The state bed at Clandon Park

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Our state bed and matching furniture dates from around 1710, pre-dating our house by around 20 years. Commissioned by Sir Richard Onslow, the bed originally graced the Tudor house here. 

The bed

Wealthy and powerful families bought state beds to indicate their high position in society and in hope of a royal visit, in this case from Queen Anne. The quality of workmanship is incredible and this suite of furniture would have been fabulously expensive to buy. The bed valances and curtains are covered in silk and wool embroidery on a canvas ground. There is a matching suite of chairs, also beautifully embroidered.

Most of the bed’s original features remain, even the original mattress support known as a basecloth. This canvas sheet is attached to the bed frame by ropes that could be tightened to maintain tension – the origin of the phrase ‘sleep tight’.

Our project

In 2011 we began a project to conserve the bed. Specialist textile conservators Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd were called in to help us clean and repair the extremely fragile textile elements including the curtains, counterpane and passementerie. Each curtain needed over 200 hours of studio work including surface cleaning, damage repairs, embroidery support and correction of older repairs. The matching furniture has also been cleaned and repaired.

During this project we confirmed that the bed has been modified from its original construction. The canopy was once suspended from the ceiling or wall on a metal rod and the foot-posts were a later alteration, perhaps when it was moved from the Tudor house.

Next steps

This phase of the project has cost around £80,000, half of which was generously funded by The Wolfson Foundation. The newly conserved counterpane has been returned to the bed but the curtains are too fragile to be handled and re-hung more than once, so remain in their packing boxes for now. You can currently see a curtain up close in its box, but we must decide on the long-term presentation of the State Bed before re-hanging them.

An enormous amount has been achieved through this project both technically and in raising the profile of these rare and important pieces. It has taught us more about the bed and pointed the way towards what comes next for this remarkable suite of furniture.