Moving a State Bed

With the conservation work going in the showrooms at Knole our various contractors need ever changing access to our spaces. This means taking off paneling, lifting floorboards and crawling through attics to make sure they can do everything they need to.

Most historic properties like Knole are full of large and vulnerable furniture that, in some cases haven’t left the rooms that they are in for decades. During the work many of these items are boxed in and protected. This is much simpler than having to dismantle them to get them out of the way. It’s also much safer for the objects, limiting the amount of handling that they have to go through.

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Marble table tops boxed in for protection in the Ballroom

 

Tables, marble table tops and a harpsichord have all been safely wrapped and boxed in while work carries on around them. One of the most vulnerable items that has undergone this treatment is the King’s Bed. This is one of two state bed’s at Knole (along with the James II Bed in the Venetian Bedroom) and one of the most spectacular and important objects in the collection. It was most likely also made for James II when he was still the Duke of York. It has a fabulous mix of silver and gold thread and is topped with ostrich feathers.

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The King’s Bed

 

The last time it left the King’s Room was back in the 1970s when a huge amount of work went into restoring the bed. The hangings and fabric were all taken up to what is still known as the Needlework room to be worked on by a mixture of volunteers and professionals. The whole process took about 13 years and resulted in the most spectacular state bed which still shines in its special environmentally controlled room.  

Because the textile and metal thread is so vulnerable, special care was needed to make sure it was protected. Specialist conservators visited Knole at the beginning of the year to help wrap the bed in protective acid free tissue and Tyvek coverings. This all helps keep the light and dust off while windows are exposed and work goes on around it. The incredibly fragile ostrich feather plumes were also removed and have gone to the Needlework room where they were worked on in the 1970s.

 

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The King’s Bed in protection. The delicate ostrich plumes have been removed and are in separate storage.

 

It has sat unmoved since work began in that space but last week the moment came when we finally needed to move it. More specialist conservators were on hand to assist with the move.  

Because of the height, weight and fragility of the bed we were unable to lift the bed fully. The safest way to move and object like this is to slide it by inches. By lifting the bed the tiniest amount from the ground (with the help of many hands) special ‘sliders’ could be slipped under the After the bed was mounted on sliders, several people took up the poles to begin moving.

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Helen, our House Manager and furniture conservator John take up the sliders.

 

Textile conservators were on hand to look after the bed hangings and hold them out of the way while members of the house team, contractors and conservators all pitched in to help with the move. With observers keeping an eye on the top heavy and fragile bed it was slowly moved across the room by dragging the sliders.

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Now we just need to give the floor a good clean!

 

 This was all done under the keen eye of conservators. The whole process took no more than an hour and allows our contractors to crack on with their vital work in the showrooms.

All in all the move went without a hitch, something to be thankful for when moving such a huge and delicate object!

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Light

Over the centuries, many visitors have found Knole to be a dark house. Back in the 1600s, the diarist John Evelyn was apparently so depressed by greyness of ‘this great old fashioned house’ that he had to hurry out into the sunlight. Today, some of our visitors still comment on the Knole’s often shadowy interior.

 

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A house that ‘smoulders rather than sparkles’.

 

Many find this atmospheric lighting an integral part of Knole’s unique charm. But for the Conservation team, monitoring and controlling the light levels in the house is a key part of how we look after our fantastic collection. Obviously, we want our visitors to be able to see the beautiful objects. However, displaying our collection while minimising the damaging effects of light, is a constant challenge.

 

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This suite in the Brown Gallery was once a vibrant purple colour but has heavily faded in the light. 

 

When light falls on the surface of an object it provides energy. This induces a chemical reaction in the molecules of the material, which causes physical changes including the structural weakening of the fibres and a change in colour. The damage caused by this reaction is cumulative and irreversible. How vulnerable different materials are to light varies, but textiles particularly are highly light sensitive. We have the largest collection of English Stuart furniture in the world to have survived. It is internationally significant and we want to ensure that these magnificent pieces can be enjoyed for generations to come.

A key part of our work involves monitoring the light levels in the show rooms. If you look carefully at some of our furniture, you may notice small rectangular cards with a square of blue wool in the centre. These are called dosimeters and we use them to monitor the effects of light. They are placed on or near light sensitive objects and left in position for a year. Part of the blue wool is exposed while the other part is protected. When the dosimeter is removed and sent off for analysis, a measurement is made of the degree of fading. How much the blue wool has faded depends on the amount of light it has been exposed to. The conservation team also conduct regular checks to measures both the UV and the intensity of the light (lux) and we have two Hanwell LUX/UV monitors on the east and south sides of the building, which send back information to a computer in the office.

 

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Knowing the fade rate of the blue wool allows us to accurately measure how much light objects and rooms are exposed to.

 

 

The most effective way to protect our collection is by preventing it from being exposed to too much natural light. We now have case covers on the furniture in the Spangled Dressing Room, to protect the incredibly fragile and deteriorating fabric. Historically, case covers have been used to protect special pieces of furniture in grand houses from the ill effects of light and dust. Should an important person come to visit the covers could be removed to reveal the textile underneath. Our red custom cotton case covers have been carefully made by upholstery conservator Heather Porter to ensure that each piece of furniture gets the individual protection that it requires.

 

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One of our brand new case covers in the Spangled Dressing Room

 

The most damaging part of the light spectrum is ultraviolet (UV) and sunlight contains a high proportion of UV. Where possible we try to filter UV out by using a film on the windows of the show rooms. The light levels in the rooms are kept low and we only expose the rooms to light when it is necessary. However, the current electric lighting in the show rooms is inefficient and ineffective, meaning our collection is often poorly lit. This is something being addressed by the project. A scheme for new lighting has been designed by Sutton Vane Associates. Historic light fittings will be fitted with LED bulbs, which will not only significantly improve the presentation of the show rooms but will also help protect our collection.

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This is from a trial conducted at Knole in the Brown Gallery. You can see how the proposed LED lighting will not only protect the vulnerable materials but really highlight our fabulous collection.

Volunteer Experiences

We’ve been very lucky recently to have been joined by a new conservation volunteer at Knole who’s spent a few months with us to lend a helping hand. He has very kindly written a little about his experiences with the team!

Volunteering at Knole

The single greatest and most interesting part of being a Conservation volunteer at Knole has been the immense variety of tasks and small projects that are undertaken by the conservation team.

Involving everything from cleaning 18th century caffoy fabric to waxing the lead fish tank in stone court, it is hard to say that being a Conservation volunteer at Knole entails two even similar days. With the nature of the larger restoration project at Knole, as well as the day to day running of any property of Knole’s size the outlets for conservative work is seemingly endless.

The Monday deep cleans are the best chance to work on the items which are either vast or extremely precious, requiring more time and specialist equipment than many other of the usual but by no means insignificant objects. Utilising specialist material brushes as well as museum vacuums in my opinion the most fascinating part of the deep clean has been the work on the Orangery statues as well as the Roman busts of stone court. Whilst the cleaning of the Great Screen using cloth and ladders is also spectacular, if you think the screen is not amazing enough.

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The Great Screen was built c.1605-08 when Thomas Sackville did much to create the Knole you see today. The impressive edifice is bristling with heraldic symbols.

Being involved in the caffoy cleaning project was also highly rewarding. Once again the opportunity to use specialist conservation equipment and follow the stringent methods used to transform the fabric highlighted how precious Knole’s textiles really are. This time it was novel to use smoke sponges and once again low power vacuums to restore the caffoy. I can say that the process of removing a few hundred years’ worth of grime from the fabric was the most rewarding part of all of the mini projects which I have helped with over the last two months.

The caffoy material normally lines the Cartoon Gallery. During July 2016 we gave this piece a thorough clean!

The caffoy material normally lines the Cartoon Gallery. During July 2016 we gave this piece a thorough clean!

Another untold perk of being a volunteer in the conservation team here at Knole is that you truly get to experience the full character of the property, through objects, the different conditions and periods of each parts of the house, some of which is publicly accessible. Being able to see items which the team have restored or conserved is also fulfilling and history creating in itself.

All in all I have thoroughly enjoyed what seems like a very short couple of months at Knole with the conservation team and cannot overstate how fundamental they are to the condition and running of Knole as one of the country’s greatest properties. I would recommend to anyone who has even a slight interest in conservation or history in general to give conservation volunteering at Knole a go.

-Matthew

 

Cleaning Caffoy!

For the last two weeks the conservation team, along with a group of volunteers, have been busy cleaning a section of the caffoy from the Cartoon Gallery. This was removed by specialist textile conservator Zenzie Tinker, as part of the work to decant the second half of the house last winter.

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The caffoy in its original position in the Cartoon Gallery.

 

 

Caffoy is a rich, red coloured wool fabric, similar to velvet, with a floral pattern stamped into the pile. It dates from the 18th century and was used for wall hangings and upholstering some of the items of furniture that we have in our collection. This particular piece covered the wall at the east of the Cartoon Gallery.

 

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The east wall of the Cartoon Gallery after being cleared of the caffoy.

The back of the caffoy was lined with course linen. Interestingly, in the areas covered by paintings, large rectangular sections were cut out of the caffoy to reveal just the linen. This practice was a way of ensuring that the expensive fabric would not be wasted behind areas that would not normally have been seen. However, it did mean that over time, as and when the picture hang changed, sections of caffoy had to be added to fill in the exposed areas of the linen lining. There are 56 such pieces, some regularly shaped and fixed neatly with stitching, others placed haphazardly, cut in irregular shapes and fixed with tacks. This indicates that there were at least two different picture schemes, as well as the original plan, for that one section of wall.

While these small patches of caffoy have been taken offsite for specialist conservation work, the front and back of the main piece of textile has been carefully cleaned by the team here at Knole.

The caffoy was very dirty with a layer of dust, cobwebs and insect debris on the surface.

 

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Melinda, a member of the team, cleaning with a low powered vacuum.

Following the advice and training of Zenzie and her team, the textile was divided into workable sized sections, roughly 35cm by 35cm, marked out with pins and white thread. We then worked on each of these sections in turn, making sure that we kept a careful eye on the timing so each area received the same level of cleaning, ensuring we didn’t get any patches that were cleaner or dirtier than the rest of the textile!

 

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The has been separated into individual squares for precise and even cleaning.

First, each section was vacuumed using a conservation standard vacuum cleaner with a small brush attachment. The suction on the vacuum was set to a specified pressure to avoid causing any damage to the textile fibres.

Next, a smoke sponge, made of vulcanised natural rubber, was used to remove soot damage and general dust.

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A clean piece of smoke sponge against a piece already used to clean a section of caffoy.

Finally, the surface was vacuumed to remove any sponge residue.

You can see the results!

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A clean piece of linen against a dirty piece.

 

 

Next week, the back of the caffoy will be vacuumed to remove any dirt and dust before the whole thing is rolled and put into storage ready to be reinstated, along with the small patches that have been removed, in the Cartoon Gallery next year.

 

The other sections of caffoy which cover the walls in the rest of the Cartoon Gallery, as well as those in the Reynolds Room, will be worked on, in situ, by the conservation team before the second half of the house is open to the public next year.

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We’re looking forward to seeing it back home!

Spot checks!

One of the most important things we do at Knole is keeping an eye on the environmental conditions in the Showrooms. We do this through a combination of ways. Our primary method is using individual monitoring sensors in each room that send a regular signal back to the office detailing the Relative Humidity (RH) and temperature in each space. By this method we can keep an up to the minute record of what’s going on.

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Our regular ‘Hanwell’ environmental monitors. This one is in a storage space and is showing an RH reading of 58%, right where we want it.

However, because of our current project and the work going on to improve the lighting, conservation heating and all sorts of other things it means that we don’t have proper radio monitors in some rooms right now.

 

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RH in some rooms sometimes reaches worryingly high levels. It’s essential to keep a good watch on what’s happening.

 

This means that our secondary method become more important and we have to do it more regularly. This method is using spot checks. Usually we go into each space in the showrooms and store rooms every two weeks to take temp, RH, lux and UV readings to make sure that our automatic monitoring is consistent with our handheld sensor.

While the sensors are gone in the second half of the house we send the intrepid Zena in with a hard hat and a monitor to take readings every week. This way we know what kind of conditions the historic showrooms are facing on a day to day basis in all weathers.

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Zena taking readings in the Ballroom

Oh the humidity!

One of the most important elements of conservation is making sure that our collection has the best possible environment to live in. In a house like Knole this is very difficult. It’s a large building with no heating or other environmental control. This means that the house can be at the mercy of the elements. Humidity and temperature rise and fall with the weather with no way for us to control it.

photoCondensation in the Second Painted Stair caused by high humidity (RH)

As part of the conservation project at Knole we will be having special conservation heating installed in the showrooms here. Sadly for our visitors and volunteers this does not necessarily mean that the house will be toasty and warm in winter! The heating will purely be there to control the RH (Relative Humidity) of the rooms. Relative humidity is one of the biggest problems we face here at Knole. When it is too high it causes condensation to build up on vulnerable surfaces, attracts dust and makes a perfect home for mould. It can also create perfect conditions for all sorts of pests such as woodworm and deathwatch beetle. When it is too low it can cause some materials to contract and crack, veneers to lift and glues to fail.

Because of the importance of RH and temperature we have to keep a very careful eye on conditions in the showrooms. If there are particular anomalies such as high RH where it is usually lower we can investigate what has happened. Perhaps there is a leak or a heater has failed. Although we don’t yet have control over the showroom temp/RH we have been able to have some control in some behind the scenes areas at Knole. We have special humidistats in special stores that will react to the Rh in a room and turn on heaters when necessary.

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 Humidistat in the storerooms.

The primary method we use to monitor RH is our Hanwell environmental monitoring system. If you visit Knole you may see the sensors dotted around the galleries.

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Here you can see the Painting Store monitor. It has an LCD display showing you the RH and temperature at the time.

 

Each room has a box and each box is equipped with a transmitter that relays the information it’s gathering to a computer in the office. This then plots a graph that allows us to see trends and patterns in individual spaces.

Within the National Trust we try to aim for an RH level of 40-60%. This represents the amount of water vapour present in air as a percentage of the amount needed for saturation at the same temperature. Because National Trust collections are often so varied and in historic settings there is no perfect RH that is ideal for all materials but this range gives us the best chance.

To make sure we have the most accurate readings possible we also take spot readings on a regular basis. This involves taking a handheld RH/temp monitor into each space and taking an extra reading. This is a good way to make sure we are obtaining accurate information. This is also our primary method of keeping an eye on RH/temp in the part of the house currently undergoing conservation work ready to be opened again next year.

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Here is Zena taking environmental readings in the Ballroom during the conservation work.

Knole suffers with frequent high RH which will be addressed when we have our new conservation heating. Until then we do what we can!

 

Shakespeare Revisited (Favourite objects)

In honour of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare we thought we’d share one of our ‘favourite object’ blogs from last year. Our conservation volunteer Hannah shares her thoughts on our Shakespeare sculpture found in the Great Stairs at 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