Kentwell News


New hangings for an old bed.

The Bed.

Among the furniture visitors have been able to see at Kentwell Hall, ever since the Hall opened 25 years ago has been a fine, darkened oak, intricately carved, four poster bed dating from the 16th C. The bed was reputed to have come from Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, seat of the Percy family.

The Project.

The bed lacked hangings. Then some two years ago during a conversation between Judith Phillips of Kentwell and Bea Sewell of Colne Engaine, one of the ladies who are seamstresses and broderers during the Hall's famous Re-Creations of every day Tudor Domestic Life, they realised that making appropriate hangings for the bed in an appropriate Tudor manner would be a good collective enterprise in which many of the Tudor seamstresses could become involved. So the project was born.


A complete set of hangings for such a bed comprise a pelmet, which hangs down from the roof of the bed, curtains to enclose the bed when drawn, a cover over the bed, a valence and a 'pillowbere' or decorative pillow for it. Because this bed is used often, it was decided to embroider only the pelmet, which should be least affected by use. For the hangings and counterpane it was decided to use linen damask and to pick out the underlying pattern in blackwork, which was introduced in to England in the early 16th C.

The Design of the Embroidery.

This had to lend itself to being worked on by a number of people working independently.

"Judith Phillips had shown me the House's set of 16th C. roundels. Like small place mats, one side of each was gorgeously painted with a moral tale illustrating one of Aesop's Fables", says Bea Sewell, "The individual figures in these paintings were obviously 16th C in detail, style and colour. Scaled up, we could embroider each one."

So it all happened. All the lager figures were taken from the roundels. These were augmented by smaller items which were "Manifestations of Nature" such as lime & oak leaves, worms & butterflies, bees & flowers, etc. all of which can be seen about Kentwell.

Each motif has a story attached to it, either from Aesop or of the seamstresses' own making. So the plum represents the reward for a seamstress having mended a man's breeches. He offered her a kiss but she said she rather have a plum.

How Many Involved?

"Some of us who were local, Ann Holloway of Great Walding field, Alys-May Bullock of Newmarket, and myself, with Judith Phillips assumed responsibility for selecting materials and co-ordinating. Others took responsibility for individual items, such as Jennet Taylor, who made the black & gold silk cord which dresses each motif, and Rose Tyrrell who made the gold braid for the pillowbere, but for the rest anyone who cared to contribute blackwork or do a motif or two. Perhaps up to 20 in all were involved to some extent. They will all be commemorated in stitch."

The Result.

"I am absolutely delighted with how it has all turned out," says Judith Phillips, "When I first discussed the project with Bea I never dreamt that it would lead to such a perfect conclusion. I now have the responsibility to ensure that it is conserved for the future. That means avoiding too much light, excessive use and wearing from sticky fingers. I fear this may prove a burdensome task!".

How Long did it take?

"The larger figures took about 30 to 40 hours each on average", says Bea Sewell, "But we were stitching 400 stitches to the inch. Then there over 50 small motifs from very small (an hour or two) to quite big (20 hours)."

"On top of this were numerous other and time consuming tasks such as sewing on the embroidery , the silk cord, the braid, the blackwork and all the tassels, cords, tape etc. No-one was counting , but it may have been between 2,000 and 3,000 hours."

The Bedding.

The bedding has been made up in typical Tudor style: wooden slats beneath straw palliases, then two feather beds on top of each other, with linen sheets & a counterpane.

The Tudor Bed and its new hangings will be on show at Kentwell from the the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, when Kentwell has another of its Re-Creations of every day Tudor Life. Lucky visitors then may find a seamstress in residence telling them all about the making of the hangings - in suitable Kentwell Tudor talk, of course.

For Further Information: About the Hangings & Bedding - contact Judith Phillips to arrange Photographs or interviews with Bea Sewell or Ann Holloway - contact Nicola Carr or Mary Fitzgerald about the Spring Bank Holiday Re-Creation and future events - Telephone 01787 310 207


Telephone: 01787 310 207
Facsimile:   01787 379 318

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