A Bed of Roses: Royal or Revival? The Case of an Antique Bed

2019 Symposium

A One Day Symposium – Organised by the Historic Interiors Group of the Institute of Conservation (Icon)

21st January 2019 

The Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre – Victoria & Albert Museum 


In 2010 a dismantled antique four-poster bed was left for collection in a car park in Chester. It was later sold at auction as a ‘profusely carved Victorian four poster bed with armorial shields’. However, its new owner thought the oak looked much older and was impressed by the quality of the carving. He then embarked on an exploration of the object’s past, employing an unusually broad array of archaeological, forensic and art historical analyses which produced startingly variable, and sometimes contradictory, research findings – even from the same methodology. 

When all the evidence is collated what can we conclude – is it a fifteenth-century royal bed, or a revival from the age of antiquarianism? 


 Discovery and first impressions  

Anna Buelow in conversation with Ian Coulson (The Langley Collection) 


Iconography & Symbolism  

'"Þat bed so manerly made": Beds of Power in Late-Medieval England' –  Dr Hollie Morgan (University of Lincoln)  

The Gothic Revival – Dr. Peter Lindfield (Manchester Metropolitan University) 

The iconography of this bed within its cultural context, and further discoveries – Dr Jonathan Foyle (Historic Building & Places) 


Material Analysis – Dendrochronology 

Findings of the two dendrochronology reports 


'Reconciling the evidence: the challenges and opportunities of interdisciplinary research, drawing on the case study of Shakespeare's Guildhall, Stratford upon Avon

Dr Kate Giles, (Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of York)  


Witness to Time: The bed’s evolution, journey and reception 

Dr Jonathan Foyle  


Material Analysis - DNA  

Dr Lasse Schindler & Dr Hilke Schroeder (Thunen Institute Hamburg) 


Material analysis - Carbon Dating  


Material Analysis - Paint Analysis  

Helen Hughes (Historic Interiors Research & Conservation) 


Review of The Evidence 


Speakers Biographies & Abstracts of Papers


Ian Coulson

Dr Hollie Morgan is an interdisciplinary medievalist with an interest in everyday objects and spaces, and how late-medieval perceptions of these objects and spaces affected and were affected by the stories people read and told each other. Her doctoral research and subsequent monograph, Beds and Chambers in Late Medieval England: Readings, Representations and Realities (Woodbridge: York Medieval Press, 2017), explores the cultural meanings surrounding chambers and the beds within them in the late-medieval English imagination. She has worked on several projects dealing with medieval material culture and is currently an Associate Lecturer at the University of Lincoln.

Abstract: “þat bed so manerly made”: Beds of Power in Late-Medieval England In the later Middle Ages, all beds had power. What happens when a powerful bed belongs to a powerful person? This talk will focus on the cultural meanings of beds in relation to powerful people, with a particular focus on the king's bed and its position within the kingdom.


Dr Peter Linfield is an historian of Gothic Revival architecture and design, and he is currently working on a Leverhulme funded project exploring fakery in Georgian antiquarian material culture. He has published widely on the Gothic Revival, design history, heraldry and antiquarianism, and his second monograph exploring the unrealised designs for Strawberry Hill is forthcoming in spring 2019.

Abstract: Makers and Fakers: the characteristics of Neo-Medieval furniture in the early Gothic Revival c.1750–1840This paper explores the changing nature and characteristics of neo-medieval furniture between 1750 and 1840. It explores both strands of such

furniture—the more bespoke designed by architects for specific commissions and buildings, and of the far more commonplace fashionable kind designed and made by cabinet-makers. The work of Horace Walpole and his designers, Thomas Chippendale and other mid-georgian designers, A.C. and A.W.N. Putin are considered. It will contextualise the design of the Bed of Roses.



Dr Kate Giles is a buildings archaeologist, based at the Department of Archaeology, University of York. She trained as an historian and art historian and spent some time working at the ecclesiastical record office, the Borthwick Institute, before moving into archaeology for her PhD, which focused on the guildhalls of York. Kate has a long standing interest in the ways in which communities used buildings to create distinctive senses of identity and is currently undertaking a major project in Stratford upon Avon, on Shakespeare's Guildhall and Guild Chapel. She has a particular interest in parish churches, was York Minster's Archaeology Research Fellow for over 10 years. She works closely with colleagues in the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture and with the Church of England, thinking about the future use of church buildings.

Abstract: 'Reconciling the evidence: the challenges and opportunities of interdisciplinary research, drawing on the case study of Shakespeare's Guildhall, Stratford upon Avon

The opportunities and challenges of interdisciplinary analysis: a case study from Stratford upon Avon

Interdisciplinary study is an increasingly popular term within academia and multi-disciplinary study, bringing together academics, conservators and heritage professionals at the heart of many major conservation projects. However, interdisciplinary study brings with it a series of challenges. What happens when the sources disagree? Or when 'scientific' evidence challenges long-held popular stories about people or places? How can principles of co-design be used to inform project planning, so that academics and specialist conservators help frame not only the questions being asked, but also the interpretations of the evidence? This paper provides a counterpoint to discussion of the dating and interpretation of the Bed of Roses. It presents the results of a decade of research and collaboration at the Guildhall and Guild Chapel, Stratford upon Avon, where longstanding relationships have been forged between King Edward VI Grammar School, Stratford Town Trust and communities of volunteers, architects Hawkes Edwards, conservators Perry Lithgow and academics from the University of York. Learning to work together has encouraged us to debate and discuss differences in evidence and interpretation, develop new stories about these buildings and raise further questions for future research and conservation projects.


Dr Jonathan Foyle was Curator of Historic Buildings at Hampton Court for eight years, where his Archaeology Ph.D. reassessed the form and meaning of the palace as built for Cardinal Wolsey. This led to numerous broadcasting roles. After a similar eight-year period as CEO of World Monuments Britain heading regeneration projects, he is now an historic buildings consultant, researcher, speaker and writer, and author of five books on medieval cathedrals and their symbolic arts.


Dr Lasse Schindler


Dr Hilke Schroeder has studied biology at the University of Hamburg with a focus at Zoology and Genetics. She worked for three years together with forensic medical specialist in a working group “Forensic Entomology”. Since 2002 she is employed at the Thuenen Institute of Forest Genetics as senior scientist with the major interest in molecular biology and marker development for several taxa.

Abstract: Material Analysis - DNA

Most important to detect illegal logging is an unambiguous identification of the involved species. This method minimizes the risk to import illegally harvested timber. For this purpose the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) established a Thuenen Centre of Competence on the Origin of Timber in 2013. As a member of the Centre of Competence, we apply genetic methods to control the claims on species. Illegal logging is mostly associated with tropical tree species. But also trees from temperate zones are of interest as the economically important species of the section white oaks. To analyse the origin of the timber used for the presumable Bed of Roses, we applied molecular markers developed in our laboratories. The results of our genetic analysis clearly showed 

that the analysed pieces of wood originate from white oak species native to Europe. The origin could be narrowed further to a haplotype distributed in parts of Western and Central Europe with some occurrences in Great Britain. Thus our conclusion is that the trees the bed has been built of could have been cut either in Britain or continental Europe.


Helen Hughes studied the History of Art & Architectural before training as an Easel Painting Conservator. Since 1985 she has specialised in Architectural Paint Research. She headed the paint research unit at English Heritage until 2010 and she now runs her own consultancy investigating historic paints.

Abstract: Material Analysis - Paint The carved oak posts of the Bed of Roses are now stripped bare and covered in thick layers of varnish, but careful examination of the surface revealed traces of stripped paint residue caught in the recesses of its ornate carving. Examination of these small traces of paint using cross-section analysis (incident light & ultraviolet) and SEM/EDX, revealed a very sophisticated paint layer structure. These findings suggested that the oak bed frame had first been primed with a black paint (which contained the pigment coal), before being painted in imitation of an expensive hardwood - probably walnut. The bed had then been embellished with a range of high quality brightly coloured red and yellow ochre pigments, some green, and some finely ground black and white pigment, possibly to depict fictive marble. Traces of natural ultramarine blue were found on the central bedhead. There was also evidence to suggest that the early paint work had been partially renovated at an early date using early pigments.