Knole’s attics open to the public after two-year refurbishment

PUBLISHED: 12:29 03 June 2019

The Upper Kings Room once acted as a bedroom for a high-status servant (photo: Andreas von Einsiedel)

The Upper Kings Room once acted as a bedroom for a high-status servant (photo: Andreas von Einsiedel)

© Andreas von Einsiedel 2019, All Rights Reserved

Expert conservation work carried out at Knole over the past two years now means that its attics are open to visit

Two years ago, a fully appointed conservation studio opened its doors at Knole in Sevenoaks.

Part of a wider £19.8m building and conservation project, and with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the new studio was the venue for vital conservation work on some of the property's most prominent paintings, artefacts and furniture.

This year the team at Knole is throwing open one of the most secluded parts of the house: the attics. Divided into three sections - the Retainer's Gallery, the South Barracks and the Upper Kings Room - as Rebecca Malkin, Visitor Experience Manager at Knole, says: "The attics show a very different side of Knole and give visitors the opportunity to see how grand houses evolved over the centuries."

The Retainer's Gallery was originally used as a Long Gallery to showcase distinguished works of art to Knole's guests. However, it had fallen out of use by the 1720s and its status reverted largely to that of a storage vault for furniture and spare objects.

The Retainers Gallery was originally used as a Long Gallery (photo: Andreas von Einsiedel)The Retainers Gallery was originally used as a Long Gallery (photo: Andreas von Einsiedel)

It has a sloping floor and an opulently designed ceiling that would have acted as an impressive backdrop to paintings when they were displayed there. Today's visitors will also be intrigued by the graffiti on the walls, which tells a vivid story of the people who came and went from the Retainer's Gallery over the course of their working lives at Knole.

Parts of the the South Barracks section of the attics have been deliberately left exposed for visitors to understand the extent of the underlying work involved in the creation of such a building.

Another point of interest is a collection of 17th-century letters, discovered under the floorboards. One is dated 1633 and describes the domestic tasks the writer would have undertaken during their time in service at Knole.

Meanwhile, the Upper Kings Room tells a different story about how servants could have been housed at Knole. It is thought that this area once acted as a bedroom for a high-status servant, as it is located directly above the Kings Room, which was built for a visit from King James I (although he never actually stayed there). Such a servant would need to have quick access to the King, his master or other eminent guests.

Conservation work also revealed a series of marks carved into the joists under the floorboards intended to protect residents and visitors from witches and spirits.

Attic tours are bookable in advance and cost £7.50 per person. Please note some of the floors are uneven and there are a number of stairs to climb. Tours take place every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 11.30am. To book a place, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/knole.

Knole's annual Conservation Week runs 4-9 June. Visit the website to find out about events and activities taking place throughout the week and the team's future plans.

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