Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Knole House in Kent

Knole House, Sevenoaks, Kent
8" x 10", pen and sepia ink and coloured pencils in Moleskine sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

On Easter Sunday we visited Knole House near Sevenoaks in Kent. We went for a stroll in the ancient parkland which is one of the few deer parks to survive over the last 500 years and the only one in Kent. Then we both sat on a fallen tree trunk in the parkland on the hill overlooking the house while "He who must not be bored while I sketch" read the Sunday Times and I sketched Knole House - in pen and ink finished with coloured pencil.

When I finished the sketch I decided that my failure to ever actually pay a visit to Knole House needed to be remedied and so I made a very quick acquaintance with the interior at the end of the day - a time I especially like for visits as it tends to be quiet.

Knole House is now a National Trust property. It's a sprawling ragstone property and has the most fascinating mix of historical, ecclesiastical, Royal, and literary associations. Believed to have been created in the thirteenth century and long associated with the hunting of deer, it was originally home to the Archbishops of Canterbury before it was 'given' to King Henry VIII and made a Royal Palace. Elizabeth I then presented it to Thomas Sackville, the first Earl of Dorset in 1566 and is has been home to the Sackville family ever since.
A curious legend attached to Knole House is that it had seven courtyards, representing the days of the week, fifty-two staircases - one for each week of the year - and 365 rooms, corresponding to the days in a year. (The Heritage Trail)
Knole was the childhood home of Vita Sackville West who restored Sissinghurst Castle and created the very famous garden there. Her close friend Virginia Woolfe writes about Knole in Orlando and a facsimile manuscript of Orlando in Woolfe's own handwriting - showing the development of the description of Knole in the book - is displayed in the Great Hall. The novel ends with Orlando taking possession of the house although Vita was denied ownership of Knole because the house was 'entailed' and passed through the male line.

The house is also full of paintings, including portraits by Joshua Reynolds and Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun and copies of the Raphael cartoons which are in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

For more information about the house try reading either the National Trust website about the history of Knole, this very informative New York Times article or Vita Sackville West's book "Knole and the Sackvilles'.

Knole Park is relatively unique amongst English country houses in that it was never 'landscaped' and consequently looks much as it did in the seventeenth century. It was however devastated in the Great Storm of 1987 - which felled 6 of the seven oaks in the town of Sevenoaks. The ancient parkland lost 70% of its trees which reputedly cost a £1m to replant across 1,000 acres in a way which had to be careful to reflect the lack of a 'designed look' for the overall parkland.

We finished up on Sunday by having half a cream tea each in the Brewhouse Tearoom. I reckon the scones had been out of the oven for about half an hour as they were still warm and moist. Excellent blackcurrent jam and cornish clotted cream was served as well - very definitely a place to go for a Cream Tea treat! I have been planning my book which rates National Trust properties by the quality of their cream teas for some years now........

The garden looks and sounds really interesting and I'm now planning to go back this summer and visit it on a Wedesday when it's open.

If you visit Knole, note that:
  • the house is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays
  • the garden is private to Lord Sackville and is only open on Wednesdays
  • the parkland is open daily for pedestrians only. Cars are only allowed in when the house is open.
  • details of how to get there are available here.
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