Our Favourite Objects – Part 10!

The latest entry in our favourite objects series is from Hannah who is one of our wonderful conservation volunteers here in the house. Keep reading to find out what she thinks is best about Knole!

As Knole is such a big and beautiful house full to the brim of interesting objects the idea of choosing one favourite piece presented a difficult task, one which I tried to approach from a variety of angles. I looked for the most grand object, the oldest, the biggest, the most expensive, the most detailed etc. (the list goes on). Over my month of work experience back in 2013 my favourite object changed from week to week – from the portrait of Frances Cranfield hanging in the ballroom, to the stunning silverware in the King’s Room, to the royal bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room; and yet, there was something about each of these objects that did not quite stick.

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He was once Vita Sackville-West’s bedroom doorstop!

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Shakespeare at home at the bottom of the Great Stairs

 

 

 

 

 Every time I walked through to the Great Staircase however, my eye was caught by this funny little wooden doorstop, carved in the form of William Shakespeare. I was intrigued by its quirky appearance and when I finally got up close and saw the sentimental quote, ‘We shall never look upon his like again’ carved into a scroll in his hand, I was sold. I still look at him fondly whenever I walk through that part of the house and if there was ever a fire he is the first thing I would save. 

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‘We shall never see his like again’ inscribed on Shakespeare’s scroll

 

He is not particularly grand, large or detailed but he is unique and will always hold a special place in my heart. To me he represents a love of literature and a tribute to those who create wonderful worlds for the rest of us to get lost in. As it turns out, choosing a favourite wasn’t such a difficult task after all.

Hannah

 

Bonjour

Following Emily’s farewell post, I thought I would take the opportunity to introduce myself as Knole’s new House Steward. My name is Lucy and I am already a familiar face around the property, having joined the Conservation Team in November 2010. Since then I have learned so much both from the team and this remarkable building as well as successfully completing a Master’s degree in Heritage Management in 2013.

I feel honoured to be able to play an ongoing part in the Inspired by Knole project as well as having the opportunity to care for the property on a daily basis. The next few years will be very exciting for us with lots to look forward to. Both the Conservation Studio and Hayloft Learning Centre will open next year, thanks to funding from the HLF. This will allow us to explore new ways of integrating conservation and learning not only for school groups but for lifelong learners as well. New spaces such as the Gatehouse Tower, previously unseen by the public, will be welcoming visitors for the first time and providing the Conservation Team with a brand new set of challenges.

This year we will begin preparing a new storage space to accommodate parts of the collection during the project work. The work will allow us to install improved lighting and conservation heating and give us an opportunity to display the collection in new ways. I’m excited about the redecoration of the Great Hall, due to begin this autumn, as well as assisting specialist conservators to dismantle the Spangled Bed this July, ready for conservation works to take place.

The team and I are looking forward to sharing our experiences with all our blog followers so please watch this space for updates!

Best wishes,

Lucy

Au revoir

This is my last blog post as the House Steward of Knole. Its been an amazing four and a half years. I’ve learnt so much working with this collection and through the Inspired by Knole project. I’ve had some fantastic opportunities to develop my skills and knowledge in conservation and learn new things. Archaeology is now passion thanks to all of Knole’s amazing discoveries in recent years. I’ll miss being a part of the team and project going forward and the exciting times ahead, but I’ll get to experience it all from (perhaps the less stressful) point of view of a visitor. After eight years I’m also leaving the National Trust. I’m off to British Museum to move the stored collections to new facilities in the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre. I wish all my colleagues at Knole continued success with the project and look forward to visiting when its complete.

I hope you all continue to enjoy reading about the wonderful work of the Knole Conservation Team, I know I’ll certainly be signing up as a new follower!

Emily

How do you wash your tapestries?

Three of the Spangled Bedroom tapestries that were prepared for washing back in November (Tapestrytastic!) safely made their way to Belgium. Siobhan our project conservator made the trip out to see the tapestries go through the washing process.

The De Wit Centre

De Wit Royal manufacturers, founded in 1889, have been restoring tapestries for over a century. At international level, it is one of the world’s leading restorers for museums and private customers. It has combined the use of traditional skills and state of the art conservation techniques to offer a facility that can deal with all aspects of tapestry conservation and restoration.

In the past tapestries were most commonly washed using temporary baths made from polythene and plastic pipes. It required large quantities of softened and deionised water as well as adequate drainage. The tapestry would be fully immersed in the bath and to facilitate efficient soil removal, mechanical action in the form of sponging was essential. In order for the whole surface of the tapestry to receive the same treatment, the tapestry would be rolled on a roller in the bath as the sponging progressed across its entire surface.

Though this method of washing is highly efficient at soil removal, there are drawbacks. The tapestry undergoes considerable physical stress as it is repeatedly rolled and rerolled. Mechanical action and sponging can damage fragile threads. The process is lengthy and drying can take between 12 and 24 hours allowing potentially fugitive dyes to migrate and spread.

Yvan Maes De Wit, the present director, represents the fourth generation of tapestry weavers and restorers at de Wit, and has been responsible for developing a unique system for tapestry washing using aerosol suction. This was patented in 1991 and is the only facility in the world that offers this service.

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

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

This system uses a combination of aerosol spray and vacuüm suction. It is fitted with integral sensors to control pH, temperature, water flow and pressure. The facility consists of an enclosed chamber with glass panels. The base is a large suction table 5 x 9 metres. Ranged across the ceiling are 45 aerosol sprays approximately 1.75 metres above the platform. During the cleaning process the tapestry is held in place by continuous suction. When the aerosol is turned on the chamber fills with water vapour which is drawn down evenly through the entire tapestry.

Start of the washing process

Start of the washing process.

A low concentration of a non-ionic detergent is introduced to the aerosol system for as long as is deemed necessary for soil removal. This is replaced by softened and then de-ionised water during the rinsing process. In cases of extreme soiling sponging can be carried out from a gantry. The tapestry is still held under suction whilst being sponged, therefore there is no possibility of movement which would result in damage to weak areas of silk.

The aerosol/suction combination creates a very even and intense cleaning system with the advantage of the entire tapestry being treated simultaneously. The continuous flow through the tapestry means dirt is loosened from the fibres efficiently and then immediately drawn away avoiding the danger of re-deposition. There is no movement of the tapestry, therefore no mechanical damage from manoeuvring a wet textile can occur. The tapestry is never completely immersed in water thus avoiding dimensional change or shrinkage.

The washing control room

The washing control room

Another good property of continuously working suction is that fabrics that have undergone previous deformation can recover their shape. Irregularities in the fabric can be flattened out when it is dry and immobilised, on the suction table, before cleaning begins. This latter operation together with drying enables the old fabric to recover its original shape.

Finally the full treatment time is quite short. A tapestry measuring 45 m² can be completely dried at 30° in two hours owing to the process of uninterrupted suction over the entire fabric at the same time. If we consider that average cleaning time lasts one hour and rinsing 2.5 hours, the whole cleaning process therefore requires less than 6 hours. Any risk of hydrolysis of fragile fibres is thereby averted and the entire treatment can be constantly supervised throughout a normal working day.

Washing the Spangled Bedroom Tapestries:

Two of the tapestries, one large and one small were laid out on foam to support them on top of the mesh layer of the large suction table. The tapestries were sprayed from the top of the wash chamber, with a mist of soft water and conservation detergent while the suction from beneath drew though the wash liquid.  A sample of the wash liquid is collected throughout the treatment and tested for pH and conductivity.

Sample of the wash water

Sample of the wash water being collected.

The dirt in the tapestries is very acidic, so as the wash progressed this improves and moves toward a more neutral PH. Conductivity measures the ability of a solution to carry a current, the very black dirty water coming off the tapestry at the start of the wash had a high conductivity. This improved as the wash progressed and the water passing through the tapestry became clearer, carrying less particles and ions that could carry a current.

A video microscope mounted on a boom shows the surface of the tapestry and any especially weak areas can be closely monitored. This process lasted for around an hour. It was clear during this process that where there was glue residue on the reverse the water could not be pulled though the tapestry effectively.

Animal glue removed from back of tapestry.

Animal glue removed from back of tapestry.

Once the aerosol spray was turned off the front of the wash chamber was opened and the two conservators from De Wit were able to start gently brushing the tapestries with soft brushes to help loosen and remove the dirt and adhesive. They started by turning off the suction and rolling the tapestry on a large pipe to its centre, this allowed them to spray and brush the reverse of the tapestry rolling back as they went.

Mechanical cleaning of front of tapestry

Mechanical cleaning of front of tapestry.

Mechanical cleaning of tapestry reverse

Mechanical cleaning of tapestry reverse

They then brushed the other half of the reverse in the same way. After they had finished brushing the reverse, the suction and the aerosol spray were turned on for ten minutes to draw through the loosened dirt. After this the aerosol spray was turned off and the front was brush washed, then again the aerosol spray was applied to wash through the loosened soiling. The water used is approximately 26-28 degrees and the warmth allows the animal glue to be softened and removed. This process lasted for about 1 hour.

Following this the tapestries were rinsed for two hours. As samples of the water were collected you could clearly see how the washing process and rinsing had removed the soot, dirt and acidity from each tapestry.

Samples of wash water

Samples of wash water

The suction remained on during the drying process. Very large towels were laid across the top of the tapestries, which were then covered with a thin plastic for about 30 seconds. This process was repeated twice with the towels and twice with absorbent paper to blot a lot of the water out of the tapestries.

Drying the tapestry.

Drying the tapestry.

They were then left to dry at 30 degrees with the suction on for two hours. The complete wash and dry cycle was finished by 7pm. It was then left to rest overnight in situ. The transformation of the tapestry after cleaning was amazing – not only were the colours considerably brighter, with unsightly glue stains removed, but the tapestry was soft and pliable to touch.

The tapestries after drying.

The tapestries after drying.

After drying 4 After drying 5 After drying

Siobhan

Humidification!

Conservation of the bed hanging linings from the Spangled Bed continued throughout last year. Here’s an update from the National Trust textile conservation studio:

Humidification and wet cleaning

 Humidification of linings

The linings and satin were laid out inside a humidity tent created from a metal frame (a strawberry cage!) with a polythene sheet over to enclose the lining. A humidifier was set up inside to pump a fine water spray into the tent.

Lining relaxing in a humidity tent.

The linings were allowed to reach a humidity of 95% to allow them to relax. As the object was starting to relax glass weights were applied and it was then allowed to dry flat. Humidification resulted in the linings and satin to regain some of their lustre and body.

Wet cleaning of linings

After testing a variety of methods, detergents and buffer solutions, each piece of lining was washed in the wash table, pinned out flat and left to dry.

 An IMS : Acetone : Water (40:40:20) mix was used at the beginning of the wash to remove greasy soiling, followed by a wash bath with Dehypon LS54 (a conservation grade detergent) without a buffer and also with a buffer with a pH of 6.

The linings had an initial pH of 3.2 and was very acidic, so by introducing these different wash baths and using a buffer, which is a means of holding the pH at a steady level, we allowed the pH to be increased slowly.

Applying detergent and sponging the silk damask lining.  The lining sits on a mesh covered grid in the wash table to allow the wash and rinse solution to drain away, preventing it becoming too soft.

Applying detergent and sponging the silk damask lining. The lining sits on a mesh covered grid in the wash table to allow the wash and rinse solution to drain away, preventing it becoming too soft.

The soiling is very bound within the fibres, probably due to acidity, and proved difficult to remove through wet cleaning. Some dye loss also occurred although prior to cleaning it was noted that the ground of the silk was ‘cloudy’ where the dye had run from the crimson into the cream areas. This was probably due to the high humidity which, in combination with historic atmospheric pollution at Knole, had caused the silk to become more acidic and de-stabilised the dye. There is still some greyness to the object with striations of grey but overall the lining has improved immensely.

left to right – samples of water collected during wet cleaning process.

left to right – samples of water collected during wet cleaning process.

Removal of the silk damask and satin patches

It was decided to remove the patches to allow a more effective treatment of the satin.  Any necessary conservation treatment would have been worked through the patches causing damage and the patches would be lost as a future resource for research.

 The satin patches and the damask patches on the reverse of the satin were found to be adhered with starch paste. Damp blotting paper was placed over the patch and weighted in position. It was left for several hours allowing the glue to swell and soften. The patch could then be peeled away from the satin.

Humidifying the satin patch with dampened blotting paper.

Humidifying the satin patch with dampened blotting paper.

The patches were easy to remove and fortunately most of the adhesive came away with the patch and was not left on the curtains. The aim is to document and conserve most of the patches which will provide valuable information on some of the textiles used to furnish Knole or Copt Hall during the late 17th century.
Once the satin was humidified and the adhesive softened, the satin patch could be peeled from the surface (above) and the patch removal complete  . Once the satin was humidified and the adhesive softened, the satin patch could be peeled from the surface (above) and the patch removal complete

Once the satin was humidified and the adhesive softened, the satin patch could be peeled from the surface (above left) and the patch removal complete (above right).

Once the patches were removed, the satin curtain panels were humidified using the same method as for the damask linings.

 Adhesive treatment of the linings

Once washed, the damask linings had regained some of their handle and were less fragile. However they were much split and required an even, all-over support but could not withstand extensive stitching. An adhesive support was selected as the most appropriate treatment. Fine silk crepeline, a very fine gauze-like fabric, was dyed to match the damask and the crepeline was stretched out on polythene (which makes a backing film) and a 25% solution in soft water of Lascaux adhesive, (360HV and 498HV in a 2: 1 ratio) was applied with a small roller. This creates a fine adhesive backed fabric.

The damask panels were laid out and aligned and small ‘plasters’ of crepeline were used to hold distorted areas in place. Panels of adhesive crepeline were cut to shape and then applied using a roller system and laying the film evenly on to the reverse of the damask. The panels were turned face up and loose fragments were re-positioned.

Applying the adhesive coated silk crepeline to the reverse of the lining using the roller system.  The polythene backing is peeled away during the process.

Applying the adhesive coated silk crepeline to the reverse of the lining using the roller system. The polythene backing is peeled away during the process.

The adhesive film was then activated using a heat suction table and once cool the adhesive was set and the silk fixed to the support. Both linings had to be activated in two parts as they were too wide for the table.

Fixing the film to the lining on the right hand side, part of the two part activation.

Fixing the film to the lining on the right hand side, part of the two part activation.

The final stages of the treatment of the linings are to apply a dyed silk support to the reverse and dyed conservation net overlay using support stitching. This will take place once the proper right curtain linings have reached the same stage.

Note: All images © NT Textile Conservation Studio

 

Further investigation in to the Spangled Bed curtains

Another fascinating update from the National Trust textile studio on how conservation work to the Spangled Bed is progressing.

Proper Right Side Curtains
The treatment of the proper right side foot and head curtains began in October 2014. It was decided to commence treatment before completion of the proper left side curtains so that approaches to treatment are consistent across the set. They were photographed and documented before deconstruction. The bobbinet support and silk linings were removed. Seam types, tack and stitch holes, pleats and curtain ring positions (old and current), previous fold lines and remains of previous stitching were recorded, as well as condition. The process feels very much like an archaeological ‘dig’ as layers are peeled away and new discoveries made.

Proper Right Head Curtain

The proper right head curtain during removal of the red cotton netting which was used to protect lining on the reverse

The proper right head curtain during removal of the red cotton netting which was used to protect lining on the reverse (above). Yellow damask (at the foot where a conservator is working) and red wool ‘patches’ became more visible and we began to get hints that something lay beneath.

The curtain from the foot end, the heading and the netting removed

The curtain from the foot end, the heading and the netting removed, but all is not what it appears!

A large red wool and damask ‘patch’ or overlay (indicated by the red outline) covered most of the central part of earlier lining of very fragile yellow damask.
A large red wool and damask ‘patch’ or overlay (indicated by the red outline) covered most of the central part of earlier lining of very fragile yellow damask. The overlay was probably applied as the yellow damask was becoming very split. Once this lining was released from the satin we found extensive adhesive patching on the reverse. A much smaller piece of the same yellow damask was also found on the proper left head curtain, hidden beneath another pieced patch.
The proper right head curtain with the lining removed revealing crimson satin patches (reverse side up) and yellow damask patches.
The proper right head curtain with the lining removed revealing crimson satin patches (reverse side up) and yellow damask patches.

We have left the red bobbinet on the face of the curtain to give support to the very fragile applied decoration. This will be removed once the patches have been removed and the curtain is turned for humdification.

Proper Right Foot Curtain

The proper right foot curtain from the reverse, the red bobbinet removed.

The proper right foot curtain from the reverse, the red bobbinet removed.

The proper right foot curtain, damask lining removed with red damask, satin and burgundy silk patches revealed.  The red damask was also found as a patch on the proper left foot curtain.

The proper right foot curtain, damask lining removed with red damask, satin and burgundy silk patches revealed. The red damask was also found as a patch on the proper left foot curtain.

The proper right foot curtain with the satin face up, the heading and lining removed and laid flat showing light damage, soiling and discolouration

The proper right foot curtain with the satin face up, the heading and lining removed and laid flat showing light damage, soiling and discolouration. The applique embroidered panels are much damaged with extensive loss and previous repair. The arabesque panels of laid metal thread embroidery between are now known to have been not quite as plain as they now appear (see ‘Spangles’ below).

Documentation

This is just one drawing of many produced as part of  the extensive documentation undertaken

This is just one drawing of many produced as part of the extensive documentation undertaken to record seam types, threads, stitch holes, stain marks, crease lines and constructional features. This is supplemented with detailed photography. The aim is to record condition and structure, but very importantly to develop an impression of the alteration and remodelling that the bed hangings have undergone over the centuries.

The documentation has had to be far more extensive and detailed than we first estimated. However, it is a real opportunity to capture information, which once the bed hangings have been conserved, will be lost for another 50 –100 years. Together with archival research we may, hopefully, gain a greater understanding of the history of the bed.

IR, UV and RTI) photography

Dean Sully, Degree Programme Co-coordinator for the MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums and NT Adviser on archaeological artefacts and Stuart Laidlaw, lecturer in archaeological photography and related imaging techniques, both from UCL came to the Textile Conservation Studio to undertake Infra Red (IR), Ultra Violet (UV) and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). The aim was to see if any of these techniques would help pinpoint where spangles had been originally located by picking up silver sulphide residues, the degradation product of silver. However neither UV or IR fluoresced or picked up residues in the satin ground. However, the IR photography may be useful in making existing marks easier to read.
RTI photography

RTI photography is a technique which is very new to the studio. It is used to map surface variations by means of the manipulation of light across the surface at different elevations. Individual photographs are taken at each elevation (using a special camera with no built-in filters) which, once brought together using specialised software, creates a film showing surface variations.

We are awaiting the final results of this process which we hope will show original stitch holes more clearly, possibly another means of looking at lost applied decoration.

Findings
Close examination of the curtains is making us ask questions about the bed. Is it all it appears?
A crease line, with stitch holes either side, and spaced metal tack holes runs across most of the width of the proper right foot curtain

A crease line (above), with stitch holes either side, and spaced metal tack holes runs across most of the width of the proper right foot curtain. A similar line has been found on the proper left curtains. There are a further two (possibly even three) lines of stitch holes in a different pattern across most of the width lying above and below this crease line.

Line of stitching which held the heading tape

The seam shown above sits just above the hem border. The line of stitching in the satin above the seam and a small and dense group of stitch holes tell us that this was once the heading of the curtain, the line of stitching was where a curtain or heading tape was originally attached and the tight group of holes shows where a curtain ring was positioned.

Spangles (silver and gold plated silver sequins)

On close examination it was found that the curtains had many more spangles decorating the surface than first thought. Close examination of the arabesque panes of the curtains, which has twisted gold and silver threads laid in a formal design of rosettes, was found to have stains and impression marks indicating former positions of spangles (see the images below), the yellow circles indicate the location of impression marks. In many areas no evidence now remains.

yellow circles indicate the location of impression marks . yellow circles indicate the location of impression marks

On the reverse of the satin stitch holes can be seen showing how the scallop applique detail was originally attached (see below). These scallop edge strips are now mostly attached with adhesive. It also shows that there were three small spangles (silver sequins) at the each point and a large spangle below.

 On the reverse of the satin stitch holes can be seen showing how the scallop applique detail was originally attached ...

Seams

The variety of seams and the way the curtains have been cut and pieced together indicates that the fabrics have been re-used and probably re-modelled. It poses many questions about date, but more importantly, whether the fabrics were originally constructed in their current form. Has it always been a bed or was it something else before? Working with the Curator Emma Slocombe, who is carrying out a survey of inventories from Knole and associated properties, is important in trying to understand the history of these textiles.

An original backstitched seam stitched with silk.  The embroidery is worked across the seam.  A linen lockstitch can be seen worked through the seam turning.

An original backstitched seam stitched with silk. The embroidery is worked across the seam. A linen lockstitch can be seen worked through the seam turning.

A later backstitched seam stitched with linen thread. See how the design has been cut through and the seam is worked over the embroidery.

A later backstitched seam stitched with linen thread. See how the design has been cut through and the seam is worked over the embroidery.

A second seam stitched with linen thread, but a different style of stitching.  Is it the same date as the backstitched seam above but by a different hand, or is it from a different date?

A second seam stitched with linen thread, but a different style of stitching. Is it the same date as the backstitched seam above but by a different hand, or is it from a different date?

A machine stitched seam attached a narrow panel down one edge of the head curtain.

A machine stitched seam attached a narrow panel down one edge of the head curtain. This was undone during deconstruction, and could date back to the last quarter of the 19th century. The line of silk thread below it is locking stitches which were probably used to hold a previous lining close to the satin, a technique still used in making curtains today.

 Lining seams

A linen thread stitched seam, similar to that found on the satin, probably worked at the same date.

A linen thread stitched seam, similar to that found on the satin, probably worked at the same date.

Pale yellow silk stitched seam with remains of a previous old seam line in the seam allowance.  There is also some indication of pink silk stitching in seam allowances on the linings.

Pale yellow silk stitched seam with remains of a previous old seam line in the seam allowance. There is also some indication of pink silk stitching in seam allowances on the linings.

Next Steps

Once full documentation of the proper right hangings is complete, we hope to concentrate on devising a treatment plan for the embroidered satin, probably the most complex aspect of the conservation of the bed. Research on potential treatments has been on-going and we now need to apply some of the research findings.

Note: All images © NT Textile Conservation Studio

Moving House!

One of our fabulous volunteers hsa been inspired by the pest insects at Knole to write this wonderful short story, and we wanted to share it with you all. Kristin also wrote a sonnet inspired by Knole a couple of years ago.

Moving House by Kristin Gill

“ Some females just shouldn’t be allowed to lay eggs and that’s all there is to it!” snapped the outraged woodworm. “ Look where she left them – only in the chair leg nearest the door where all the humans walk in. As soon as they chew their way out they’ll be crushed at once. I did try to tell her when she was laying, but madam Death Watch had to know best – as always.”

“ Calm down,Woody,” soothed a suave vodka beetle, “it’s one of the nicest chairs in the House and you know how all the larvae love crawling round the leg and sliding down the dolphin. It’s the best treat they get, poor little grubs.”

“ That’s no excuse for irresponsible parenting. You know that cushion is covered with dust. It’s only fine stuff, but it could suffocate a little larva. I’m surprised you’re not taking this more seriously. You know she won’t come back, don’t you? Borers are terrible mothers.”

“ Woody, Woody, aren’t we forgetting something here? We came to check on the little   larves, didn’t we, not to argue with each other?” The vodka beetle smiled encouragingly at his flustered, wood-munching friend. “ Here, have a nip of this, you’ll feel better.”

The woodworm wagged a menacing front leg. “ I don’t know why I bother,” she sniffed.

At that moment a handsome russet coloured cigarette beetle crept from behind the front leg of the chair. “ Ciggy!” exclaimed the vodka beetle. “Am I glad to see you, mate! She’s driving me to dust,” he whispered, jerking an antenna at the grumpy woodworm. “Have you come to help with the larves?”

“ Yeah, thought I would. I expect there’s quite a lot of them – when the Death Watches are in the mood there’s no stopping them – she’ll have laid hundreds of eggs and all plug ugly like their Mum, I expect. It’s that messy shaggy look they have that puts me off’ them.”

“ So not like me, then?” A sleek golden spider beetle sashayed into view from behind the other front chair leg. The antennae of both male beetles shot upright.

“ Goldie! It’s good to see you – it’s been a while”. The vodka beetle couldn’t stop his antennae from twitching. He had always fancied the voluptuous golden beetle.

“I know, Voddy, sweetie, but I don’t come up here very often. I’ve moved to the Ballroom – the floorboard under the lion mask table. The food’s a lot better than up here: in fact, I’m on a dried food and freeze-dried animal diet at the moment. All the silks and velvets make me gag these days. The larder and biscuit beetles do a great job of stocking up and it’s always nice and damp. You should come down and see me sometime: we’ve got loads of room and it’s easy to get between the floorboards – at least for most beetles,” she added pointedly, eyeing the woodworm’s dark, rounded tummy. The cigarette beetle sensed danger as Woody’s antennae twitched angrily.

“ We get that freeze-dried stuff too,” said Ciggy quickly, “ the fast-frozen ones, much healthier than the soggy ones trapped in the render.”

“ I thought all that had been repaired,” sniffed the woodworm.

“ They missed a bit,” replied the cigarette beetle darkly. “Humans, eh, what are they like?”   You know, I’m not fond of soft centres either; I prefer a bit of crunch myself but when the wife’s laying I just stick to the ciggies.” He shrugged apologetically.

“We can’t stay here all day!” snapped the irritated woodworm. “ Are we going to get these larvae out or not?”

“ Yes we are!” shouted Ciggy and Voddy in unison.

“ Well then, get on with it!”

“ Me?!” they exclaimed together. “ I’m not sure I’d be very good with little ones,” said Ciggy.

“ It’s not really what chaps do, is it?” pleaded the vodka beetle.”

“ That’s a heap of frass and you know it!” shrieked Woody. “ I might have known you two would be useless!

The woodworm was about to shout at them again when an ominous sound came from the concealed cupboard on the landing, right opposite the entrance to the gallery – a sound that only meant one thing: Mighty Em and her team were bringing out their weapons of mass destruction. They uncoiled a smiley little cylinder called Henry, who remained cheerful as the three fearsome humans hauled him up and down and all around the long, dark gallery, sucking up tiny flecks of dried mud from the floor, the crushed bodies of careless beetles and other debris that had been carried in the day before, including tiny chips of stone or grit wedged under visitors’ shoes.

The four mature beetles waited. It was that time of day again. Any moment now Mighty Em would take her long pole and raise the heavy red blinds covering the windows, to reveal light, filmy curtains which allowed the sun to warm the glass panes. The residents in the gallery had mixed feelings about the light, most of them preferring cool, damp conditions as they went about their boring business.

“ Wait until she’s gone,” hissed Woody.

“ Of course they’re going to wait,” snapped Goldie. “ Do you think they’re stupid?”

“ Don’t answer that,” said the vodka beetle hurriedly, not wanting to hear the woodworm’s opinion of them. Ignoring him, the two females started circling each other and flicking their antennae backwards and forwards. There was no love lost between these two. Nobody knew why, but a carpet beetle living in Lady Betty’s said there had been an unfortunate incident with a misplaced dosimeter in the Spangle Bedroom and Woody had been bad tempered ever since.

They all froze as the heavy red blinds went up and waited until Mighty Em had moved further along the gallery to the next set of blinds.

“OK, let’s go!” hissed the vodka, beetle. He crept over to the foot of the ornate chair near the entrance. “ Hello,” he called, “ Anybody there?”

There was a scuffling sound from inside the chair leg. “ I’m Voddy. I was one of your Mum’s friends.” There was more scuffling and he could hear giggling.

“ Prove it!” shouted a cheeky voice. “ Appalling manners,” sniffed the woodworm. Voddy ignored her. “ How can I prove it?” he called.

“What was her favourite joke?”

The vodka beetle smiled. “OK, I know this: two bookworms are making their way through the same volume from opposite ends. When they meet in the middle one says to the other “What was your half like?’ “Boring,” says the other.”

The little larvae giggled; they knew they were wood borers, just like their Mum.

“ Right little larves, it’s time for you to eat your way out of your chair leg and when you’re a bit more grown up you can set up home in any chair, stool, or bed you like, as long as you’re careful. Just one thing you must remember: never, ever underestimate Mighty Em and her team. You may be tiny, but they have cunning ways of seeing and trapping us. No beetle has ever walked off a sticky pad. Understand?”

“ Yes,” chorused all the little larvae, nervous now that they would be leaving the only home they had ever known.

“ OK,” said Voddy firmly, “if you get into three lines and start boring, you should have about a hundred and fifty of you out before the humans see the holes. Now I know it’s a bit scary and you’re nervous, but if you can manage not to…” he paused, wondering which word for ‘defecate’ was common amongst the young these days.

“ Just say ‘shit’, Voddy,’ urged Ciggy, from the back of the chair. “They know

what’s what, don’t you, larves?”

“Yes!” they all shrieked from inside the leg.

“ And if you have to ‘go’ just be discreet,” advised the worried vodka beetle. “If the humans see frass we’ve all had it. Now EAT!”

The little larvae set to work. It felt strange to be boring through the walls of their own home, but they munched their way obediently through the elegant chair leg, last sat in by a king. The adult beetles retreated to the dark paneling to wait behind the furniture.        

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“I think we’re going to make it,” said the vodka beetle excitedly, as hordes of baby beetles started pouring through the tiny holes made by their siblings, slid down the dolphin and disappeared into a dark gap in the wooden paneling behind their chair.

”Your Mum would be so proud of you,” sniffed the woodworm tearfully, watching the baby beetles slide down the dolphin. “If only my own brood hadn’t got caught up in the fringe of a Queen Anne footstool I might be a great- great grandmother by now.”

The male beetles shuffled uncomfortably. “ Well, if that’s all, I think I’d better be getting back to,,er.. getting back..things to do, you know..” They faltered into silence.

The woodworm glared at them. “ How could you live with yourself if you abandoned these poor larves now? We owe it to their mother to see them safe,” she added firmly.

“Even if you couldn’t stand the sight of her?” murmured the cigarette beetle.

The woodworm shot him a spiteful look, but said nothing.

“ Oh, alright, Woody, of course we’ll help – come on little larves, chomp away,” sighed the vodka beetle. “ Whoa there little bug, you’re heading for the cushion – you don’t want to get lost in there. No sense of direction, these young males,” he murmured to Ciggy, who sniggered in appreciation.

 “Keep on this side, little larves, keep coming,” urged Voddy. “Ignore everything else: just keep eating and keep coming. We’ve been through this too, you know, it’s nothing to worry about.”

 The cigarette beetle raised an antenna in disbelief. “ OK, I frassed myself – once” hissed Voddy. “No need to bring that up again, especially not in front of the larves. “Keep coming, little bugs,” encouraged the vodka beetle, “ you’re nearly all out.”

 The woodworm shot Voddy a look of exasperation. “ You know perfectly well there’s loads of them still in there don’t you,” she hissed, “and the ones coming out are beginning to huddle together. Mighty Em and her thugs won’t miss a wriggling mass like that and the larves are starting to block the holes we bored in the paneling to help them. “

 The adult beetles locked their antennae together and conferred anxiously.

 “ What’s up with you lot, then?” called a breezy voice from halfway down the gallery.

A large-winged orangy brown moth was flying towards them, sweeping gently from side to side and looping the loop until it reached the worried beetles and landed on the arm of the larvae’s old home.

“ Well hello, lovely to see you too,” he said reproachfully to Voddy.

“ Sorry, Tiger old chap, we’re a bit busy at the moment. The Death Watch larves are on the move and we need to get them down to the Ballroom sharpish before ‘you know who’ gets wind of them.”

“ Ah, you’re busy, then. I’ll leave you to it. I’m busy myself, actually. In fact, I’m in love at last.” He sighed heavily. I can’t stop thinking about her. She smells divine – I know she’s the one for me. In fact I must go back to her now.”

“ Wait,Tiger,” pleaded Ciggy, suddenly alert to his friend’s danger. “You don’t want to look too keen. Females don’t appreciate it. Mean, moody, magnificent. That’s what you want to aim for. Trust me, you don’t want to go back up the gallery too soon. Make ‘em wait and keep them keen – that’s the way to handle females, take it from me.”

“Well, if you sure..”

“Tell you what, “ said Voddy, “ Could you take a few larves on your wings and drop them off under the Lion Mask table – Goldie will show you where. It would be a real help and it will take your mind off your girlfriend for a bit. She’ll think you’re a real hero when you tell her.”

“ If you put it like that… let’s do it!”   Tiger was excited now. “ You know what? There was an ugly dark winged moth hanging around my girl before I came down to see you lot. She won’t look twice at him after I tell her I’ve been rescuing baby beetles. Must get on now. By the way, where is the Ballroom?”

“ Is he really that thick?” asked Ciggy when Tiger had flown away.

“ Oh yes, and more. I’m afraid he’s in for a shock when he gets back to his ‘girlfriend’.

Didn’t anybody ever tell him about sticky pads?

Behind the King’s chair, Woody was fretting about the number of larvae milling about, terrified that Mighty Em would spot them.

“ Where should we send them?” she wailed. “ The steps down to the Ballroom are too exposed to be safe.”

“ Leave that to me,”offered the golden spider beetle. “ I know a back way into the Ballroom, behind the steps. It’s nice and dark so no human will spot them.”

“Are you sure?” fussed the woodworm. “ Believe me, doll, I use it all the time when I’m   ‘entertaining’ “smirked Goldie.

“ I’m sure you do”, relied the woodworm tartly. “”Alright, lead on.”

It took a while, but after many twists and turns behind the steps, the young beetles found themselves on the chapel side of the Ballroom door and slipped under it easily. Goldie guided them to the floorboard under the Lion Mask table, where the Larder and Biscuit beetles welcomed them with wide antennae, delighted at having more beetles to feed and fuss over.

Back in the Brown Gallery, Tiger was hovering distraught over the raggedy remains of a moth. “ She’s dead, she’s dead” he cried in anguish.

“ No she’s not,” said a passing woodworm flatly. “For a start that’s a male moth. She doesn’t even exist. It’s a typical human trick. They make you think you can smell a nice bit of totty, so that you’ll land on the sticky trap and get stuck forever. That poor blighter must have fought hard – he’s almost torn himself to pieces. There’s bits of black wing all over the place. Ugh, I can’t stay here, it’s giving me the willies.”

“You mean that’s a male ?” squeaked poor Tiger. “ That could have been me!”

“ Well, you’ll know for next time, won’t you?” said the woodworm. “Now, if you’ll excuse me I believe my sister’s offspring are moving house today so I’d better go and show willing.”

At the dolphin chair, all was calm. Voddy and Ciggy were sitting companionably on the feet, tired out by the day’s events. “ We did it, we got them all out,” said Voddy proudly. “ We did!” agreed Ciggy. “ We’ll have to tell the girls that none of them can lay in the dolphin chair again – too many bore holes in the legs. We’d all be gassed at once.”

“ Yeah, but it was worth it.” They sat in silence for a few minutes, then the vodka beetle said casually, “ I might just pop down to the Ballroom to see how the larves are getting on.” Ciggy gave him a look.

“ Oh, alright, I just thought it might be nice to say thank you to Goldie.”

“ If you want to thank Goldie it’s not the ballroom you should try, it’s the steps – you heard her.”

“ Yes, yes I did,” agreed Voddy happily, beetling off to the gap in the paneling behind the dolphin chair, where he disappeared.

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Note:   All characters in this story are completely fictitious except for the Beetles and Moths