The nursery frieze

Posted on | March 6, 2009 | 6 Comments

One of the many popular trends that appeared during the latter part of the Arts & Crafts era was that of the “nursery frieze”, specifically designed for the child in the home and their particular environment.  It was at a time when more attention was being paid to the positive effects that decoration could have on the formative young mind.  Decorative arts critic Arthur Seymour Jennings wrote in 1907 “Every one recognises the important educational value of a child’s surroundings, and it is impossible to believe that a really refined and tasteful scheme can fail in having a lasting beneficial result upon the children who use the room frequently.”   

Lower walls specifically designed for children’s room have been around since the last half of the nineteenth century, largely through the encouragement of wallpaper manufacturers like Metford Warner at Jeffrey and Co. who commissioned patterns from some of the great Victorian childrens’ book illustrators, most notably Walter Crane, Ralph Caldecott, and Kate Greenaway. The nursery frieze as a prominent stand alone decoration, however, came later by the 1890s with the overall interest in a room’s frieze space as the principle focus for its decorative art.

Pictured above is the playful (rather than strictly educational) “Toys” frieze created by a popular producer of nursery friezes at the time, Aldin and Hassall. It was actually designed as a series of vignettes, (as many of these friezes were), allowing them to be bordered into separate “paneled” arrangements or even placed in traditional picture frames and hung as art.

Along with the depicting the daily activities that might occupy children’s playtime, other themes included fairy tales, the alphabet, excerpts from storybooks, and of course, the ever popular Mother Goose, as seen in this example designed by Mabel Lucy Atwell in 1913 for C. & J. G. Potter, Darwen.


6 Responses to “The nursery frieze”

  1. a nelson
    March 10th, 2009 @ 5:07 pm


    What I would give to have these available for a child’s room today.
    Thank you for sharing.
    A. Nelson

  2. Meagan
    March 12th, 2009 @ 8:51 pm

    These are adorable and would be a great addition to a vintage nursery! I would buy them if they ever came out or if a specific nursery line of wallpaper were made.

  3. John
    March 30th, 2009 @ 8:29 pm

    The mother goose paper is available as a reproduction through another company….I have it in my nursery, it’s adorable!

  4. Morganne
    April 24th, 2009 @ 12:13 am

    I’m a proud godmother of a 3 years old boy and I was looking for a special and beautiful wallpaper for his room. I loved all those that you posted here, specially the one where the little boy is riding the elephant(my godson’s favorite animal,lol). I see that there is a reproduction available from another company(comment # 3). Do you mind to tell the company’s name? Thanks for sharing :)

  5. steve
    April 24th, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

    Morganne, I’m so sorry but I don’t actually know which company John was speaking about! Hopefully he’ll read this and forward it on to us, (unless someone else out there in blogland knows the answer).

  6. susan dorsey
    June 10th, 2009 @ 4:43 pm


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