May – June

Another two months have flashed by, with some rather unusual discoveries…

Building work

The east front of the house is now entirely uncovered…

The east front

The east front, just uncovered

…and work has moved on to the north side, based around Queen’s Court, the courtyard which you look down on from the end of the Leicester Gallery.  The scaffolding is up, and work is under way on the roof over the old kitchen and nearby areas.

The scaffold lift coming into Queen's Court

The scaffold lift coming into Queen’s Court

After the work on the north side, the scaffolding will move right over Stone Court to work on the south side.  This is going to be during August and/or September.

Some unusual discoveries have been made during work.  An ashtray and a book were discovered in the roof space above the Venetian Ambassador’s Room:

A rabbity ashtray and a biography of Marilyn Monroe

Two things found in a roof space

It gives an idea how workers at Knole spent their cigarette breaks at one time.

Another discovery we’ve made was during the digging of a few test-pits prior to work in the Brewhouse yard.  We dug the pits to find out if there was anything of archaeological interest before work went ahead.  There wasn’t, but we did find definitive proof of what we thought: that the foundations of the external walls at Knole are, at least in some places, only about six inches deep.  Please don’t push too hard on them!

Other work

The other work on the project is getting to be so much that we have taken the decision to merge all our blogs into one, so that it is easier for us to update you as things go on.  We’ll give you the address in our next post.

To give you some idea, over the past two months we’ve had our first group of corporate volunteers at Knole, conducted a “measured survey” in the house, had an art exhibition which has raised £4,500 for Sevenoaks Area Mind, had our second intake on the Knole Unwrapped volunteering project, had an archaeology training day for volunteers who want to lead archaeology activities with visitors, and had our first group visit by a group of people with hearing loss, not to mention our community open evening and the launch of our own Twitter account…

And so on to July, when we find out what the HLF have to say about our funding bid.


March – April

The Lottery bid

We have all breathed a big sigh of relief at Knole, having handed in our bid to the National Lottery in mid-April.  We’ll hear their decision in late June or early July.  But the work goes on…

Building work: first look at the finished East Front

In April some of the east side of the house was uncovered for the first time since work began.

An east front window

A newly-refubished window on the east front

The east front with its covers removed

The east front with its covers removed on 19 April

As you can see it looks far healthier than the cracked and rotting walls and windows that we had this time two years ago!

The work is still going on; this is the northernmost side of the east front.  This means that there is now considerably more light in the Billiard Room and the Spangled Dressing Room area, as well as – for different reasons – the Museum Room.  In the Museum Room, where previously there was no natural light, the porcelain has been taken away from the window and the window unboarded.  Come and see for yourself the difference it makes.

The work is also progressing along the south side at a fine rate, with the window in the Ballroom having needed protection for a shorter time than we thought.  Scaffolding is now being brought over to the other side of the house for the next phase of work, to Queen’s Court, the courtyard behind the tea-room, which is not open to the public.

Scaffolding on the south front

The current state of scaffolding on the south front

Knole Unwrapped

The ‘Knole Unwrapped’ project started in March.  This is a new project for us, led by the Conservation Team, where five people spend five Mondays at Knole learning about conservation and helping the conservation team with their work.

Each morning they have an hour’s learning about an aspect of preventive conservation, and then they spend the rest of the day in the Needlework Room, our conservation store-room, checking the condition of items in our collection, recording them and then re-packing them in a way more conducive to their good conservation.

Keep an eye on the conservation blog for further updates – you can join in if you want to get in touch.DSC_6476

In other news…

Hard work for the conservation team

Repairing the flagpole is as big a job as you might expect

We create a time capsule, which has gone into a cavity in the east front

and the Knole wall-hanging makes a splash in Sevenoaks

January-February 2013

Very belatedly, happy new year to all our blog readers.  As the deadline nears for the submission of our funding application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, it’s all hands to the pumps.  But work on the house continues.

Building work: end of part 1

We’ve reached the end of “phase 1.1” of the project, which is the work on the east front – the part of the house pictured on the front page of this blog.  We’ve learnt a great deal about the construction of the house, including discovering some more parts of the house that date back to before 1456, the date we usually give as the beginning of the current house.  You can click on the images below for some detailed information about what has come to light, and which has helped us to better understand how this side of the house – which we believe was at one point the front of the house – used to look.

More detailed information about the east front (image file)

Some more detail on what has been discovered about the east front as part of the work

More detailed information

Some more detailed information

Phase 1.2, the work to the south side of the house, is carrying on apace, but work is considerably simpler than on the east face.

Focus groups

The feedback from our focus groups has arrived.  We ran seven groups at the end of last year to find out what different sorts of people thought about our plans for Knole, as well as to find out if they had any new ideas.  The three groups (two meetings each) represented people who visit with different interests: so one was for people with an interest in history, art and so on; one was for people who visit with children and hope to learn something new in an interesting way; and one was for people who just like getting out and about and want to have a good time with friends.  One of the big surprises was the amount of agreement between the groups, both on what is currently on offer and on our plans – the current offer was mostly thought to be rather lacking, but our plans, especially for the conservation studio, were very popular.  Here are a few quotes:

Our first focus group meeting

Our very first focus group meets

“Iʼm not sure that I like Knole. And when I say Iʼve been lots of times, I mean to the park.
As with most of these big places, I enjoy walking around the grounds, rather than coming
into the house.”

“The children love coming to the park and running free. But, the house, I think itʼs too muchʻhands-offʼ at the moment, and children do like a bit more interaction. The freedom to explore more.”

“Anything that is a ʻbehind-the-scenes, I love.”

“Weʼve all got little treasures and it started me thinking about how to do things in a different way. Those sort of things that carry on into real life.”

Do you agree or disagree with these?  How do you find Knole when you visit?  Put a comment below.

Community work

Logos of three of our partnersA major piece of work which has been going on for the last two years, but especially in the last few months, has been working out how the local community can benefit from the Knole project.  We’re planning several possible projects, including:

  • A creative project with young people in and around Sevenoaks, devised and led by them, possibly a podcast, a Knole app, a comic art project or something else entirely…
  • Working with children and their families out in Sevenoaks, bringing the magic of Knole out to the 8-12s club and the housing association’s “Family Fun Days”
  • Partnering with Fine Cell Work, an award-winning charity offering training to prisoners in textile work, to continue prisoners’ training once they have left prison

If you’d like to find out more about what we’re planning, just leave a comment below.

In other news…

The Estate Office, home of the Oral History project, opens

After two years’ work, the Textile Group Sevenoaks give Knole a dazzling wall-hanging for the large Education Room

We discover quite how experimental a painter Joshua Reynolds was

And finally here’s a look back at 2012 from the Premises team.

The funding application goes in to the Heritage Lottery Fund at the end of the first week of April.  Wish us success!

October – November

It’s been another busy few weeks – so no change there – but some of the most interesting developments have been indoors and in our planning.  Here is our quick round-up.

New wood with old

Where necessary, new wood has been inserted, but as much old as possible has been left



Work on the east front has been carrying on apace, with rotten wood being replaced in many places, and the last of this year’s scaffolding tours taking place.  It is now too late in the year to re-render the wall, so scaffolding has been put up round towards the south face in preparation for work over the winter.

Some stained glass roundels

Now it’s possible to get a close look at these stained-glass roundels at the end of the Brown Gallery





With the scaffolding extending towards the south face of the house, Lady Betty’s rooms have been emptied of their contents for their own protection.  Emily our House Steward has made a fascinating time-lapse video of the work, starting with the furniture and ending with the surprisingly big jobs of rolling up the carpet and tapestries.

Knole’s attics are covered in signatures and writings by former workmen at the house, and this month an interesting discovery has been made: a matchbox dating from the last time work was done in this part of the house, in 1949, with some workmen’s names written in it.  This has made us think – why not leave a time capsule for future workers to find?  And if we do, what should be in it?  If you have any bright ideas, leave us a comment below.

Since the last post, focus groups have begun, asking people for their thoughts and ideas on the future of Knole.  We’ll give you more news when they have finished for this particular time around.  We hope to continue to hold them at regular intervals to help in shaping the work of the project.

Inside the front tower

Eddy Sackville-West had a life mask made, which is now outside his room in the front tower of Knole


And finally, your usual chance to get involved.  Part of the project involves opening up the entrance tower for the first time, to which access is only by one narrow spiral staircase.  So we need to work out the best way to organise goings-up and comings-down.  In order to do that, on the morning of 14 December we are planning a testing day, when people will be asked to climb up and down the tower, and to see the rooms inside and the view from the top.  If you would like to come, post a comment below.  It will be from 10 until 12, and there is a mince pie and some tea in it for anyone who comes.



In other news…

A volunteering opportunity to help the conservation team with administration

The oral history project finds a memory of service at Knole at the turn of the last century

…and our first sound recording of the rut at Knole.

September – October

This month’s post is slightly delayed – there has been a great deal going on at Knole, not that that is anything new. The large amount of work has resulted in little time for updating Premises or Conservation blogs, so keep an eye on them for more in-depth news.

Lifting the new scaffolding into place

In the foreground: Stone Court. In the background: new scaffolding goes into place.


Since the beginning of September, groups of visitors and Knole volunteers have been experiencing the look of Knole with its roof off, climbing the scaffolding and getting views of the garden which – we hope! – won’t be possible again in our lifetimes.  Now the scaffolding work is moving on towards the south face of the house, which means that Lady Betty’s rooms have been emptied of their contents in the same way as the Spangle Bedroom and Dressing Room have already been.  The rooms are now closed to the public, as they are too small for the building of a tunnel to be practical.



Putting Lady Betty's furniture away

Putting Lady Betty’s furniture away for safe keeping into the store room known as the Needlework Kitchen, far away in another part of the house

The work on the exterior of the house is moving on well, with new laths – which are the strips of wood that plaster is applied to – having arrived to replace the old ones.  The new ones are oak, rather than the previous (non-original) chestnut.  Water damage to the wooden structure of the building has also been repaired, including beams and around gutter hoppers.

A major part of the ‘Inspired by Knole’ project is improving our insulation, and the first pieces of new wood-fibre insulation have been put into the walls.  In due course insulation will also be put into the ceilings.



A rotting beam behind the east front

A rotting beam behind the east front – now replaced

Lastly, but certainly not least, we’re beginning a major piece of consultation about the direction of our work at Knole, and we’d like to invite you to take part.  We’re going to set up some focus groups, which will meet twice before March for a couple of hours each time, to look at our plans and even to indulge in some ‘blue-sky’ thinking.  Would you, or anyone you know, like to be involved?  We’re looking especially, though not exclusively, for people who have never visited Knole, but enjoy going for days out or learning about history or art.  Leave us a comment or message at the end of this post if so.



From the blogs…

The James II bed conservation project moves into its next stage

Meet Marisha, our premises officer

August 2012


A rarely-seen window giving light onto a now blocked-up staircase. Very Knole!  It looks as though we may have just caught the gable in time as well…

Building work

This month the most important news at Knole has been the beginning of the work on the fabric of the house.  Render has been taken down, tiles and lead have been taken off, and the remedial work has started.  You can see an album of photographs here.

Also for the first time at Knole, you can see the work going on for yourself by coming for a tour of the scaffolding.

‘Spirit of place’

Part of our work on how to improve how we present Knole to visitors involves asking people what the house makes them think of and feel like.  In the last post we asked you for your ideas, and over the last month we’ve put your suggestions (thank you!) with words and phrases from our volunteers, staff, visitors and also from books people have written about Knole to come up with a ‘word cloud’.  It looks like this:


Is there anything further you would add to that?  Comment on this post to let us know.

Focus groups

In order to help us further with the development of the project, over the next month we’re going to be recruiting for focus groups of particular types of people.  The groups will help us to formulate and refine ideas for presenting the house and the work of the project, as well as ensure that the Conservation Studios work for everyone as well as they can.  If you know anyone who might be interested in being part of this project, then please do let them know – or contact us if you would yourself.  We’re looking for people who have never visited Knole as well as those who have, and especially people who think they fit into one of the following groups:

  • People interested in art, history, architecture and similar things
  • People who enjoy going for days out with family or friends
  • People who like going for days out with children where they learn something
  • People with disabilities

In other news…

Knole’s Learning Team win the Sandford Award for heritage education for the third time in a row

The Oral History project finds its first first-hand memory of Vita Sackville-West

and Knole celebrates the Queen’s Jubilee.

June-July 2012: first post!

A piece of scaffolding is put into place by a crane at Knole

A piece of scaffolding is carefully lowered into place

Over the last month and a half the first obvious signs of the repair work on the house have been put in place: the scaffolding, which now covers most of the east face of the house. Work on the outside is expected to begin this Thursday, when the contractors start to break up the already very cracked-up cement render.

Premises blog entry for the erection of the scaffolding
Conservation blog entry

A visitor writing on our graffiti wall

A visitor writing on our graffiti wall

Part of the ‘Inspired by Knole’ project is to re-think how we present the house to visitors, and we asked for the help of local people at our open evening in late June. We asked people to use our graffiti wall to write what they would like to do and see at Knole, in an ideal world – and there were lots of ideas, from rock concerts and abseiling off the tower to ‘seeing secret areas’ and taking part in Tudor cookery courses. You can help us by giving us your ideas – just comment on this blog entry.

Round-up of other news at Knole from this month:
Sevenoaks Area Mind art display and launch
Trees move at Knole
And the latest from our ‘Hidden Histories’ Oral History project – a cautionary tale about when work is done on the house:

We have one more thing to ask you to help us with. To help us with our work on presenting the house, we are trying to capture what the ‘spirit of Knole’ is – how it makes people feel, and what it makes them think of. Leave a comment on this post to tell us: how would you define the spirit of Knole in just three words? Suggestions so far have included magnificent, ancient, stupendous, stifling, terrifying… what would you say?