Knole House

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Knole House in 2009

Knole House /nl.hs/ NT is an English country house in the civil parish of Sevenoaks in west Kent. Sevenoaks consists of the town itself and Knole Park, a 1,000-acre (4.0 km2) park, within which the house is situated. Knole is one of England's largest houses. The National Trust attributes a possibility of its having at some point been a calendar house, which had 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and seven courtyards.

It was constructed beginning in the late 15th century, with major additions in the 16th century. Its grade I listing reflects its mix of Elizabethan to late Stuart structures, particularly in the case of the central façade and state rooms. The surrounding deer park has also survived with few manmade changes in the 400 years since 1600. But, its formerly dense woodland has not fully recovered from the loss of more than 70% of its trees in the Great Storm of 1987.[1]


Knole in 1880.

The oldest parts of the house were built by Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, between 1456 and 1486, on the site of an earlier house belonging to James Fiennes, first Lord Say(e) and Sele.[2] Fiennes was executed after the victory of Jack Cade's rebels at the Battle of Solefields. On Bourchier's death, the house was bequeathed to the See of Canterbury. Sir Thomas More appeared in revels there at the court of John Morton — the Archbishop's cognizance (motto) of Benedictus Deus appears above and to either side of a large late Tudor fireplace here.[3] In subsequent years it continued to be enlarged, as with the addition of a new large courtyard, now known as Green Court, and a new entrance tower. In 1538 the house was taken from Archbishop Thomas Cranmer by King Henry VIII along with Otford Palace.[4]

Knole from Kip and Knyff's Britannia Illustrata (1709)

In 1566, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, it came into the possession of her cousin Thomas Sackville, whose descendants the Earls and Dukes of Dorset and Barons Sackville have lived there since 1603.[4] The chapel-room with its crypt seems to pre-date this period and has contemporary pews.[3] In 1606, Sackville, Lord High Treasurer to James VI and I, undertook extensive renovations to the state rooms at Knole in preparation for a possible visit by the King. In 2014, archaeologists found the oak beams beneath floors, particularly near fireplaces, had been scorched and carved with scratched "witch marks" to prevent witches and demons from coming down the chimney.[5]

The first lease was made on 1 February 1566, between Robert Dudley (Elizabeth's newly created Earl of Leicester) and Thomas Rolf. Under this the 'manor and mansion-house' of Knole and the park, with the deer, and also Panthurst Park and other lands, were demised to the latter for the term of ninety-nine years at a rent of £200. The landlord was to do all repairs, and reserved the very unusual right (to himself and his heirs and assigns) to occupy the mansion-house as often as he or they chose to do so, but this right did not extend to the gate-house, nor to certain other premises. The tenant was given power to alter or rebuild the mansion-house at his pleasure.[6] As Mr Rolf died very soon after this lease, the tenancy transferred to John Lennard (of Chevening) and his son Samson, Lord Dacre's son-in-law.

The Green Court at Knole

The Sackville descendants include writer Vita Sackville-West[2] (her Knole and the Sackvilles, published 1922, is regarded as a classic in the literature of English country houses). Her friend and lover Virginia Woolf wrote the novel Orlando, which drew on the history of the house and Sackville-West's ancestors. The Sackville family custom of following the Salic rules of primogeniture prevented Sackville-West from inheriting Knole upon the death of her father Lionel (1867–1930), the 3rd Lord Sackville; her father had bequeathed the estate to his brother Charles (1870–1962).[4]

The house ranks in the top five of England's largest houses, under any measure used.[7][not in citation given] The grounds present the largest remaining open space of Sevenoaks. This otherwise consists of a generally low-density provincial town, with the smaller, still mostly wooded Sevenoaks Common, and a relatively buffered sand and clay quarry in its north. Knole House is its only remaining manor as traditionally defined (that is with more than an acre of land).

Art and furnishings[edit]

A painting of Spencer Compton, 2nd Earl of Northampton by Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen, one of the portraits on display at Knole House

The many state rooms open to the public contain a collection of 17th-century royal Stuart furniture, perquisites from the 6th Earl's service as Lord Chamberlain to William III in the royal court. These iclude three state beds, silver furniture (comprising a pair of torchieres, mirror and dressing table, being rare survivors of this type), outstanding tapestries and textiles, and the Knole Settee. The art collection includes portraits by Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Sir Peter Lely, Sir Godfrey Kneller and Sir Joshua Reynolds (the last being a personal friend of the 3rd Duke), and a copy of the Raphael Cartoons. Reynolds' portraits in the house include a late self-portrait in doctoral robes and depictions of Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith and Wang-y-tong, a Chinese page boy who was taken into the Sackville household. There are also survivals from the English Renaissance: an Italianate staircase of great delicacy and the vividly carved overmantel and fireplace in the Great Chamber. The 'Sackville leopards', holding heraldic shields in their paws and forming finials on the balusters of the principal stair (constructed 1605-8) of the house, are derived from the Sackville coat of arms.[2][4]

The organ, in the late medieval private chapel at Knole, is arguably the oldest playable organ in England. The organ has four ranks of oak pipes (Stopped Diapason 8, Principal 4, Twelfth 22/3 and Fifteenth 2) contained in a rectangular ornamented chest with the keyboard at the top. Its date of construction is not known, but an early guidebook refers to a marked date of 1623 (although no such date mark is still apparent) - a date in the 1620s has been suggested. The pitch of the organ is sharp (A460 Hz) and the foot-pumped bellows remain in working order.[8]


The house is mostly cared for and opened by the National Trust; however, the Trust owns only the house and an adjoining modest park - overall 52 acres (21 ha).[2] More than half the house has been kept by the Sackville-Wests: Lord Sackville, Robert Sackville-West, 7th Baron Sackville or his family trust own the remaining gardens and estate but permit commercialised access and certain charitable and sporting community events.[9]

The National Trust believe the mansion may well have been a calendar house, which had 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards. While the number of rooms is approximately correct, the number of staircases has been reduced by internal renovations and changes.[9]

The house is one of the closest to a railway station (in this case a minor main line) in the South-East, at 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Sevenoaks station.[10]


Knole has a very large walled garden, at 26 acres (11 ha) (30 including the 'footprint' of the house).[2] It has the very unusual — and essentially medieval feature of a smaller walled garden inside the outer one (Hortus Conclusus). It contains many other features from earlier ages which have been taken out of most country-house gardens: various landscapers have been employed to elaborate the design of its large gardens with distinctive features. These features include clair-voies, a patte d'oie, two avenues, and bosquet hedges.[11]

Remainder of the Park[edit]

Main article: Knole Park

Overall the house is set in its 1,000-acre (4.0 km2) deer park. This has generally been kept in traditional condition; however, the controlled deer population do not have access to all parts. Due to the rich woodland, Knole Park is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.[11]

Uses in sport and media[edit]

The park hosts the annual Knole Run, a schools cross-country race.

It was the setting for the filming in January 1967 of the Beatles' videos that accompanied the release of "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever". The stone archway through which the four Beatles rode on horses can still be seen on the southeastern side of the Bird House, which itself is on the southeastern side of Knole House. The same visit to Knole Park inspired another Beatles song, "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!," which John Lennon wrote after buying an 1843 poster in a nearby antiques shop that advertised Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal.[12]

Knole House also appears in the 2008 film, The Other Boleyn Girl,[13] along with nearby Penshurst Place and Dover Castle. It has been featured in several other films including Burke and Hare (2010),[14][15] Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows[16] and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.[17]

In January 2012, the National Trust launched an appeal for £2.7M to restore the house.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "In pictures: 1987 storm". BBC News. 2007-10-14. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Knole House - Grade I architectural and historical listing - Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1336390)". National Heritage List for England. 
  3. ^ a b The Visitor's Guide to Knole, Henry John Brady F. R. A. S., (James Payne, London, 1839) pp 1 and 142-148 (fireplace engraving; chapel-room with crypt)
  4. ^ a b c d Edward Hasted (1797). "Parishes: Sevenoke". The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 3. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 17 August 2013. 
  5. ^ Kennedy, Maev (2014-11-05). "Witch marks fit for a king beguile archaeologists at Knole". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-11-05. 
  6. ^ Thomas Barrett Lennard (1908). "An account of the families of Lennard and Barrett", pp 116-117.
  7. ^ "BBC News - Sevenoaks' Knole House 'needs extensive repairs'". 2011-10-05. Retrieved 2012-01-07. 
  8. ^ Andrew Benson-Wilson, January 2002 in "Thomas Tallis: The Complete Works, Volume 5" at
  9. ^ a b Knole information at the National Trust
  10. ^ Grid Reference Finder distance tools
  11. ^ a b Knole (Park and Garden) listing under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by English Heritage for its special historic interest Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1000183)". National Heritage List for England. 
  12. ^ Turner, Steve (1994). "A Hard Day's Write." New York: HarperCollins.
  13. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office The Other Boleyn Girl Film Focus". 
  14. ^ Burke and Hare: behind the scenes
  15. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office Burke & Hare Film Focus". 
  16. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows Film Focus". 
  17. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides Film Focus". 
  18. ^ "BBC News - National Trust launches appeal to save Knole House". 2012-01-14. Retrieved 2012-01-15. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°15′58″N 0°12′22″E / 51.266°N 0.206°E / 51.266; 0.206