Dismantling 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.

July 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 textiles of the Spangled Bed 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 is 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.

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

As part of our ongoing conservation work, the bed has now been taken apart and will be sent away for treatment. This highly complex conservation work is likely to take two years. Taking the bed apart has revealed some of the changes that were made in the eighteenth century, which we are now investigating. The significance of the bed continues to grow as we learn more about its origins and construction.

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.

Considering this bed has not been dismantled for centuries, we needed to plan everything very carefully. The first stage involved 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 have been stored safely at Knole, while the rest of the textiles have been packed and can be seen on the dais in the Great Hall. They will be sent to the studio in Blickling, where conservators will stabilise and clean the delicate textiles and the tiny silver and silver gilt sequins (or ‘spangles’).

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 will also be sent away for conservation, to ensure it can support the textiles for centuries to come.

Taking down the tester

In order to remove the tester (the canopy above the bed) we needed to set up two scaffold towers either side of the bed and rest a platform 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. 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 and we breathed 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 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 separate parts of the bed are now ready to be sent away for specialist conservation. By the end of this process we should better understand the history of the bed and ensure the survival of this unique piece.

The Spangled Bed will return to Knole and be reinstated in the Spangled Bedroom in 2018. We look forward to you all being able to see the bed following conservation work, when it will sparkle once more!

Watch the conservation team dismantle the Spangled Bed: