Spotlight on: State Beds

If you read the National Trust magazine, then you will have read one of the articles in the Autumn 2012 edition. It’s an article about the huge variety of state beds within Trust properties, which got us thinking about the different styles of state bed we have here inside Nostell.

Today’s spotlight blog post brings together our state beds for a closer look at them – large and small! (You’ll see what we mean about small state beds when you reach the end of the post…)

The state bed in the Crimson Bedroom is incredibly striking, and was certainly created to impress as this room has always been used as a guest bedroom. It’s a George III ebonised and parcel-gilt four post bed with shallow domed canopy, close-covered with crimson silk on turned fluted front posts and block feet, with crimson brocade upholstery. There is a reason why the crimson material is still so bright and colourful…

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Crimson Room state bed

…and the reason is that the material is modern! It was made specially for the Crimson Room bed when the room was damaged by the fire at Nostell in the 1980s. The design followed a drawing for the hangings of a bed in the Nostell archives. The state bed itself may have been desighed by James Paine, as we have drawings of a bed very similar to this one by Paine in the archives.

The State Dressing Room was originally designed to be the State Bedroom, and was meant to host the most important guests who visited Nostell. The room changed to being the State Dresing Room in the late nineteenth century, when a four-poster bed was put in the room next door (the present State Bedroom).

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State Dressing Room bed

The bed in the State Dressing Room is a George III green painted and parcel gilt four poster bed. It was designed and made by Thomas Chippendale, and cost £54. The bed is upholstered in modern hand-painted chintz, because the original material was smoke-damaged during the 1980s fire. The State Dressing Room is a really good example of how whole rooms were made to match the bed – if you look carefully you’ll see how chair and stool covers have been made out of the same material as the bed hangings, to create a matching suite.

The grandest bed in the whole of Nostell Priory is the one in the State Bedroom. State beds were created so that if a member of royalty came to visit houses and country estates, the landowners had somewhere suitable for them to sleep. As royalty did not come to every house in the countyry, state beds were not often slept in. This meant that state beds became a status symbol, because if you could afford to buy a highly decorative bed which quite possibly may never be slept in, then you were indeed very rich! Thus, a state bed was often a way to show off your wealth to your friends and acquaintances. During a house party at Nostell in 1936, this room was slept in by the Duchess of Westminster.

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State bed in the State Bedroom

Nostell’s state bed is a nineteeth century green painted and parcel-gilt lit a la polonaise with an oval fluted canopy and domed interior. It is covered in buttoned eau-de-nil cloth, with hangings of flower-printed corded cotton. The material is extremely fragile, and so the curtain and blinds in the State Bedroom are never opened in order to prevent deterioration due to light damage. It is a beautiful bed, and the domed top is rather impressive!

When you move off the state floor and up to the second floor of the house, the beds become less extravagant. (This does not mean that they are not beautiful, as I think they are much more pleasing to the eye, and are certainly more inviting to sleep in!)

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Peacock Bedroom bed

In the Peacock Bedroom is an early Victorian bird’s eye maple bed, shown in the above photograph. Some of the other furniture in this room (wardrobe, desk, dressing table, mirror) were designed to match the bed. The drapes would definitely have been necessary to hang around the bed to keep the draughts out, as the North Bedrooms are very very cold!

The two photographs below show two further four-poster beds in the North Bedrooms which we are researching to find out more about them. The rooms were slept in until the very late twentieth century by the family, and have relatively modern hangings. In the first photo (the Big North bed), you can see how high the bed is off the ground – it’s the highest at Nostell. A small set of mahogany steps would have been used to get onto the bed, which have unfortunately been lost. These days you would need to take a running jump!

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Big North Bedroom bed

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Blue Bedroom bed

What is particularly interesting about the Blue Bedroom bed is that the fabric of the bed hangings were modelled on the fabric of one of the beds in Nostell’s Dolls’ House. Other pieces of furniture in the room were also modelled on those in the Dolls’ House. Look out for a future blog post where I’ll compare the two rooms in more detail.

We think that the beds in the North Bedrooms are much more inviting to sleep in than the grand state beds shown previously!

However, it’s not only the main house at Nostell that boasts state beds – the Dolls’ House does too! The interior of Nostell’s Dolls’ House is decorated in the mid-eighteenth century style, and contains almost all of its original furnishings.

Bed in a Dolls' House

Dolls’ House Yellow Bedroom bed

The Yellow Bedroom bed is possibly similar to what the Crimson Bedroom looked liked when Nostell was built (1735 onwards), as the Crimson Room used to be known as the ‘Amber Room’. Unlike the human-sized state beds, the ones in the Dolls’ House are only around five inches high!

Bed in a Dolls' House

Dolls’ House Red Bedroom bed

The Red Bedroom in the Dolls’ House has undoubtedly the grandest miniature state bed (and comes complete with a grand lady, too!)

Although it’s unlikely that our Dolls’ House was definitely modelled on Nostell Priory, it’s fun to find similarities between the rooms. However, the Nursery Bedroom (below) in the Dolls’ House was the inspiration for the Blue Bedroom inside the main house. The fabric provided inspiration for the bed hangings and curtains, the dressing table and mirror were copied, and so was the colour scheme for the walls. Even the fire place is uncannily similar!

Bed in a Dolls' House

Dolls’ House Nursery bedroom

We hope you’ve enjoyed this spotlight tour of Nostell’s state beds. Which is your favourite state bed at Nostell? Let us know!

The House Team

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Conservation in Miniature – Part Two

And now for Part Two of our Conservation In Miniature blog post, showing how we put together a replica dolls’ house room filled with conservation tools and equipment as part of an exhibition in the Museum Room. The miniature room has now been created, and in this post we’re installing it. (If you really can’t wait to see what the finished conservation in miniature dolls’ house looks like, scroll down to the end of the blog post and click on the image to enlarge it).

Conservation equipment put out ready to install in the dolls’ house. See the tissue paper hats (used to keep dust and dirt off ceramics and other small objects over the winter season) and the miniature vacuum cleaner!

Curtains and a window have been added to the display box – notice the double blinds which have been made. There is a cream sun-blind (used when the house is open and full sunlight is shining in to help prevent fading) and the dark green blind, which completely blocks out sunlight

Furniture is set out very carefully. See the miniature stepladders, which we use to dust high up picture frames and reach the tops of curtains and four-poster beds

The conservation in miniature dolls’ house all set up and in position. Just need to clear away those empty boxes!

A close-up of some of the detail in the dolls’ house – foam book rests, felt mats and tissue paper hats with a roll of tissue paper and scissors ready to be used

I also designed and wrote interpretation for the exhibition, so that visitors can read about what we aimed to show with the conservation in miniature section of the exhibition

And here it is, finished and in one of the exhibition cases in the Museum Room at Nostell. On the bottom shelf we explain about the nine agents of deterioration that conservation assistants battle against (more on those in future blog posts), the top shelf holds a display of different conservation equipment, with explanations of their uses, and the middle shelf is where the Conservation In Miniature dolls’ house is.

The finished creation…

Completed dolls’ house, but one thing is missing…what is it? (Click on any of the pictures to enlarge them)

I needed to add one more item to the far right hand corner of our miniature dolls’ house room to complete it, can you guess what it is? 

It’s a dust cover! I spent a few hours carefully creating a template and sewing together a miniature dust cover for the grandfather clock in the corner. All large objects at Nostell have their own personal dust cover made to measure (by our wonderful volunteers) which covers them up during the winter closed period and prevents them getting dusty and dirty.

And there we go – one completed Conservation In Miniature dolls’ house. We hope that it inspires you to come to Nostell and take a look at the exhibition, or perhaps have a go at making one yourselves!

Ellie

Conservation In Miniature – Part One

Here at Nostell Priory we’ve recently completed the installation of an exhibition in the Museum Room which focuses on all of the conservation work that we do to look after the property and contents. One of our most treasured exhibitions is also in the museum room – our wonderful Dolls’ House. When we were designing the exhibition we were inspired to use the dolls’ house as a model for part of it, which we have called ‘Conservation in Miniature’. I thought we’d use this blog post to share with you how we created our miniature dolls’ house.

Nostell’s historic dolls’ house, which is just under 300 years old!

Our aim was to create one room of a dolls’ house, and then furnish and decorate it as though it was undertaking the same deep winter clean that the actual rooms in Nostell are subject to each year. This included making miniature dust covers, book rests, tissue paper hats, vacuums, white gloves, shoe covers and other types of conservation equipment. It’s a way of really engaging people with the intricacies of conservation, on a miniature scale which captures the imagination and is memorable. Here’s how it was done:

First we had to build the dolls’ house display room, which was ordered and arrived flat-packed. I also measured up the walls and floor so that we could cut carpet and wallpaper that was the correct size.

We needed wallpaper with a small pattern which would complement the small size of the furniture to go into our dolls’ house display room

The display box was built up after the wallpaper and carpet were stuck on

The basic dolls’ house display box, ready to be filled with miniature furniture and (more importantly) a range of miniature conservation equipment

We chose a dining room setting as the best with which to display a range of conservation techniques. The main furniture in the room was ordered from the internet.

Smaller objects were bought from specialist dolls’ house shops to furnish the room, including miniature books, ceramic vases, and brushes. It’s amazing what you could find in the shops!

And then the fun began – making all of the conservation tools! Here I cut out felt mats which we place underneath objects to prevent scratching of surfaces (particularly wooden table tops)

Making replica foam book rests (out of a sponge!) Foam book rests help to support books when they are been used/looked at for research. It means that pages won’t come loose from spines and the boards and spines aren’t subject to excess pressure.

I tried to recreate the smallest of details to make it as representive of a room in a National Trust property as possible – including a drugget (long robust carpet that marks out the visitor route) and kickboards (long pieces of shaped wood which separate the visitor route from areas in a rooms which can’t be entered). Kickboards are better than traditional stanchions (upright poles with ropes hanging between them) as kickboards are lower and less obtrusive, letting visitors really feel that they are ‘in’ a room.

Protective corners on a miniature painting, and a roll of bubble wrap ready to help wrap it up for transportation. The painting is a scaled-down copy of Angelica Kauffmann’s ‘The Artist Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting’. I wanted something in our replica dolls’ house room which was specific to Nostell Priory

Shoe/boot covers (to stop mud, dust and dirt from being tracked into the carpets) were made from actual cut up boot covers! I also made light meters (blue wool dosimeters) and pest traps. The more conservation equipment that we could replicate to put into the room would help to show how busy National Trust properties really are over the winter period!

With furniture established in the conservation in miniature dolls’ house, it was time to furnish the room properly with all of the conservation equipment made and put it into the display cabinet (the fun part!)

Join us in the Part Two blog post about our Conservation In Miniature exhibition to see it all come together…

Ellie

It’s time for a spring clean…on a tiny scale!

One of the universally favourite items within the collection at Nostell Priory is our Dolls’ House. Nostell’s dolls’ house is one of two important 18th-century doll’s houses within the National Trust (the other is at Uppark House). Our dolls’ house was made for the Winn family (who lived at Nostell) around 1735, which was when the current Nostell Priory was being built. Traditionally, it’s thought to have been built by a young Thomas Chippendale, who was born at Otley, which is only a few miles away from Nostell (which sadly can’t be proved – but it would make a great addition to Nostell’s fabulous collection of Chippendale furniture, one of the largest in the country). The decorating and furnishing of the dolls’ house was done by the Lady Susanna Henshaw, the wife of the 4th Baronet at Nostell (who built the present main house).

And just like Nostell Priory itself, the dolls’ house gets its own spring clean once a year. We did this in front of the public as it was a great opportunity for them to see, learn, and ask questions about our work.

Julie gets ready to vacuum out one of the rooms of the dolls’ house (the furniture of the room about to be done has been removed – we don’t want any piece disappearing up the vacuum!)

The cleaning itself is relatively simple, but great care is needed due to the size of the objects. We don’t want to lose anything! It’s really a scaling down of the work involved in cleaning the main building and contents at Nostell. For example, each object will be carefully dusted, checked for damage or deterioration, and the fabrics will be vacuumed (with a special museum-grade low-suction vacuum cleaner). 

We set out tables in front of our work area so the public could get a close up view of the conservation cleaning, whilst protecting the dolls’ house

Carefully brush vacuuming the velvet curtains

When the house is open to visitors, the dolls’ house is covered with a large glass pane, to ensure that visitors can get a good view of the inside (and there are steps for our smaller visitors to be able to see the top floor rooms). The glass has the added effect of reducing the amount of dust and dirt entering the doll’s house, reducing the need to clean it more frequently. Infrequent cleaning also means that we are less likely to lose any of the contents – as some of them are very small indeed! It also fits in with a rolling programme of annual cleaning which takes places across the whole of Nostell Priory – after all it’s a big house, there are lots of objects to clean and conserve.

Each item is individually brushed to remove dust and dirt before being placed back inside the house, including this ceramic vase and lid

Wearing white gloves when handling the larger pieces of dolls’ house furniture to ensure no accidental damage is done. For some of the really tiny items (we have tiny glass goblets which are about 1cm tall) we don’t wear gloves, as the chance of them slipping out of our hands and being lost or broken is too great

Each item in the dolls’ house is of exquisite quality and craftsmanship. This drop leaf table even has hinged legs so that they can be folded away if required

The craftsmanship of all of the furniture and accessories suggest that it was made for adults to admire, rather than for children to play with. For example, in the photograph below there is a cabinet which is in the drawing room. The cabinet is never open whilst the dolls’ house is on show to visitors, so when it is cleaned we look at in detail to make sure there are no pests or signs of deterioration. It’s inlaid with ivory and because the inside rarely sees sunlight the colour has been preserved very well, including the ornate artwork on the drawers. Wonderful! Visitors really enjoyed seeing the inside of the cabinet. 

Cabinet in the drawing room, inlaid with ivory

Vacuuming the floors with a special low suction, museum-grade vacuum cleaner

Rugs and carpets in the dolls’ house are vacuumed with a gauze over the top, to stop any loose threads being sucked in

Aside from the Chippendale connection and the fact that the building of the doll’s house is contemporary with the building of Nostell itself, what is amazing is the detail of all of the accessories. The tableware is made of hand blown glass, all of the silver is hallmarked, all of the fireplaces were copied from James Gibb’s Book of Architecture (dated 1728), a table in the parlour has real wrought-iron brackets and a marble top, and the walls in the drawing room are decorated with contemporary French prints. 

Hallmarked silver tea service

Each individual piece is examined, cleaned, and placed back in its original location

The silver spoons are only as long as the end of my finger!

Carefully placing the tea service back into the drawing room

Julie shows some of the star pieces of the dolls’ house to interested visitors

Most of the dolls are made of wax, but the cook (shown here) is made of painted wood. Some people suggest that the cook is made from wood to signify his lower status in the household than the other dolls, which is an interesting theory

Delicate hand blown glassware in one of the rooms

There we have it – a clean and dusted dolls’ house. We especially enjoyed talking to the public during our conservation work on the dolls’ house, as this is definitely one of our favourite jobs to do at Nostell and we love to share it with visitors!

Beautifully clean dolls’ house – at least until next year!

We arranged for some journalists and photographers to come and photograph us cleaning the dolls’ house, which is great publicity for Nostell and will hopefully encourage more people to come and see the dolls’ house for themselves. Articles were published in The Yorkshire Post, the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Wakefield Express. Here is a link to one of the articles that was also published on the newspaper’s website:

Spring clean for Nostell Priory dolls house – Top Stories – Yorkshire Evening Post

Happy reading!

Ellie