Today, their future is secure. The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has announced a confirmed grant of £7.75 million to the National Trust at Knole as part of a massive five-year project to repair and conserve this former Archbishop’s palace and share its heritage with visitors.
The funding will also help Knole to work more closely with the local community and to expand the range of volunteering opportunities it can offer.
Knole is one of Britain’s most important and complete historic homes – with a colourful past as an Archbishop’s palace, the former hunting ground of Henry VIII, the home of the Sackville family for 400 years and the literary inspiration for Virginia Woolf.
Emma Slocombe, National Trust curator at Knole, said:
Since acquiring Knole in 1946, the Trust has faced a running and expensive battle with the effects of rain, damp, mould and insects on the building and its unique collections.
To save these collections we need to conserve them. Having completed the first phase of emergency repairs, we can now concentrate on the interior of Knole.
As part of its plans the National Trust will create a bespoke, world-class conservation studio on site at Knole.
When completed in summer 2015, visitors will be able to watch experts carrying out painstaking conservation on furniture, paintings and other treasures from the collection, and ultimately from other Trust properties.
Knole Studios will also offer training in conservation, courses in heritage subjects and will play a vital part in securing the future of conservation skills in Britain.
Some of Knole’s treasures that will be safeguarded include:
- The original Knole settee – this sparked endless copies around the world. It was built around 1660, not as a comfy sofa but as a ‘throne’ from which a king could receive visitors. It still has its original red velvet cover.
- Set of a solid silver table with matching mirror and candlesticks – thought to be one of only two of their type in Britain. The other belongs to the Queen. Both escaped the fate of similar sets, melted down at the end of the 1600s to fund Louis XIV’s military campaigns.
- Seventeenth-century X-framed armchairs – these were fashioned on the folding Roman military chairs taken on campaign. The chairs were used as thrones, from where the king of the day would give audiences.
- Flamboyant Royal Stuart furniture, some dating from the time of James I, from the Palaces of Hampton Court and Whitehall (many printed with HC or WP, denoting their former homes)
- The Brown Gallery – one of the two earliest English portrait galleries still in existence, with a ‘Who’s Who’ of the great and good of the English and European courts, including Henry VIII (with wives and children) and Elizabeth I and her courtiers.
- The Royal ‘Stool of Easement’ (an early form of ‘loo’, from the French ‘lieux d’aisance’) – thought to have been used by either Charles II or James II.
- The Spangle Bed (with thousands of silver-gilt sequins sewn into its red satin curtains), the King’s Room Bed (the hangings woven with gold thread) and the James II Bed (its drapes made from rare green and gold velvet): magnificent state beds covered in the costliest fabrics of their time.
Stuart McLeod, Head of HLF South East, said:
The moment you step across Knole’s threshold you can feel the weight of 600 years of history upon your shoulders: from the turbulent times of Henry VIII’s reign to the childhood memories of novelist Vita Sackville-West.
The National Trust’s portfolio of heritage sites is extensive and we have been impressed with their commitment to refurbishing what could rightly be described as their ‘jewel in the crown’. With HLF’s support, the second phase of urgent repairs to the building’s fabric can now get going as well as the construction of a studio to provide visitors with new insights into the skilful process of conserving and protecting fragile and precious objects.
To complete the Knole project, the National Trust is continuing to raise funds from an ongoing public appeal and from other sources.
Alongside major conservation work, this funding will enable the Trust to refurbish the showrooms containing the collections to create stable environmental conditions. The Trust will also be able to offer new visitor facilities, community programmes and open up previously unseen rooms, servants’ quarters, attics and the Gatehouse Tower – with panoramic views of the medieval deer park and North Downs.
Emma Slocombe continued:
We are grateful to the HLF for their generous support and to the many other donations we have received from the public. Now we can start the real work of opening up this great house and sharing with our visitors every stage in the process as we begin the next chapter in the story of Knole.
Knole is in Sevenoaks, Kent. For more details, opening times or to donate to the Knole project, visit the National Trust website or telephone 01732 462100.
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