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.

Exposing the Ballroom

As work progresses in the closed half of the house we get some of our first exciting glimpses behind the paneling. The early 17th century panels can be seen here being carefully taken down revealing the bare stone walls. This is all part of our Heritage Lottery funded conservation project to install fire protection, insulation, new lighting and electrical supply to the showrooms.

Fantastic opportunity to see things we’d never normally experience!

 

Here’s the Ballroom in it’s previous configuration still clad with its lovely seventeenth century paneling.

The Ballroom at Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent

The Ballroom at Knole. The great chimneypiece & overmantel rise the whole height of the room & rank among the finest works of Renaissance sculpture in England.