Structure and Decoration: Work Continues on the Hinton House Bed.

So much has happened since the bed canopy came down and it’s getting really exciting. Ian Fraser immediately began working on rescuing the canopy from total collapse. Once the canopy was at eye level two things became really obvious. 1) How near the structure was to total collapse. 2) How badly made the bed was. The dome of the canopy is made out of cheap wood, it’s really thin and crackly and crumbly, totally lacking in inner strength. This also means that there is nothing solid to fix anything to the canopy. Unusually, there is no structure to support the dome which means that there is nothing to stop it from collapsing inwards. Ian thinks that the collapse may have even begun as early as ten years after it was first built. So, 290 years later a lot of the bed is really sagging.

The Sagging Bed Canopy. Previous conservators glued fabric to the structure to hold it together

Ian has been really ingenious in making a light weight “super structure” which he has used to
a) hoist up sagging parts of the canopy b) prevent any further collapse c) eventually fix the rods and bolts and hook necessary to raise it back up to and suspend it from the ceiling, and d) raises the cornice to its correct level in relation to the rest of the tester. In its previous displays, as a four-poster bed, the cornice had been too low by 10 cm. We know this because of the difference in width between the inner and outer tester valances.

The Super Structure. Hooks attached to a strong, hollow base lift up and support the sagging canopy. The whole thing will be covered up by the new cornices.

I am sure Ian will post in detail how this marvellous structure works. In the meantime, I have drawn a diagram which explains the basics.

Yesterday the carver and the joiner came to survey and take away one of the cornice pieces that they will be recreating for the bed. Like so much of this bed the cornices are structurally unsound and the crimson velvet has faded to a bogey green colour. Together and under expert guidance the team spotted that there had once been decoration in the cornice panelling.

There are very clear incision marks which leave a pattern in each of the panels. This shows that there was once raised decoration, which would have been covered in velvet and trimmed with gold braid to match the rest of the cornice.

On one of the panels it is clear to see that new wood has been inserted. However, the decoration was not replaced and it was probably at this stage that the decoration on all of the other panels was removed. This was probably done to save money or to create a consistent look. Close inspection of the upholstered panels reveal that plain velvet panels were added at a later date.

I can’t emphasise enough how exciting this all is. We have learnt more about how the bed originally looked. The watchword of this project has been to follow the evidence. This means that we will include the lost decoration on the newly carved cornices therefore returning the bed to how it originally appeared in c1710. It’s amazing how a fresh look at an object after thirty years can bring new insights and new discoveries. I wonder what other secrets this bed holds.

By Curator Polly Putnam

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