The Spangled Bed is one of the most significant pieces in the Knole collection. The bed is furnished with extremely rare late 16th or early 17th silk hangings embellished with appliqué strapwork and the spangles from which the bed takes its name.
Research indicates that they may have formed part of a canopy of state acquired by Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex, as one of his perquisites as Lord Chancellor. Cranfield, who was a Mercer, went on to acquire the Italian silk satin and floral damask for the curtains. The 1706 Knole inventory first records ‘One Crimson Sattin Spangl’d Bed’ in store with other chattels brought from Copt Hall by Cranfield’s grandson c.1701 and has been in its current location since at least 1765.
The Spangled Bed is of outstanding importance to the history of British furniture and textiles for the quality of the textile hangings and the rarity of their survival in complete form. Its significance is further enhanced by its Royal provenance and the duration of its 250 year display with its seat furniture in the Spangle Bedroom at Knole.
The textile is now in a fragile condition with the embroidery worn, the fringing and appliqué damaged and the metal threads and spangles tarnished. Until recently the failing structure of the building at Knole has led to an uncontrollable environment meaning conservation was not possible. Before embarking on the conservation of the whole bed we need to trial the conservation to assess the materials and methods required to clean and stabilise the textiles and structure.
Since 1980 the regular condition reports have indicated a deteriorating condition. The brittleness of the fabric has been increasing along with the areas of damage and loss to the appliqué. The condition of the spangles are also deteriorating with areas of significant loss. The surface condition of the textile is poor, as the building at Knole had deteriorated the humidity had become uncontrollable resulting in surface dust turning to mudpack and adhered to the textile. If left untreated elements of the bed will have to be retired from display and this astonishing textile lost from public view.
This trial would be the first step in ensuring the survival of this internationally significant object as well as providing an overall visual improvement. Close examination of the bed will also allow us to study the bed in detail for the first time. Textile conservators set up in the Spangled Bedroom to take down the curtains in full view of the visiting public. The Conservation Team erected the scaffold next to the bed, giving staff a chance to examine it at close range. Covered between the folds of the curtains for centuries away from light and dust, the inner sides of the curtain retain their original brilliant colours and several of the silver and gold sequins or spangles still shine. Exposed areas have not faired as well.
The curtains were padded between the folds to support them during their trip. Any stress on the extremely brittle fabric could cause the 17th century silk to tear further or shatter.
They were supported on a wooden dowel and lowered to the floor on a backing board. Once down, the curtains were packaged for transport in layers of acid free archival tissue, polyester wadding and Tyvek, a conservation grade cloth.
The two curtains will be taken to the National Trust’s textile conservation studio here they will be fully documented and examined. This will allow the conservator to draw up and undertake conservation work on the delicate fabric. This trial and investigation work will give the Trust an idea of the extent of the damage and help to estimate the amount of work that will need to be done when the rest of the bed is conserved. Given the size and detailed nature of the job, the textiles may take 10,000 work hours to conserve.
Siobhan and Leslie (conservation student internship)