The Dummies’ Guide to the secret compartments of the Channon bureau

This spectacular furniture treasure, from about 1740 and probably by John Channon, has a secret, concealed within a small carcase, itself held within the upper half. It has no fewer than 17 hidden compartments and opening them up safely requires some knowledge and practice. Last autumn I had a furniture conservation student, Anna Haas, from the University of Hildesheim, Germany, working with me and I set her a little task, to create a Dummies’ Guide to this bureau’s secret compartments. The task stretched her technical knowledge, and her language skills! Some minor conservation works to the secret compartments were undertaken at the same time. Anna duly created the Dummies’ Guide, and trialed it on willing victims. The document is now with the other Housekeeping files and folders at Temple Newsam House. The following pictures give a sense of the types of secret compartments within the bureau.

Here the inner carcase has been withdrawn, and another carcase within (like Russian dolls) has also been taken out.

Panels, which run in tapered sliding dovetail grooves, slide out to reveal more secret compartments.

Another panel, whose catch is released by a pin through a hole, slides away to reveal another carcase.

You can appreciate that these secret compartments can only be demonstrated as a special offer, and by someone who knows what they are doing. Part of the point of the Dummies’ Guide was so that more staff at Temple Newsam House would know how to demonstrate the secret compartments correctly and safely, so hopefully this will become a regular tour feature.

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