Hidden treasure revealed at Clandon Park

Hidden under the State Bed were 3 boxes kept there for safekeeping by the Clandon Park property team. Could the textile treasures they contained have made it through the trial by fire? Would they be salvageable or damaged beyond repair?

We knew the boxes were there, but for months we’ve wondered if they’d survived and what condition they’d be in, after fire spread through the panels behind the bed and the ceiling collapsed. As archaeologists reached the State Bedroom and began to clear the debris from around the bed we were suddenly able to see the boxes, tantalisingly out of reach for the time being.  
 
The dismantling of the Bed had to happen in a particular order, from the top down. We gradually reached the base of the bed; rolled away the sodden horse hair mattress, cut apart and removed the modern divan, then carefully detached the historic basecloth from its wood frame. Only then could we finally reach the storage boxes, we were thrilled to find all three looking relatively unscathed.
 
 

An impossible discovery

We carefully slid the boxes out from beneath the bed, only momentarily disheartened by the water and debris that came sluicing out, accompanied by a terrible smell. One box contained tapes and fixings belonging to the recently conserved set of State Bed curtains, rescued on the night of the fire. The second box contained a Union Jack banner, retired from display in the Marble Hall because of its fragile condition.
 
The third box produced a miraculous find - the only needlework item to have survived the fire relatively intact. In the video at the top of this article, you can see the moment that we uncovered this piece for the very first time.
The early 18th century needlework screen recovered from beneath the State Bed
The needlework screen recovered at Clandon Park

This beautiful needlework panel dates from the early 18th Century Queen Anne period. The gros and petit point needlework in silk and wool includes European and Chinoiserie imagery that became incredibly popular in the late 18th Century Baroque period. Made with the finest materials it was a very rare and high status item.
 
At first glance this looks like a purely decorative scene, but it hides a meaning which would’ve been clear to early owners. At the centre of the scene the figure of Old Father Time draws the figure of Truth and two companions in a chariot. They remind us not to fall prey to earthly pleasures and vices during our short (in the early 18th century even shorter) time on earth. The ladies look back towards a man and woman, perhaps representing fame, standing by a church while in front an attendant holds a parasol over a figure wearing a turban. The scene includes a mix of European buildings such as the windmill, church and house surrounded by a coconut palm tree and a brilliant blue sky filled with exotic birds, transforming a moral tale into something fashionable and decorative for a wealthy home.
 
Mrs Gubbay, whose collection this screen is from, was very interested in this style of decoration and collected it in a variety of items across porcelain, furniture and textiles. The subjects were fantasies based on what westerners thought people, objects and scenery might look like in China and the ‘far east’. 
The beautiful imagery in the needlework has survived relatively intact
Close up of the needlework screen recovered at Clandon Park

 

Next steps

This amazing find is not without challenges. A small amount of damage at the edge of the needlework was caused by the flames, but an awful lot of water was pumped into the house on the night of the fire. Some of this was retained inside the storage box and by the protective calico dust cover, causing most of the damage.
 
The next step is to let the needlework dry out slowly by placing it face down in a dry, well ventilated space. Once dry we can assess the nature and extent of the damage, including any colour changes. We’ll then carry out cleaning tests to remove any remaining residue. We’ll need to pay particular attention to the areas of mould growth, as this weakens the structural integrity of the wool, and decide if wet cleaning with water or solvents will be necessary. 
 
Despite the water damage the needlework is in remarkably good condition. You can still see all the elements of the picture and we’re really hopeful that this piece will clean up well enough to go back on display in a restored Clandon Park.
The fragile Union Jack banner also discovered under the State Bed
Fragile Union Jack banner also discovered under the State Bed