I have often wondered how the large four-poster bed that now sits in the Salvin Bedroom found its way there. This unusual bed was created by Anthony Salvin (1799-1881), a British architect who designed the mansion here at Scotney Castle. Salvin gained a reputation for restoring castles and country homes in the Tudor style during the Victorian period. He was described by the acclaimed art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘the most successful restorer and purveyor of castles in the second half of the nineteenth century’. He started his career as a pupil of John Nash, who was an advocate of the ‘Picturesque’ movement. This movement saw the revival of a Gothic aesthetic ideal, an approach to architecture seen throughout Scotney Castle’s mansion.
The ‘Salvin bed’, as it is now known, measures 7ft x 7ft and is made from solid oak. Many are surprised to learn that the bed is in fact a square. It’s enormous and peculiar width makes the bed appear wider than it is long. Its unusual size meant that the last owners of the house, Betty and Christopher Hussey, had a mattress specially made to fit the bed’s particular dimensions.
Originally there were three beds designed by Salvin in the mansion, two of which were sold by Betty and Christopher at a garage sale. It is not known for certain whether the current bed in the Salvin Bedroom replaced one of the two that were sold. The bed’s home in the 1950s was the Drawing Room, which is located in the Hussey wing of the house. To reach the Salvin Bedroom, the bed would have passed through slender doorways, narrow corridors and tight corners, a journey that would have been impossible if the bed was kept as a whole.
So, how did the bed get to be in what we now call the Salvin Bedroom?
It was only until the house had a visit from our National Trust furniture specialist, that an answer was soon revealed. The bed was made to come apart at strategic points, ready to be dismantled at a moment’s notice. Parts of the decoration were designed to detach from the main bed, allowing access to secret locks. These photographs shows some of these hidden locks that are usually covered by oak embellishments.
It is exciting to see first-hand Victorian engineering at its best. The craftsmanship that went into the making of this bed is fascinating and one that is full of surprises. The elaborate structures that adorn the bed’s four posts were not carved out of single blocks of solid oak. The petal-like oak carvings would have been handcrafted individually and stuck onto the base of the design. It creates an ornate and impressive effect, an elaborate expression of decadence. The dark colouring of the wood also gives the bed an air of formality. I usually associate oak with imposing writing desks and grand wardrobes. It could be argued that Salvin’s choice of wood may have reflected the luxurious and striking impression he was striving for.
It is incredible that we can see original markings on the back of the dismantled pieces. This photograph of a detachable piece shows the date of the bed’s completion ‘1844’ and a signature of the workman who pieced the bed together. Written in bold numbers, it is clear that this bed was made with pride.
Light levels in this room are kept to a minimum in order to protect the collection from light damage. Textiles are susceptible to light exposure, and the coverings that adorn the Salvin bed are particularly vulnerable. Floral chintz was used for the bed’s hangings and this chintz theme, which clashes with the nineteenth century turquoise wallpaper, can be seen throughout the room. This collision of fabric and colour was brought in the 1950s, when the bed was moved and is an interesting insight into the changing tastes of Scotney Castle’s owners. The chintz covering the furniture, bed hangings and curtains dates back to 1907 and it is therefore important to protect the textiles from further damage.
Salvin also designed other items in the ‘Salvin Bedroom’, such as the dressing table complete with a triple mirror and the wooden pelmet. These objects are key pieces within Scotney Castle’s collection and together form a well preserved Victorian ensemble. It is a fascinating room to explore and I am constantly making new discoveries that alter my overall understanding of Scotney Castle.
 N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cumberland and Westmorland (London, 1967) p.111