Bed fit for a king is restored in Norfolk

Maria Jordan working on a valance from the Spangled bed, Knole
Published : 26 Jun 2018

In a project lasting more than ten years, two state beds, including one commissioned for King James II, have been conserved in the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk.

The James II state bed and 400-year-old spangled bed are amongst the most important pieces of Stuart furniture in the National Trust’s care and are two of three state beds from the collection at Knole in Kent. 

Dust, dirt, light and fluctuating humidity have meant that these historic beds needed urgent and extensive work if they were to survive and so a huge project to conserve them was conceived, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. 

Restoring the bed of King James II

The 17th-century James II bed was the first to be carefully deconstructed and transported to the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk, back in 2003. Acquired as a perquisite or “perk” following the King’s short reign and exile to France, it’s taken the team fifteen years to painstakingly clean and conserve the textiles in stages.  

The National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio Manager, Maria Jordan, explained: 
’Everything needed work on the James II bed, from the valances to the headcloth, headboard and curtains. We’ve removed adhesive from previous treatments, textiles have been wet cleaned and finally the silk has been supported and infilled with new woven silk to match the original.’

A view of the restored tester from the James II bed
The tester of the James II bed
A view of the restored tester from the James II bed

Restoring the spangled bed

Then in 2014, the 17th-century spangled bed arrived at the Textile Conservation Studio. Hung in red silk satin, decorated with thousands of tiny silver-gilt sequins known as “spangles”, these textiles have required thousands of hours of work, in a delicate operation to stabilise, clean and secure everything back in place. 

Emma Slocombe, the National Trust’s Lead Curator in the East, said: ‘One of the wonders for me has been watching the transformation of the textiles, from fabrics that were tired, dusty and torn to looking vibrant, with some of the sparkle and shine of their original appearance. You can now see why these silks and trimmings were some of the most expensive money could buy!’

Maria working on the Spangled Bed
Close up view from above of a conservator working on the spangled bed
Maria working on the Spangled Bed

How many conservators does it take to make a bed?

Maria Jordan, went onto reveal that the team have just carried out a trial run in the Studio, to ensure both beds will fit back together before they are transported back to Knole.

‘This was a crucial stage in both projects, as it has been many years since they were last assembled. We wanted to make sure the textiles will hang correctly after conservation, especially as we have introduced new hanging methods to minimise any strain on the fabric. Having the space and facilities of the Studio to do this in has been fantastic and we are now all very excited to see them back at Knole.’

The use and status of these beds in royal palaces would have been more formal than beds we’re familiar with today, with the bedroom and dressing rooms often acting as receiving rooms for the most privileged guests. Visitors will be able to look out for both beds in all their conserved glory, when they go back on display at Knole in 2019.

Timelapse: Assembling the King James II bed