The Normanton State Bed

 

Background Information

 

The impressive early-eighteenth century State Bed in the Normanton Room at Buscot Park, Oxfordshire, was almost certainly acquired by Alexander Henderson, the 1st Lord Faringdon, after the sale of the contents of Normanton Park, Rutland, in 1925.

 

Normanton Park was the country estate of the Heathcote family. The House and surrounding estate had been acquired by Sir Gilbert Heathcote in 1729.

 

Sir Gilbert was a highly successful merchant with the East India Company and in 1702 had been knighted by Queen Anne. He served as Member of Parliament for the City of London and in 1705 was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He was also Lord Mayor of London in 1710 and later became a founding Governor of the Bank of England.

 

The State Bed

 

The State Bed was made for Sir Gilbert Heathcote in the early 1700s following his knighthood by Queen Anne in 1702 and his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1705.

 

The silk damask hangings, the decorated Tester (the 'roof' of the bed), headboard and sumptuous silk trimmings would all have been handmade and extremely expensive.

 

This bed was very much indicative of the wealth, power and aspirations of Sir Gilbert Heathcote as he rose through the ranks of society.

 

The Silk Hangings

 

The two-tone silk damask hangings are of crimson and silvery-blue colours, trimmed with a tufted fringe and braids of differing widths, and enhanced by thirty-six silk tassels all of matching crimson silk. The trimmings, braids and tassels are a remarkable survival, especially those decorating the cornices, valances and underside of the Tester.

 

However, the silk hangings had deteriorated considerably over the years and were patched and held together by fine protective netting. These included the four curtains, the back cloth, the coverlet, some of the cornices and valances and the headboard. Some of the silk braids decorating the cornices and valances of the outer tester, headboard and base valances, had also lost their original colour.

 

The Faringdon Collection Trust

 

The Normanton State Bed is part of The Faringdon Collection which forms the contents of Buscot Park. The Collection is looked after by the Trustees, who in 2014 agreed to carry out major conservation work to the tester, headboard, and valances and to reweave and copy exactly the original silk damask.

 

This major conservation and restoration project was entirely funded by The Faringdon Collection Trust and designed to preserve this magnificent bed for at least another century and allow its continued use during the winter months when Buscot Park is closed to visitors but lived in by the Henderson family.

 

The project was completed within six months between May and October 2015.

 

Conservation Work

 

Fortuitously, the Richard Humphries Weaving Company based in Sudbury, Suffolk, had recently rewoven the identical patterned damask, but in different colours, for the George 1st State Bed made for Kensington Palace in 1723 but now at Chatsworth, the bed having been acquired by the 4th Duke of Devonshire in 1761.

 

Richard Humphries took considerable time and trouble to match the exact colours of the original damask, which was woven from a warp of crimson silks and a weft of green silks to achieve the deep crimson and silvery blue of the original material.

 

Heritage Trimmings of Derby, copied one of the original braids which had been so badly faded that it looked bleached of any colour. The new replacement braid was deliberately woven to appear slightly faded so as not to stand out as new or too bright in colour.

 

A.T. Cronin Ltd of Chiswick, London, were responsible for the delicate task of taking the bed apart and removing it to their workshops in Chiswick. Overseen by the Managing Director, Ian Block, a leading expert in the conservation, restoration and remaking of historic furniture, upholstery and textiles, he and his team carefully retrieved the original trimmings from the old surviving damask and then reapplied them to the four new damask curtains, backcloth, coverlet, and valances all of which were hand-sewn. They also replaced the faded silk damask and braid to the front cornice of the tester, the carved headboard, the valances, and the base valances.

 

Expertise

 

The project was overseen by Annabel Westman, FSA, an international expert on historic textiles and beds, with the help of David Freeman, Consultant Curator to The Faringdon Collection Trust.





 
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