A Stitch in Time

Summer is here and the conservation team has been hard at work making a start on the textile cleaning.

If you walk around the showrooms at Knole, you may notice that we have rather a lot of furniture. In fact, Knole is home to the largest collection of Royal Stuart furniture in the world. It is internationally significant. Much of this vast collection of chairs, footstools and sofas, as well as two state beds, was acquired at the end of 17th century by Charles Sackville, 6th Earl as one of the perks of his office as Lord Chamberlain under William and Mary.


A stamp on the underside of one of our pieces of furniture, showing that it came from Hampton Court Palace.

By bringing this collection back to Knole, the 6th Earl was not only underlining his connections and influence at court. He was also acquiring pieces that, while they were no longer required by the monarch, were real status symbols. To be seated was a sign of authority in the 17th century, an honour only accorded to the most important person. Footstools were also often used, not only because of the imposing size of the chairs, but also because raising the feet of the ground was in itself, a symbol of wealth and status.

10 Leicester P 200

Portrait of James I, seated in a Chair of State, from the Leicester Gallery

Furniture, now mostly mass produced, has lost the intense association with wealth and status it once had. But 400 years ago, the pieces of furniture at Knole were expensive luxury objects. They were the result of thousands of artisan hours, made using the finest woods and the most expensive fabrics, drawn from across the known world.

These items of furniture may not have the same significance as they once did. Their magnificence has also dulled with the passing of time. The fabric is now extremely fragile due to the damage caused by light and relative humidity. Today, as readers will already know from previous blogs, we constantly monitor the environment in the showrooms and our storerooms, so we can keep an eye on the relative humidity and the amount of light the textiles are exposed to. Part of the huge conservation project currently taking place at Knole is to install special conservation heating and lighting in the showrooms, so we can control the environmental conditions in the house.

We also clean each item. As well as dusting the frame to remove dust and cobwebs, the textile is cleaned with a conservation vacuum on low suction with a soft brush attachment. Although the frames get dusted regularly, the amount of attention each textile receives depends on its fragility. While some are cleaned annually, other more delicate pieces are cleaned less frequently, every 3, 5, 10, or in some cases, every 20 years.


The Brown Gallery at Knole.

But if you look closely at the surface of most of the upholstered chairs we have in our collection here at Knole, you may notice some of the conservation techniques that have been used to look after these unique objects.

On some items, areas of the upholstery have been carefully stitched to secure and stabilise the original fabric. Many of pieces have netting applied to the surface of all or part of the textile. The net is a mono filament nylon, dyed beforehand to match the colour of the original material. It temporarily stablises areas of weakness, preventing loose fibres and threads from coming away with a minimum of intervention. It also helps prevent further degradation or damage to the fabric, prolonging the display life of a textile.


An example of netting on one of our stools.

This means our magnificent collection of furniture can continue to be enjoyed for many generations to come.



Multi-national screens

Great piece from the NT Treasure Hunt blog. We have a beautiful screen in the Spangled Bedroom at Knole that’s well worth a look!

It returned to this room last year after a very long period hidden away!

Treasure Hunt

Six-fold incised lacquer screen decorated with scenes of Europeans hunting, one half of what was originally a twelve-fold screen, at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond Six-fold incised lacquer screen decorated with scenes of Europeans hunting, seventeenth century (NT 1140102), one half of what was originally a twelve-fold screen, at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I have just returned from speaking at a stimulating study day at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. As I mentioned earlier, I was talking about ‘Sino-Dutch’ interiors in late seventeenth-century England.

The other half of the twelve-fold incised lacquer screen, in a different room at Ham. ©National Trust/Christopher Warleigh-Lack The other half of the twelve-fold incised lacquer screen (NT 1139776), in a different room at Ham. ©National Trust/Christopher Warleigh-Lack

While I was there I also visited the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston. I discovered that among the rich holdings of the MFA is a Chinese incised lacquer screen depicting Europeans out hunting. This reminded me of a screen with a similar subject at Ham House (separated in two parts, documented here and here), which had previously puzzled me.

SC272715 Twelve-panel Chinese incised…

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Vita’s meadow: a short film

Have a look at this wonderful new film produced by our colleagues over at Sissinghurst Castle, Vita Sackville-West’s home after she left Knole.

This video should get you in the mood for summer!


It’s been a while since our last post and although we’re no longer writing blogs, we’re still busy trying to share Sissinghurst with those who love the garden. One of our new projects has been film-making and we’ve just published our first film which I thought you might like to watch. It’s about wild flowers, meadows and scything at Sissinghurst and was made by the garden team. I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to make a comment; we want to know what you think. Wishing you all a great summer of gardening. Helen

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The plan for Clandon

Treasure Hunt

The Marble Hall, 1, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images The Marble Hall at Clandon, following the removal of the debris and the stabilisation of the remaining wall surfaces. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

An announcement was made yesterday about the plans to bring Clandon Park back to life following the devastating fire last April.

Crates with salavaged items from the Saloon, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images Crates with salvaged fragments in the Saloon. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

Over the last nine months, the colleagues involved with Clandon have reviewed a number of options, ranging from leaving it as a ruin to a full restoration. They considered the architectural significance of what had survived the fire, the items salvaged from the building and what was technically possible within it.

Cleaning the leg of a marble topped table in the Marble Hall, photo James Dobson-National Trust Images Conservator cleaning the remains of a side table in the Marble Hall. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

The criteria guiding the decision-making process reflect the National Trust’s core purpose. They include making sure that Clandon remains open to the public, considering Clandon’s historic and cultural…

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Clandon Park: the Speakers’ Parlour

Clandon’s lone survivor.

Treasure Hunt

The Speakers' Parlour at Clandon Park following the fire, showing the carpet being removed. Also visible is a large frame from which a portrait painting was cut, in anticipation of the fire reaching this room, which fortunately didn't happen. ©National Trust The Speakers’ Parlour at Clandon Park following the fire, showing the carpet being removed. Also visible is a large frame from which a portrait painting was cut, in anticipation of the fire reaching this room, which fortunately didn’t happen. ©National Trust

It has just been confirmed that the Speakers’ Parlour at Clandon was not damaged as severely in the recent fire as many of the other areas of the house.

The ceiling of the Speakers' Parlour propped up, and the chandelier removed. ©National Trust The ceiling of the Speakers’ Parlour propped up, and the chandelier removed. ©National Trust

This family dining room was named after the portraits hanging there of the three members of the Onslow family who were Speakers of the House of Commons: Richard Onslow (1528-71, ‘the Black Speaker’), Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt and 1st Baron Onslow (1654-1717), and Arthur Onslow (1691-1768, ‘the Great Speaker’).

View of the west front, showing the remains of the ground floor Saloon. The Giacomo Leoni-designed chimneypiece, with its overmantel relief of Mars and Venus, is visible through the second window from the left. ©National Trust View of the west front, showing the remains of the ground floor Saloon. The Giacomo Leoni-designed…

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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,


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!