Knole House 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.[
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. 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. 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.
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. The chapel-room with its crypt seems to pre-date this period and has contemporary pews. 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.
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. 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 Sackville descendants include writer Vita Sackville-West. Victoria Mary Sackville-West, known as Vita, was born at Knole in 1892. She grew up at Knole, an only child of Victoria and Lionel. She loved Knole but was unable to inherit when her father, the third Lord Sackville died, because it was entailed to the male line. Vita's uncle Charles inherited the title and Knole. It was during his term that the house was handed to us with an endowment. The Sackville family retained a 200-year lease on private apartments at Knole and still live here today. Vita was a poet, gardener, novelist, biographer and journalist. Her love for Knole led her to write a history of the house and her family, in a book, 'Knole and the Sackvilles'. And in one of her best-known novels, 'The Edwardians', she based the grand house Chevron, on Knole. In 1927, her long narrative poem, 'The Land', won the Hawthornden Prize, the oldest British literary prize. She won it again, becoming the only writer to do so, in 1933, with her Collected Poems. In 1947 Vita was made a Companion of Honour for her services to literature. Her weekly column in The Observer called 'In your Garden', became a garden writing classic. She was also a founder member of their garden committee.
Vita was married in 1913 at the chapel in Knole. Her husband, Harold Nicholson, was a diplomat, politician, critic and biographer. After a brief overseas posting, they returned to England and went on to buy Sissinghurst Castle in a practically derelict state. Together, they re-built the house and designed the now world-famous garden, visited by keen gardeners from all over the world. Vita and Harold remained good friends throughout a relatively unorthodox marriage. Both had affairs with members of the same sex. Vita's close friendship with Virginia Woolf is celebrated in Woolf's novel, Orlando, which is set at Knole. The original manuscript for 'Orlando' was inscribed, 'Vita from Virginia' and presented by Woolf to Vita. It is displayed in the Great Hall today. Vita's son, Nigel Nicolson, has described it as 'the longest and most charming love-letter in literature'. As you leave the Great Hall, do pause at the foot of the Great Staircase. There's a large carved oak door stop in the form of Shakespeare, which came from Vita's bedroom at Knole. Her mother had a passion for fresh air, and insisted that all the doors be kept open. Vita loved the harmony of Knole with its setting, describing it as 'not an incongruity like Blenheim or Chatsworth, foreign to the spirit of England...the great Palladian houses of the 18th century are in England, they are not of England'.
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 include 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. 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.
Mobility parking, 110 metres; drop-off point. Free parking for blue badge holders. Adapted toilet in the Porter's Lodge at the main entrance. Braille and large print guides are available; room describers for visually-impaired visitors. Tactile model of the house in the Visitor Centre. Virtual tour; induction loop; signed and sub-titled introductory video. Access to the Orangery is from the Bookshop via steps or a lift (platform 125cm length x 120cm wide, maximum weight 250kg). Doorway into Visitor Centre with 3D model of Knole is maximum 70cm. In the showrooms, wheelchair access is to the Great Hall and the bottom of the Great Staircase only. Wheelchairs available to borrow from the Visitor Centre. Mobility scooter available for use in the park. Must be booked 24-hours in advance. Please phone 01732 462100. Not available on bank holiday weekends. Access to the Gatehouse Tower is via 77 steep, uneven steps. Green Court spaces and the Brewhouse Cafe are wheelchair accessible. Assistance dogs are welcome. The Sevenoaks Vintage Bus (route no 7) completes a circular route of Sevenoaks, stopping at a variety of shops, leisure activities and cultural facilities. The Vintage Bus runs on select days from March to September, starting and ending at Knole. £2.50 per day ticket. Under 10s travel free.
Location : Knole House, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN15 0RP
Transport : Sevenoaks (National Rail) then taxi or 30 minutes. Bus Routes : Sevenoaks bus station is ¼ mile from the edge of the park
Opening Times : Showrooms and Garden reopen in March. Gatehouse Tower / Orangery / Cafe / Park Daily 10:00 to 16:00
Tickets Gatehouse Tower : Adults £2.70; Children £1.30
Tickets : Adults £7.60; Children £3.85
Tel. : 01732 462100