Perfect for a family of five: Knole, Kent

Knole, Kent (Image: Matthew Beckett)

The Sunday Times ‘Home’ section (9 May 2010) features an article which gives some insight into the concerns that might naturally arise when you inherit a huge house in this day and age.  When the 7th Baron Sackville inherited the vast Elizabethan Knole house in Kent in 2004 he and his wife had to decide whether they even wished to move from a four-bedroom cottage on the estate into one of the treasure houses of England with its 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances, and 7 courtyards. Luckily shared with the National Trust since 1946 it is still a huge responsibility.

Despite having to share the house with the 80,000 annual visitors, with a house this size it’s quite possible to still hide the several members of the Sackville family who have apartments in the house or estate.  The Baron occupies the south wing whilst his mother lives in the north wing within a building with a footprint of approximately 4-acres with an exotic roofline which gives the impression of a small medieval town.  Even in these restricted quarters the family enjoys nine bedrooms and multiple reception rooms including a room known as the colonnade with superb trompe l’oeil decoration and a huge library along with the more domestic kitchen and ‘flower’ room.

The Sackvilles have long  opened Knole to the public starting in the early 1800s and had it’s first guidebook in 1819.  The fortunes of the town of Sevenoaks, which sits on the edge of the park, was increasingly dependent on the tourists, much as Leamington Spa and Warwick became on the success of Warwick Castle.  However, after the last of the male line of Sackvilles died in 1843, taking the Dukedom of Dorset with it, a series of inheritances left it, after various family challenges, with Lord Buckhurst in 1870, the eldest son of one of the last Duke’s daughters.  Although the house had remained open in the 1874 season, however he decided, for reasons which are not entirely clear, to close the house in October of that year.  He then removed the various access privileges which had been afforded to the people of Sevenoaks.  This prompted first local grumblings, then letters to the paper, then letters to Lord Sackville (as he had now become), until in 1883 it spilled over into the now infamous ‘Knole Disturbances’ where the locals, roused by stirring speeches,  tore up the gates and chains which had blocked their access, before marching to the door of the house.  However, all this left the cantankerous Lord Sackville unmoved and the house and grounds remained closed until after his death in 1888.

One side effect however of this was the raising of questions nationally as to the levels and rights of access to these parks and estates which were increasingly seen as something the public could enjoy at their leisure.  These sort of questions and the resulting answers, which were clearly in favour of the preservation of these open spaces – and later the houses – eventually led to the creation of the National Trust, which is now the current owner of Knole, and very unlikely to ever close the gates again.

Full story: ‘Living it large with 365 rooms‘ [The Sunday Times]

National Trust: ‘Knole, Kent