A team of nine volunteers assisted by the Conservation Team spent two weeks at the beginning of November carrying out some essential preliminary conservation work to three of the five 17th century Flemish tapestries from the Spangled Bedroom. Representing stories from Ovid, they came to Knole at the end of the 17th century from Whitehall Palace. Therefore, they are highly significant, but centuries of hanging in the Spangled Bedroom have taken their toll, and these tapestries are now one of our highest priorities for conservation.

The tapestries show signs of substantial wear and tear and light damage. They are extremely brittle to touch and encrusted with dirt. To ensure their survival they require full conservation treatment which will include surface cleaning, washing and re-lining.  To be washed they are being sent off to the De Wit tapestry conservation studio in Belgium.

The work we were to carry out before going to Belgium was to remove the existing linings, vacuum clean the front and back of each tapestry and document the tapestry, including taking thread samples, recording damage and earlier repairs. Thankfully we weren’t going it alone. For the first day we were instructed by Ksynia Marko (NT Textile Conservation Advisor) and Rachel Langley (Senior Conservator) from the NT Textile Conservation Studio.

Ksynia demonstrates how to do a warp and weft count.

Ksynia demonstrates how to do a warp and weft count, this is part of the documentation of the tapestry.

Using a needle you count the amount of warp and weft per centimetre.

Using a needle to count the amount of warp and weft per centimetre.

The tapestries are very vulnerable to further damage and have already torn in many places where the textile fibres have deteriorated. To prevent further tearing during transport and the wet cleaning process Rachel showed the team how to sew in holding stitches.

A polyester cream thread was used for the holding stitches. The stitches are quite big and vary where they are sewn in depending on the path of the damage.

The smallest tapestry laid out before having its lining removed.

The smallest tapestry laid out before having its lining removed.

Sue documents the lining, measuring the components of the tapestry hanging mechanism.

Sue documents the lining, measuring the components of the tapestry hanging mechanism.

Val uses a scaple to cut the through the stitching attaching the lining to the tapestry.

Val uses a scalpel to cut the through the stitching attaching the lining to the tapestry.

Alexandra cuts through the stitching securing the folded galloon edge (the blue border).

The reverse of the tapestry is vacummed once the lining is removed.

The reverse of the tapestry is vacuumed once the lining is removed.

The front of the tapestry is vacummed as we roll it.

The front of the tapestry is vacuumed as we roll it.

The tapestries are stored on a roller. We unroll one end, work on it, and then carefully roll it to another roller.

The tapestries are stored on a roller. We unroll one end a section at a time, work on it, and then carefully roll it to another roller.

The process of wet cleaning the tapestries was patented by the De Wit in 1991. The method involves lying the textile flat on a suction table. The suction applied to the fabric is constant and uninterrupted and keeps the tapestry in this position until cleaning and drying has been completed. A cloud of steam, to which a very small proportion of detergent has been added, is produced above the entire fabric and is sucked through it.

The wet cleaning in action. Image from De Wit website

The wet cleaning in action. Image from De Wit website

Diagram from the De Wit website showing the wet cleaning process.

Diagram from the De Wit website showing the wet cleaning process.

 Thanks to our volunteers, Alexandra, Alice, Andra, Bekki, Jo, Lolly, Sue, Val and Vicky for all your hard work.

Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena.

Top 5 historic places that can make you happy

Originally posted on Heritage Calling:

This year’s Heritage Counts reveals that visiting different types of historic places can have a positive impact on our general wellbeing and happiness. The results found a significant relationship between life satisfaction and visiting heritage, from historic towns to archaeological sites, and for the first time ever have identified the types of heritage sites that can have the most positive impact on our quality of life.

5. Archaeological Sites


Wharram Percy , North Yorkshire, cared for by English Heritage

Archaeological sites offer a world of mystery and romanticism so it’s no surprise that visiting a place like Wharram Percy can have a positive impact on our wellbeing. These sites give us a glimpse into the lives of our ancestors and can make us feel connected to our past. There are many archaeological societies running community archaeology digs in local areas and the Council for British Archaeology have interesting events and projects listed on their website.

4. Historic Places of Worship

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A brief history of the needle

Originally posted on Textile Conservation Studio:

Following on from our post earlier this year from Julie, who was looking to change career and become a conservator and was on a work experience placement with us.

In July as well as conservation students Fiona and Anna we had the pleasure of hosting work experience to Ruth, a student at a local high school. Ruth has very kindly written this post for us.

My name is Ruth and I have just finished my first year of a-levels. I am really interested in textiles and wanted to find a work experience placement in that area. I sent a letter off to the National Trust Textile Conservation Studio, just down the road from where I live, and was overjoyed to get a placement there for eight days.


Below is a small project that I did on needles and I was surprised there was so much I didn’t know!

A brief…

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The treasures of the tea-chests and the tower…

…Knole Unwrapped 2014: Book and Paper Conservation

In 2013 when the hayloft was being cleared of its contents for its transformation into the hayloft learning centre a fantastic discovery was made.  As Project Conservator Siobhan Barratt, Curator Emma Slocombe and Lord Sackville pulled the sheets off piles of furniture and boxes they came across several large tea-chests. And inside…? A huge collection of books, packed haphazardly and now covered in varying degrees of dust, mould and the carcasses of insects.

The hayloft before being cleared.

The hayloft before being cleared.

It turns out they were part of the collection belonging to 5th Lord Sackville Edward (Eddy) Sackville-West and his step-mother Lady Anne Sackville. Combined with the contents of Eddy’s bookshelves from the Gatehouse Tower, working with these books has formed the major part of the Knole Unwrapped volunteer programme for 2014. There are over 1000 books dating mostly from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  The collection gives a fascinating insight into the lives of Knole’s inhabitants. It has been the task of three intakes of volunteers to record, clean, repair and wrap the books, ready for temporary storage.

The books now in the store room.

The books now in the store room.

Eddy’s collection is made up of an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction (Why You Lose at Bridge; Flying Saucers from Outer Space…), with many well, and less well-bound classics. Some of his books contain examples of Eddy’s gothic and cubist bookplates. Anne’s collection shows her love of the theatre through the numerous English and American playtexts, often programme texts bought at the theatre and listing the actors in that show’s run. There are also postcards, calling cards and notes littered through the books as bookmarks, which lead us to speculate about the stories behind the books and their owners.

Eddy's ‘gothic’ bookplate.

Eddy’s ‘gothic’ bookplate.

Step 1: Condition Reports

The first part of our work has been to take down a record of every book, noting its usual features (author, title, publication date), its condition and any interesting features such as inscriptions and inserts. Always in pencil (no pens near the collection).

Sophie records a book’s condition.

Sophie records a book’s condition.

In general, the books are in fair condition with some torn dust-wrappers, a little foxing, perhaps some damage by silverfish or mould. Some are cheap productions, with browning acidic pages and loose bindings, but there are also leather bound collections of classics with stylish marbling on the endpapers. There are literary treasures, including beautiful large format books of art prints, and an edition of Eddy’s contribution to the Hogarth Essays, published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press, The Apology of Arthur Rimbaud, inscribed ‘To Uncle Lionel, with love from the author’.

Our paper records will be transferred later on to a computerised catalogue for the Knole team to use as a reference whilst the books are stored. Every book has been given a shelf mark, which is noted so that those books which came from Eddy’s tower can go back in the position they were found.


Step 2 Cleaning

The books are handled carefully but firmly, with crêpe bandages used to support the boards and keep the pages from being opened at more than a 90-degree angle. We use two separately marked soft-bristled paint brushes to dust the books: one for the outside, one for the inside. A smoke sponge is used to carefully remove any dirty spots; a bone folder to gently lift any folded corners. Any books where the spines are loose or have fallen off (eek!) are secured by a cotton ribbon, tied with a special knot placed so as not to damage the book any further.

Suzi dusting inside a book.

Suzi dusting inside a book.

Step 3: Repair

Many books with damage to the covers can be stabilised using starch paste. This natural paste causes no known lasting damage to the book (unlike the layers of browning sellotape we sometimes find) and can easily be removed later with water. Books with delaminating corners, where the covering material has come apart and the inside layers are showing and separating, or with pealing leather at the edges, have the paste painted onto them with a fine brush. At times it can feel like you are doing more damage by prising the corners further apart to push the paste into the gaps, but it seems you have to be cruel to be kind – this work will help stop further degradation. Greaseproof paper is used in between the covers and pages while the paste dries to ensure these don’t stick together.


Step 4. Wrapping

It’s getting close to Christmas, so it has been useful to get in some wrapping practice these past weeks! Once each book has been recorded, cleaned, repaired and dried, it is wrapped in acid free tissue, secured with a label noting the shelf mark and book title.

Anne and Pip carefully wrap the books.

Anne and Pip carefully wrap the books.

When the books have been stabilised and wrapped, they are placed back on the shelves in the conservation storage area at Knole. The collection will return to the tower when these rooms open to the public for the first time in 2016.

Suzi Williamson, Knole Unwrapped volunteer

40 years on from the ‘Destruction of the Country House’ exhibition

Originally posted on The Country Seat:

Many was the time I stood in that exhibition watching the tears stream down the visitors’ faces as they battled to come to terms with all that had gone.’ – Sir Roy Strong [Diaries, 1974]

'Destruction of the Country House' exhibition, 1975 - V&A

‘Destruction of the Country House’ exhibition, 1975 – V&A

In October 1974, one of the most influential exhibitions ever staged by a UK museum opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  The ‘Destruction of the Country House‘ laid bare the scale and depth of the losses the UK had suffered, showing how four centuries of architectural tradition and achievement in country houses had been severely damaged by the depredations of the 20th-Century. It was conceived as a dramatic display to waken the nation to the threat faced by country houses and the danger faced by all aspects of heritage.  This was in an age with weak legal protection and which seemed to be growing ever more…

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‘Rice crispies’ and the Tapestry Room carpet

Originally posted on Osterley Conservation Team Blog:

Two conservation volunteers removing insect casings from the Tapestry Room carpet at Osterley Park House.

Two conservation assistant volunteers working on the Tapestry Room carpet in Osterley Park House (image: Kirsty Brown).

We recently said goodbye to our Assistant House Steward, Kirsty, but before she left, she called on a couple of our trusty volunteers to help with a project to remove some ‘rice crispies’ from the carpet in the Tapestry Room, which took place in front of visitors, as another Conservation in Action event.

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Monitoring the Great Stairs environment

The Great Jacobean Staircase at Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent

The Great Staircase was entirely remodeled by Thomas, 1st Earl of Dorset, between 1605 and 1608. It formed a key stage in the formal procession of the family and their guests from the Great Hall to the state rooms on the first floor.
The Great Staircase at Knole was remodelled by Thomas, 1st Earl of Dorset between 1605-1608 at Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent

The wall paintings decorating the main staircase at Knole are rare and very important survivals of Renaissance decoration. Dating from about 1603, they are one of only two complete schemes which survive from this period (the other is at Harrington Hall in Worcestershire) and presage the development of sumptuous painted staircase schemes in the late 17th or early eighteenth century, as seen in the King’s Apartment at Hampton Court Palace.
The Great Staircase from the landing at Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent

The paintings were executed in oil on plaster and have been unstable from an early period. Oil paint tends to lift and flake in the English climate, and their location also makes them particularly vulnerable to damage by touching. Flaking eventually leads to loss of the paint, seen in the white spots over the painted balustrade. The following images illustrate some of the damage and earlier remedial conservation repairs that have taken place over the years:

Areas of paint flaking revealing the plaster underneath

Areas of paint flaking revealing the plaster underneath

Cracking in the paint surface

Patches of previous repair, some of which are now failing and the paint is flaking off again

Patches of earlier repair, some of which are now failing and the paint is flaking off again.

As a part of our Inspired by Knole conservation project we are currently undertaking some extensive environmental monitoring of the staircase, internally and externally. We have placed temperature and relative humidity sensors on the external wall of the staircase and on the inside wall.

The external sensor, on the east facing wall

One of the internal sensors, on the north wall. The second is positioned on the east wall

One of the internal sensors, on the north wall. The second is positioned on the east wall

This will allow us to monitor what the temperature and relative humidity levels of the external wall surface and the internal wall paintings. Using time lapse photography we are also recording where direct sunlight falls on the external and internal walls.

The time lapse camera recording direct sunlight on the external wall of the Great Stairs.

The time lapse camera recording direct sunlight on the external wall of the Great Stairs.

 Our conservators who came to install the monitoring equipment also took some thermal images of the walls, another method to record the temperature of the wall surfaces.

Inside thermal imaging shot

Inside thermal imaging shot.


We are also monitoring another two wall surfaces to draw comparisons with the Great Stairs. The Spangled Bedroom, with new render and insulation; and the Brown Gallery which has relatively new render but no wall insulation. In these locations we have a temperature and relative humidity on the external surface and in-between the render and internal plaster. By monitoring the effects of new render and a wall with and without insulation, this will help us decide what the best method of protection will be for the Great Stairs wall paintings.

Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena