edward Mellishin 1685. It was constructed on the site of an old priory north of Blyth Church. Edward Mellish died unmarried in 1703, leaving the property to Joseph Mellish, his cousin’s son. Henry Francis Mellish inherited the Blyth and Hodsock estates on the death of his father Charles Mellish in 1797.

The Bet, Henry Francis Mellish and the Prince Regent

Henry Francis Mellish and the Prince Regent – The Bet

Henry Francis Mellish was a prolific gambler. His alleged final wager was whilst dining with the Prince Regent at Blyth Hall. He bet that he could flick a pat of butter with his knife, and it would stick to the ceiling of the dining room. He was so drunk that it failed to reach the ceiling. He sold the Blyth estate in 1806 to pay off his gambling debts, and Hodsock became his main residence, joining his sister Anne.

The Duel

The Duel – Henry Francis Mellish and Martin Bladen Edward Hawke.

In June 1807 Colonel Henry Francis Mellish had a serious disagreement with the Hon. Martin Hawke. This resulted in the two men fighting a pistol duel at dawn with their seconds in attendance. During the duel Mellish was wounded on his arm. After the confrontation the two men left the scene reconciled, together as firm friends.

Hodsock – Anne Chambers nee Mellish (1781 – 1855)

In 1817 upon the death of Henry Francis Mellish the estate passed to his sister and co-heir Anne. Anne Chambers began the creation of the modern day Hodsock Priory. On Anne’s death in 1855, the estate passed to her cousin, William Leigh Mellish (1813 – 1864), the son of Edward Mellish. After the last four children (Henry, George, Agnes and Evelyn) of William Mellishand his wife Margaret (nee Cunard) died, Hodsock passed to sibling cousins Charles and Mamie Buchanan and (in 1966) onto Sir Andrew and Lady Buchanan.

Mellish Family Coat of Arms

The Mellish Family name can trace its origins back to the Norman Conquest of 1066. Symbolism is embodied into every Mellish Coat of Arms. Atop the helm the swan crest. The shield adorned with a centre of azure blue and a pair of swans, flanked by ermine spots on a field of white. The Latin Motto IN COELO QUIES – in Heaven There is Rest

December 21st Hanging the Prints

It was close to Christmas when I drove up the Hodsock delivery entrance. Christmas music was blasting out of the kitchens just up the corridor from where I was working, accompanied by intermittent singing from the staff. It was a very happy working environment, every member of staff at Hodsock has been extremely friendly.

Having spent time putting the frames together, it was time to show off my drilling skills. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous, my picture hanging needed to be perfect and as there was going to be a wedding the day after my time slot, I needed to get it right first time.

Bespoke frames were manufactured with a deeper frame, with a simple interior bevel.

Frame sample

Screw covers are essential to finish the look perfectly.

Screw covers finishing the frames

I must have measured the position of the drilling points multiple times. I checked that the dado rail was level, so chose to measure from this. Each wall was different to drill into, but having already attached the mirror plates to the framed pictures it was a relatively easy job. The screw caps finish the final look of the gallery space.

Having completed this job, I felt complete satisfaction of a job well done.

And I received the loveliest email from George.

‘Thank you very much indeed- you’ve created something rather wonderful that brings Hodsock’s story to life. Really impressed.

Have a great Christmas’

It followed that we got an installation date for January, very exciting.

Prints telling the story of Henry Francis Mellish and his sister Anne
Prints telling the story of Henry Francis Mellish and his sister Anne
Prints telling the story of Henry Francis Mellish and his sister Anne

Wallpaper Installation

From experience I do know that peel and stick wallpaper isn’t the easiest to install. I could foresee issues, especially when hanging it horizontally just below the ceiling. The Hodsock decorator Rob Terry and I discussed our strategy. We had decided that the picture rail would be added after wallpaper installation, curving the paper into the ceiling would make the job difficult enough without dealing with a picture rail too.

The Disabled toilet was the first one ready to be papered. It was the only room with paper on all 4 walls, however, there was an obvious beginning and end with boxed in pipework. We had 4 rolls of paper for this room, one for each wall, it would have been impossible to complete it in one run.

Each roll of paper was labelled specifically for a wall, with a 5cm overlap at the end. CreateInn had prepped the wallpaper perfectly from my wall simulation document.

A pencil guideline was drawn to align with the bottom of the paper. The first thing this indicated was that the ceiling wasn’t level. So, a second line was drawn a centimetre above the first as a correction. The paper had been printed to 42cm high to allow for trimming, the design having been extended at the top and bottom specifically for this reason.

Corners were a little tricky, but Rob and I soon became a coordinated machine!!

We learnt so much from the first experience that the other walls were much easier. However, I was definitely relieved once we had completed the longest wall in the ladies which was over 6 metres, thankfully, the wallpaper could be subtly manipulated to keep it on the straight and narrow.

Hodsock Wallpaper Panel installation
Hodsock Wallpaper Panel installation
Hodsock Wallpaper Panel installation

The final project befits its environment, it’s fresh, decorative and shows the history of a beautiful house and wedding venue. Hopefully, it will be a talking point, adding another special moment to any event.

Hodsock wallpaper, story, history
The History of Henry Francis Mellish told as a wallpaper
The History of Henry Francis Mellish told as a wallpaper

The whole project from conception to realisation was just over a year, and as I said at the beginning I have loved every minute. George Buchanan and the staff at Hodsock Priory have been a pleasure to work with.

So, for me, that’s another one knocked off the bucket list. I’m looking forward to the next, whatever that might be.