Dismantling the Spangled Bed

A huge four poster bed with rich red drapes and hangings, a large marble fireplace in the background surrounded by dark wood paneling, colourful tapestries on the walls and matching red footstools and chairs

July 2017 was a busy and exciting time at Knole. After a long period of preparation, the day finally came when we dismantled the glorious, 400-year-old Spangled Bed so that it could be sent away for conservation treatment.

The Spangled Bed is one of the most significant pieces in the collection and is one of three state beds at Knole, along with the James II Bed and the King’s Bed. The Spangled Bed textiles date back to the 1620s, making them around 50-60 years older than the textiles on the other beds. It’s clear that the bed and hangings have been remodelled over the years but it's possible that part of this bed may have been created for Lady Cranfield as a ‘lying in’ bed, after the birth of her first son in 1621.

The Spangled Bed was first recorded at Knole in 1706, after it was moved from Copt Hall (another Sackville family home) along with a large collection of other royal furniture. It was put in the Spangled Bedroom in the mid-eighteenth century, where it has remained until now.

As part of ongoing Inspired by Knole conservation project, the bed was taken apart and sent away for highly complex conservation treatment which took nearly two years. Taking the bed apart revealed that the textiled had been patched and cut-down to fit with the current bed frame.

Dismantling the tester of the Spangled Bed
The 400-year-old Spangled Bed has been dismantled at Knole, a National Trust property in Kent, to be sent away for conservation.
Dismantling the tester of the Spangled Bed

Considering the bed had not been dismantled for centuries, we needed to plan everything very carefully. The first stage saw conservators from the National Trust Textile Studio at Blickling in Norfolk removing the hangings and other textiles to be packed ready for transport.

This involved the construction of bespoke boxes to house each item safely and securely for the journey. The two mattresses from the bed were stored safely at Knole, while the rest of the textiles were packed and kept on the dais in the Great Hall, ready to be sent to the studio in Blickling, where conservators stabilised and cleaned the delicate textiles and the tiny silver and silver gilt sequins (or ‘spangles’). When further work was carried out in the Spangle Bedroom, many of the sequins were discovered under the floorboards, which meant they could return to their rightful place.

Once the mattress and textiles had been removed it was time to start thinking about dismantling the wooden frame. The wooden structure of the bed was also sent away for conservation, to ensure it could support the textiles for centuries to come.

Taking down the tester

Removing the tester (the canopy above the bed) involved setting up two scaffold towers either side of the bed and with a platform resting between them. This ensured we could support the heavy tester after it was removed from the posts and move it carefully.

The bed is constructed using simple pegs, so there was no need to remove glue or any other adhesives and it was a straightforward matter to lift the tester up off the four posts. Four people then supported the tester, while furniture conservators used mallets to disengage the posts and slide them safely to the ground.

The tester was then lowered to the floor to a a sigh of relief. The whole process of dismantling the tester took no more than half an hour - amazing what you can do with a little planning and teamwork!

The tester of the Spangled Bed in situ
The 400-year-old Spangled Bed has been dismantled at Knole, a National Trust property in Kent, to be sent away for conservation.
The tester of the Spangled Bed in situ
The top of the tester showing the years of dust that had built up
The 400-year-old Spangled Bed has been dismantled at Knole, a National Trust property in Kent, to be sent away for conservation.
The top of the tester showing the years of dust that had built up

The Spangled Bed returned to Knole and was reinstated in the Spangled Bedroom in 2018 where it now it now sits in a temperature controlled environment behind glass. The sequins are not quite as sparkly as they once were, but are now visible again on the counterpane and hangings. 

Watch the conservation team dismantle the Spangled Bed: