RIGHT An 18th-century view showing the West Prospect of Knole. BELOW The ravages of time: a contemporary view of the aftermath of the fire that destroyed the roofs of the Barn and Hayloft in August 1887.
illips’ History of the Sackvilles
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| Issue 297
| Issue 297
furniture, tapestries and portraits. Decidedly old-fashioned at the time, these are now what attracts visitors to Knole, displayed as they have been in the ‘show rooms’ that have been visited by the public since the 18th century.
Indeed, Knole’s proximity to London made it a favourite destination of railway-borne tourists in the 1860s and 1870s, when upwards of 10,000 visitors a year came to see the house; a thriving hotel trade grew up in Sevenoaks to cater for the crowds. In 1946, ownership of the house was passed to the National Trust as the only way, given the punitive levels of inheritance tax at the time, that the Sackville-West family could afford to stay there.
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The house, like all old houses, has not been immune to the ravages of time. Consequently, the Trust has now launched an ambitious plan to deliver the urgent conservation work needed to secure the exteriors, interiors, and collections at Knole. A major programme of emergency repairs to the existing walls, roofs, and windows has just been completed.
The next phase involves the building of a new conservation centre (the ‘Knole Studios’, described below), a learning centre, and a refurbished café. Added to this, environmental conditions within the showrooms will now be controlled, and a number of new spaces, including some of the attics, will be open to the public for the first time.
Archaeology at Knole
Archaeology has been at the core of this conservation programme, and has been ongoing at Knole since 2007. Specialists from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) undertook a three-dimensional survey of the 20 show rooms, long galleries, and formal painted stairways, recording every detail, from fireplaces to ceiling mouldings.
As for the attic spaces, visitors will soon be able to access some of these, and enjoy that view lovingly described by Virginia Woolf of endless rooftops and courtyards, but before that could
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