James II bed, Knole

The James II bed, one of three state beds at Knole in Kent has a long history. It was comissioned on the 24th August 1688 during the short reign of James II, by the ‘Master of the Wardrobe’ in Whitehall – to supply ‘a bedd of greene and gold figured Velvet with Scarlet and white silke fringe…..two armed chaires and six Stooles as the same Stuffe as the Bedd’

Knole ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel
James II bed at Knole

After the Kings exile to France in December 1688 the bed was acquired by Charles, 6th Earl of Dorset (1638-1706) in 1695 and arrived to furnish the State rooms at Knole in 1701.

Dust, dirt, light exposure and relative humidity as well as previous conservation treatment carried out in the 1960s by the Rural Industries Bureau has meant that this 300 year old bed needed urgent and extensive conservation / restoration work to make it through the next 100 years.

Details of James II bed before conservation

Work on this project began cautiously in 2004 to establish the best treatment.

It was found that the glue could be removed, the fragile silk velvet could be washed and then supported onto new fabrics. This has revived the silk velvet and restored some of the original splendor.

The pieces that were worked on in the Studio are the upper inner valances, headcloth, upper outer valances and lower valances. The cantonnieres (narrow curtains which cover the foot posts at the end of the bed) were completed in 2004/2005, 6 head and foot curtains in 2008-2011 and the headboard in 2011.

Saying goodbye

Nine years after receiving delivery of the first parts of the James II bed for conservation, the bed was returned to Knole.

The curtains, headboard and cantonniers were sent back via our specialist couriers. The project still has another couple of years till it reaches completion, but we have decided that some parts can go back – leaving us some space in our stores.

Staff stood by waving the pieces off remembering the challenges they have faced in this project and the miraculous transformation that has happened to the parts of the bed that we have treated.

Detail of foot curtain before conservation
Detail of foot curtain before conservation
Detail of foot curtain after conservation
Detail of foot curtain after conservation

Final phase of James II Bed, Knole

After a 4 year wait for funding it was finally time for the final stage of conservation of the James II Bed. This project was started back in 2004 with a pilot project on the cantonnieres.

The final phase began with the deinstallation of the framework in November 2016; removing the 3 mattresses, cornices and tester from the bed posts and finally the bed rails.

During deinstallation – Removing the tester

After removing the tester from the foot posts it became apparent it could just about remove it from the room but could not remove it from Knole as the doors were too small.

All parts were given a careful surface clean on site

Vacuuming the reverse of the tester

The tester was separated into two parts, an outer frame and inner dome to pack.

Outer frame
Inner dome

After careful packing of the tester and cornices into specially created boxes, they went on their travels to Norfolk where the treatment was begun in December 2016.

Inner dome of tester before conservation

After the arrival, the tester has been documented, like noting its condition and previous treatments including the use of adhesive. This had started to fail, had become very hard and brittle with age and discoloured to dark brown from its use in the 1960s.

Adhesive used to attach velvet and silk patches from elsewhere on the bed
Adhesive used to stick the edges of lifting silk, seen as dabs of the brush

The first job was to remove this adhesive, not as easy as first thought. Previous experience from other parts of the bed showed it was Gutta Perchance, a form of latex, removed using Dichloromethane. To protect the object and user it was made into a poultice with Laponite, a synthetic clay, as a carrier.

Adhesive removal.jpg

Wet cleaning followed; first on the silk panels surrounding the inner dome and subsequently on the outer frame silk. This was too large to be used in our wash table so a specially constructed bath was made on the floor, back braking work. At least there was a hole in the middle so we didn’t have to stretch right in.

Wet cleaning.jpg

Wet cleaning the outer frame on the floor

Conservation treatment is finally being undertaken. The silk panels from the inner dome have been supported with a reversible adhesive treatment onto a silk crepeline carrier and infilled with new woven silk to match the original.

Laid couching has been applied to very weak areas in the silk, embroidery and linen lining.

Infilled hole with new woven silk and couched in place

The panels with no original silk left have a new silk overlay. As you can see from the completed panels you would never know they are new panels.

Before conservation
After conservation

The original has been conserved with new lustre and shine next to the conserved trimmings. Only 85 metres to work on in the tester!

We are now working on the conservation of the outer frame silk before the final task of reconstructing.

Outer frame of tester before conservation