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.


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.

18 Kings F 134

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.



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.


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.


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!


Constructing Case Covers

The Spangled Dressing Room at Knole is home to a wonderful set of c.1670 walnut furniture that includes six stools and two chairs. These pieces were originally housed at Whitehall Palace until they were brought to Knole by Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset (1638 – 1706).

Having sat in the poor environmental conditions at Knole for over 300 years the delicate silk damask material is in a pretty bad state. It was decided that in order to protect the incredibly fragile and deteriorating fabric that protective case covers needed to be made.

If you look closely you can just about see conservation netting. A fine colour matched net that has been added to attempt to stabilize the fraying silk.

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 17th century furniture in the Spangled Dressing Room is in such a fragile state that many of the red threads have faded completely to beige. With dust from generations of visitors and light streaming through the windows the stools and chairs the silk has powdered on the surface in places.

You can see here the fading and shredding of the delicate silk.

New case covers have been made over the past several months to protect the fabric of the seats. Red custom cotton case covers have been carefully made around the furniture by upholstery conservator Heather Porter. Each case cover has been custom fitted in situ at Knole so that each piece of furniture gets the individual protection that it requires.


The newly fitted cotton case cover contrasting with the uncovered pillow.


The case cover project was to design and make covers for display that resulted in an improved visitor experience. It did not involve treatment to any part of the extant upholstery.  After the project the fragile condition of the upholstery below remains the same, but with increased protection from dust and light.


Heather has primarily used a burgundy custom woven cotton fabric to make the covers.

As you can see, the finished results are fantastic. The new case covers not only protect the vulnerable upholstery but really add to the effect of the furniture. The material sets off the rest of the furniture allowing you to appreciate the fine carving of the walnut frame in a new way.


Now that we have new covers on this suite it’s always possible more work can be done in the future. Heather has already returned to examine the possibility of doing some work on the upholstery of our Reynolds Room chairs as well!

Keep checking the blog for more.

Listening to the Furniture

At the beginning of March this year Knole was visited by Nigel Blades, the Preventive Conservation Advisor for the National Trust and a team of researchers from the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow. They were here to install some pioneering technology in the world of heritage sciences. With the help of furniture conservator John Hartley they have attached acoustic emission (AE) monitors to some of the most important objects in the house. The basic principal of these sensors is to listen for otherwise imperceptible noises emanating from objects as they react to the changing environment around them. 

Some of the sensors have been attached simply by wedging plastazote (an inert spongy material) into a convenient crevice, whereas others required gluing by a furniture conservator (although a hairdryer was needed to speed the drying process in the freezing temperatures at Knole!). Using a combination of gluing, wedging, and tying all of the monitors have been successfully attached.  

John Hartley preparing the sensor mount (left) and the finished sensor (right).


Sensor wedged with plastazote into a convenient gap in the 17th century Gole table.


These monitors are designed to pick up the tiniest cracks and pops emitted by the furniture as it reacts to the environment around it. The relative humidity (RH) in the Showrooms of Knole can cause certain materials such as wood and metal to expand and contract as it fluctuates. It is impossible to tell how much the objects themselves are moving with the naked eye and so this AE method has been developed to help us better understand what seasonal variations in RH are doing to our collection. The sounds the equipment are monitoring for are so tiny they couldn’t hope to be heard without these specialist sensors. 


The monitoring equipment in the Spangled  Bedroom


Sensors have been attached to 4 objects in the house; the Gole table and a torchere in the Great Store and the Jensen table and a torchere in the Spangled Bedroom. Selecting these objects allows the researchers to compare the effects on similar objects in varying conditions. The Spangled Bedroom currently has no environmental control at all. This means the the temperature and relative humidity change with the weather conditions outside with no human intervention. The Gole table in the Great Store however is subject to environmental control which keeps the relative humidity below 65% at all times. 


The full setup on the Jensen torchere in the Spangled Bedroom.


The ideal conditions for a mixed material collection in the National Trust is between 40% and 65% although this is not always possible. Part of our long term conservation project at Knole is to try and install environmental control throughout the Showrooms so that the RH can be carefully controlled.  


Every room has an environmental monitoring device like this. The Spangled Bedroom one has been placed behind the table and is recording temperature and RH every 15 minutes.


The AE project will run for a full year from now and it will allow us to understand and better manage the change from an uncontrolled to an RH-controlled collection. The sensors and laptops will be left in their current positions permanently and will be checked remotely from Poland once a week to make sure everything continues to function properly. 


Furniture conservator John Hartley (left) and researcher Marcin Strojecki (right) discuss the placement of an AE monitor on the Gole torchere.


It was fascinating to see researchers and conservators of different disciplines come together at Knole to put this project together. Hopefully it will yield some interesting results!


Thanks go to Nigel Blades and everyone on the AE project team for providing the information and pictures in this weeks blog.


Dismantling the Spangled Bed – Part 2

Last week we looked at the first stage of dismantling the Spangled Bed here at Knole. This involved dealing with the textile elements of the bed ready for wooden frame to be taken apart.



This is what the bed looked like with all of the textiles removed. As you can see the conservators were not able to remove the textile from the bed posts themselves or the tester (the top of the bed). This can be done at a later stage.

In order to remove the tester from the bed we needed to set up two scaffold towers either side of the bed and rest a platform between them to support the tester after it was removed from the posts.

The bed is constructed using simple pegs and so there was no need to remove glue or any other adhesives. It was a straightforward matter to lift the tester up off the four posts. Four people then supported the tester while furniture conservators used mallets to disengage the posts and slide them safely to the ground.

All we had to do now was lower the tester down to the floor and the bed would be gone. The whole process of getting the bed from this….


…to this…


The top of the tester showing the years of dust that had built up.

…took no more than half an hour. Amazing what you can do with a little planning and teamwork!

So now the bed is down and everything is ready to be sent off for specialist conservation.

It’s worth remembering that during the deconstruction of the bed the documentation and recording of the process and different pieces was meticulous. It is so important with historic furniture like this that we know exactly where each and every thing came from. As each part of the bed was removed it was properly labelled so that we could keep a careful track during its various travels.

We’re looking forward to seeing the bed in when it comes back from conservation. Until then we’ll keep you up to date with all the exciting happenings here at Knole!

Knole Conservation Team

Dismantling the Spangled Bed – Part 1

July was a busy and exciting time at Knole. After long a long period of preparation the day finally came when we dismantled the glorious Spangled Bed at Knole. This is one of the three state beds here along with the James II Bed and the King’s Bed. The textiles of the bed date back to the 1620s, roughly 50-60 years older than the other beds. Our first record of the bed at Knole is in 1706 after it came down from Copt Hall (another family house) along with a lot of other furniture.

 The significance of the bed continues to grow as we learn more and more about its origins and construction. As part of our ongoing conservation work the bed has now been taken apart and waiting to be taken away for treatment that will likely take about 2 years.

 Considering this bed has not been dismantled for centuries we needed to plan everything very carefully before we acted. The first stage involved conservators from the National Trust Textile Studio at Blickling removing the hangings and other textile elements to be packed ready to for transport.


Halfway through the packing process on the Great Hall dais

This involved the construction of bespoke boxes to houses each item safely and securely for their journey. The two mattresses from the bed have been stored safely at Knole whilst the rest of the textiles have been packed and can be seen on the dais of the Great Hall right now.


Piece of the spangled textile wrapped in acid-free tissue.

The first three days of our bed week were all about the textiles. Once the mattress and textiles had been removed it was time to start thinking about dismantling the woodwork. Look out next week for part two of the Spangled Bed story!

Knole Conservation Team

Our favourite objects – part 3

My favourite object is found in the King’s Room. The dark, ebony cabinet can sometimes be overlooked in a room filled with shimmering silver. It is thought the cabinet was made in Paris in around 1650 and has carved decoration on the exterior doors including flowers and scenes representing the story of Jonah and the Whale.

It came to Knole from the palace at Whitehall through Charles, 6th Earl of Dorset as a ‘perquisite’ from his office of Lord Chamberlain. The cabinet has twelve legs and is relatively unassuming from the front.

18 Kings F 138

However, cabinets of this type followed an established tradition whereby the decoration became more complex and opulent as the cabinet was opened. Inside, it is richly decorated with various inlaid woods, mirrors and tinted ivory.

cab 1

There are more secrets hidden inside, such as a handwritten note by Vita Sackville-West, written when she was a child. The note was found during routine winter cleaning in 2007, hidden at the very back of the cabinet, inside a secret drawer.


It was previously unknown to Knole staff at the time of its discovery and reads: “Dada, Mama and Vita looked at this secret drawer on 29th April 1898. Vita.”


Cabinets like this one were hugely popular, particularly in France, from about 1640 to 1660. Owners of such cabinets would have used them to house precious objects and rare curiosities as well as being decorative and luxurious pieces in their own right, demonstrating the wealth and status of their owners. Ebony was a fashionable wood for veneering during this period and was imported into France as trade routes across the globe became more firmly established around the middle of the 17th Century. The high cost of importing the wood added to their luxury status and they were popular among the nobility.

Skilled, French carpenters who were able to make cabinets of this kind became known as ébénistes, after the wood which they often worked with. The popularity of these cabinets waned from around 1660 until the early 19th Century when antiquarian tastes became more established. Cabinets were often restored during this period or panels from them were reused elsewhere.


The cabinet is in one of the few showrooms with any environmental control. Despite having suffered some damage over the centuries, it remains in a secure condition as a result of the stable environment in which it is in. Unfortunately, the cabinet has suffered in the past from pest insect infestations, primarily woodworm. It is closely inspected annually during the winter clean, during which time we look for signs of damage, pests or hidden secrets.


Previous woodworm (Common Furniture Beetle) damage to the cabinet.


A Sonnet for Knole

One of our volunteers, Kristin Gill,  has written a wonderful sonnet describing the problems the building and collection at Knole face.  She has beautifully summed up the threats the Inspired by Knole conservation project will begin to solve over the coming years.

A Sonnet for Knole

Inspired by Emily

The ragstone treasure house is under siege,
Unseen, unheard, her enemies worm in.
The dot-sized beetle’s offspring will not leave
Until they’ve chewed through chairs carved for a king.
The wily sun once streamed through Tudor pane,
King Henry’s feather tribute to his son:
Royal blues, proud reds, bright greens began to wane,
On hangings, cushions, beds, light’s work was done.

The leopards on the battlements stand firm,
They scan the rolling park for signs of harm;
But leaking roofs, cracked render they now learn,
Are greater cause for action and alarm.

Serene the Grand Old Lady bides her time,
Till she shall have the strength once more to shine.    

Kristin Gill

Thank you Kristin for allowing us to share this with everyone.