Silken splen­dour

The restora­tion of the el­e­gant State Apart­ment is com­plete, with the help of a for­mi­da­ble ar­ray of spe­cial­ists and funds raised by the John Corn­forth Memo­rial Lec­tures. Tim Knox re­ports on this re­mark­able achieve­ment

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Paul High­nam

Tim Knox re­veals the re­mark­able restora­tion of Kedle­ston Hall in Der­byshire

Kedle­ston seems such a per­fectly pre­served 18th-cen­tury en­sem­ble that it is sober­ing to re­flect on how much re­pair and restora­tion has been needed on the house, its park and con­tents since the na­tional trust se­cured it for the na­tion 30 years ago, as­sisted by grants from the na­tional Her­itage Memo­rial Fund and a pub­lic ap­peal. Ma­jor projects have in­cluded drain­ing the lake, restor­ing the cas­cade and Fish­ing Room and re-roofing the east pavil­ion of the house.

In­side the build­ing, the 12 state rooms on the piano no­bile have now been re­stored, as far as pos­si­ble, to their late-18th-cen­tury ap­pear­ance. one of the high­lights of this rolling pro­gramme was the draw­ing room, which was re-hung with a care­fully re­searched replica of its orig­i­nal, pow­der-blue damask in 2002 (Fig 1).

this was, in many ways, a dress re­hearsal for the last and most re­cent phase of this work,

the restora­tion of the State Apart­ment, a suite of four blue-damask-hung rooms on the west side of the house. Car­ried out be­tween 2008 and 2017 and only un­veiled this sea­son, the results are a rev­e­la­tion.

Sir Natha­nial Cur­zon, who in­her­ited Kedle­ston in 1758, greatly ad­mired Holkham Hall in Nor­folk and, ac­cord­ingly, brought in its ar­chi­tect, Matthew Bret­ting­ham, to su­per­in­tend its de­sign. Bret­ting­ham was soon sup­planted by James Paine, who built the eastern half of the house, in­clud­ing the present draw­ing room. He, in turn, was ejected by Robert Adam, who had first met Cur­zon in De­cem­ber 1758 and, cuckoo-like, even­tu­ally gained full con­trol of the project by the spring of 1760 (Fig 2).

Adam vig­or­ously re­mod­elled Paine’s con­tri­bu­tions and su­per­vised the com­ple­tion and dec­o­ra­tion of the house (Fig 3), but his pa­tron, Cur­zon—cre­ated 1st Baron Scars­dale in 1761—clearly had ideas of his own. As a re­sult, Kedle­ston is not a typ­i­cal Adam house.

In a mem­o­ran­dum of 1763, Scars­dale planned to hang his draw­ing room with crim­son vel­vet, but, by Au­gust 1766, the Duchess of Northum­ber­land saw it ‘hung with very fine pictures on blue damask’. In ad­di­tion, the 1769 guide­book to Kedle­ston records blue damask in the ante room, dress­ing room and state bed­cham­ber that make up the State Apart­ment on the western side of the house. The same colour was sub­se­quently used else­where, too, so that, even­tu­ally, five rooms were hung with the same coloured silk in a dis­tinctly old­fash­ioned ‘pome­gran­ate’ pat­tern pop­u­lar about a decade pre­vi­ously.

Such a sus­tained se­quence of blue rooms is un­usual: 18th-cen­tury in­te­ri­ors more com­monly de­light in a va­ri­ety of colour. The only dif­fer­ence be­tween the blue fab­rics used at Kedle­ston was that the draw­ing room was hung with a wool-and-silk mixed damask and the rooms of the State Apart­ment and the state bed were cov­ered in all silk damask of the same pat­tern.

In this respect, the Kedle­ston hang­ings are con­sis­tent with con­tem­po­rary us­age—wall hang­ings got richer and more ex­pen­sive as you pro­gressed to­wards the state bed­cham­ber, the cul­mi­na­tion of the State Apart­ment.

Al­though lit­tle was done to the state rooms at Kedle­ston im­me­di­ately af­ter the death of the 1st Baron Scars­dale in 1804, by 1870, it was nec­es­sary to re­move the per­ished silk from the walls of the draw­ing room. The bet­ter-pre­served sec­tions of the silk were then used to re­pair hang­ings on the other side of the house.

In 1906, these were, in turn, re­placed by new damask hang­ings, of a dif­fer­ent pat­tern, and the draw­ing room—painted blue in 1871—was again hung with silk in 1922, both be­ing projects of the en­er­getic Ge­orge Nathaniel Cur­zon, later the cel­e­brated Mar­quess Cur­zon of Kedle­ston and Viceroy of In­dia.

Luck­ily, dis­carded patch­work sec­tions of the old damask were made into dust cov­ers and thus an archive of his­toric tex­tiles was pre­served in the house to in­form the work of restora­tion. The 20th-cen­tury habit of leav­ing the shut­ters open even­tu­ally took its toll on Lord Cur­zon’s silk, which was re­placed in 1977 by a pale-blue damask partly funded by the His­toric Build­ings Coun­cil. This also suf­fered from light ex­po­sure, so by the time the Na­tional Trust took over Kedle­ston Hall 10 years later, the draw­ing room and State Apart­ment were a pal­lid echo of their orig­i­nal ap­pear­ance, be­ing hung with a uni­form linen and sa­tinised cot­ton-mix damask, its colour flown to a washed-out grey­ish-blue.

Al­though the Trust has fi­nanced many of the restora­tion projects at Kedle­ston from its gen­eral fund, gifts, be­quests and money en­ter­pris­ingly raised by the prop­erty have also played a part. Most of the cost of restor­ing the State Apart­ment has been achieved from a be­quest and from the lo­ca­tion fees from The Duchess (the 2008 film about Ge­or­giana, Duchess of Devon­shire). How­ever, by far the great­est ex­pense—£80,000 to re-weave 1,500m (1,640 yards) of blue silk damask for hang­ing the walls and up­hol­ster­ing

‘It is sober­ing to re­flect on how much restora­tion and re­pair has been needed on the house, its park and con­tents ’

the bed and seat fur­ni­ture—has been de­frayed by money raised from the an­nual John Corn­forth Memo­rial Lec­tures.

Af­ter the un­timely death in 2004 of John Corn­forth, Coun­try Life’s Ar­chi­tec­ture Edi­tor from 1966–1977 and the great author­ity on 18th­cen­tury dec­o­ra­tion, a group of his ad­mir­ers banded to­gether to or­gan­ise an an­nual lec­ture se­ries in his mem­ory. Ev­ery year, hosted and now or­gan­ised by Christie’s, three coun­try­house own­ers give a lec­ture about their re­spec­tive houses. The pro­ceeds from the lec­tures are devoted to projects nom­i­nated al­ter­nately by the Na­tional Trust and the His­toric Houses As­so­ci­a­tion (HHA).

The Trust has used these funds to re-weave Kedle­ston’s State Apart­ment silk and re­dec­o­rate the stair­case at Scot­ney Cas­tle, an­other favourite Corn­forth haunt; the HHA has de­ployed its funds on pri­vate houses open to the pub­lic.

Work be­gan on the four rooms that com­prise the State Apart­ment in Jan­uary 2008, with a project team led by Kedle­ston’s Con­ser­va­tion Man­ager, Si­mon Mccor­mack, and An­drew Bar­ber, Cu­ra­tor, East Mid­lands Re­gion.

First, the ante room, dress­ing room, state bed­cham­ber and wardrobe were com­pletely emp­tied of their con­tents and the faded 1970s silk stripped from the walls. What sur­vived of the 18th-cen­tury carved and gilded fil­let that held it in place was care­fully set aside. The rooms were re­painted, fol­low­ing close anal­y­sis of the orig­i­nal colours, and the new blue all-silk damask, a care­ful copy of sur­viv­ing frag­ments of the orig­i­nal, hand­wo­ven by the Humphries Weav­ing Co Ltd in Sud­bury, was re-hung in the sum­mer. The ornamental fil­let was re­in­stated, miss­ing por­tions be­ing spe­cially re-carved.

Once the walls were re-clothed, the Trust was able to re­turn the orig­i­nal pictures— a com­bi­na­tion of old fam­ily por­traits and ful­l­lengths of the Stu­art kings that stress the an­tiq­uity and royal con­nec­tions of the Cur­zons—to the rooms.

The re­pair of the fur­ni­ture was en­trusted to John Hart­ley of Tankerdale Work­shops and Peter Thur­ing, who have worked on Kedle­ston’s in­te­ri­ors for decades. This in­cluded the re­pair of an ex­ten­sive suite of gilt­wood chairs and set­tees made in about 1740 by Wil­liam Brad­shaw. Ear­lier than the house, they have al­ways fur­nished the State Apart­ment and re­quired re-up­hol­ster­ing with the new damask. Wher­ever pos­si­ble, their orig­i­nal gild­ing was re­cov­ered and re­stored.

Also con­served—and also prob­a­bly by Brad­shaw—are the two ex­tra­or­di­nary gilded mir­rors

with carved frames in the form of sprout­ing palm trees, com­plete with gnarled trunks and roots (Fig 5). These doubt­less in­spired the palm-tree theme of the huge, elab­o­rately framed mir­ror in the state dress­ing room, the two match­ing pier glasses in the state bed­cham­ber and a pair of palm-tree can­dle stands—all supplied by the carver James Gravenor in the late 1760s.

Gravenor also worked on the great state bed. It dom­i­nates the state bed­cham­ber and is one of the out­stand­ing es­says in the palm-branch mo­tif, the wet fronds spring­ing from scaly tree trunks, which act as the bed posts, again emerg­ing from gilded roots (Fig 4). A sym­bol of fame in clas­si­cal mythol­ogy, palms de­noted right­eous­ness in the Bi­ble and dec­o­rated the in­ner sanc­tum of the Tem­ple of Solomon. They also pos­sessed con­no­ta­tions of fer­til­ity and mar­i­tal felic­ity.

The con­ceit prob­a­bly de­rives from a scheme by Inigo Jones’s pupil, John Webb, who pro­posed a palm-fringed re­cess for the King’s bed­cham­ber at Green­wich Palace in 1665, a theme later adapted in 1757 by John Vardy for the screen in the cel­e­brated Palm Room at Spencer House in Lon­don.

The restora­tion of the state bed was a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge: al­though por­tions of the 18th­cen­tury silk damask, much faded and stained, sur­vived on the in­side of the canopy, and some of the gold-lace trim­mings had sur­vived, most of the hang­ings dated from the 1977 re­fur­bish­ment and the carv­ings had been crudely re­paired and re­ar­ranged. In­deed, as it was dis­man­tled, it be­came clear that the bed was prob­a­bly al­ways some­thing of a lash-up and not the work of a pro­fes­sional up­hol­sterer.

It was con­served un­der the di­rec­tion of Annabel West­man, an ex­pert on state beds, and Tankerdale Work­shops worked on the frame and carved el­e­ments.

Zen­zie Tin­ker Con­ser­va­tion in Brighton re­paired the canopy, re-cov­er­ing it with new silk, but re­tain­ing the re­mains of the orig­i­nal damask un­der pro­tec­tive lay­ers of Ja­panese tis­sue. Sat­is­fy­ingly, the job of re-cre­at­ing the gold lace went to a lo­cal firm, Her­itage Trim­mings Ltd of Derby, which painstak­ingly re-cre­ated the wo­ven braid on his­toric ma­chines, mak­ing by hand the fringe, bob­bin lace and rosettes.

A fi­nal touch was the panaches of black os­trich feathers that sur­mounted the canopy. Much to ev­ery­one’s sur­prise, the gilded-metal feather hold­ers turned out to be the orig­i­nals, so were care­fully cleaned and re­in­stated.

While the bed was away be­ing con­served, Kedle­ston’s prop­erty team com­mis­sioned a replica in­ter­ac­tive bed to stand in its place in or­der to ex­plain to vis­i­tors what was be­ing done. The ba­sic sil­hou­ette of the bed was simply achieved in MDF and equipped with a com­fort­able mat­tress and sheets, so vis­i­tors could clam­ber onto it and view short films of the restora­tion process pro­jected onto a screen in­cor­po­rated into the canopy above them. This proved to be a huge suc­cess with vis­i­tors, and is prob­a­bly the clos­est any of us will get to spend­ing a night at Kedle­ston.

The re­turn of the Scars­dale state bed, a tow­er­ing mass of blue damask, crowned by gilded fronds and nod­ding plumes, is a ma­jor tri­umph, the cul­mi­na­tion of a 10-year restora­tion project. It is per­haps fit­ting that the Na­tional Trust cel­e­brates 30 years of shar­ing Kedle­ston with its vis­i­tors with the re­vival of this great sym­bol of Cur­zon splen­dour and hospi­tal­ity.

For open­ing times to Kedle­ston Hall, Quarnby, Der­byshire, tele­phone 01332 842191 or visit­tion­al­ kedle­ston-hall

Fig 1: The draw­ing room, with its spec­tac­u­lar 1762-4 so­fas by John Lin­nell, was re­stored and re­hung with silk in 2002

Fig 2 above: The south front of Kedle­ston. Fig 3 fac­ing page: The mar­ble hall with its elab­o­rate plas­ter­work ex­e­cuted to the de­signs of Robert Adam. The flut­ing of the al­abaster col­umns was car­ried out in situ

Fig 4: The re­stored state bed­cham­ber. It’s an odd­ity that the cur­tains of this fan­tas­ti­cal bed could never have been drawn fully around the sup­port­ing palm trees

Fig 5: The state dress­ing room with its screen of col­umns flanked by mir­rors with their palm tree mo­tif frames

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