History of Knole Park

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Knole Park's broad history

This spans from prehistory to the present day. Among its physical landscape features, the earliest single feature you can see today is the Gallops, the broad gully carved by a prehistoric river. It's most obvious where it runs along the west side of the park. The drive dips into it before climbing again up to the house. As you walk southwards along the Gallops, there are places marking tributaries coming down from the ridge on which the Sevenoaks High Street now stands.

15th century

In terms of social history, the park was first enclosed in 1456 when the current building at Knole was started. Archbishop Bourchier was indulging the fashion amongst the rich for hunting deer. They would be dislodged from the woodlands into the Gallops, and then chased by greyhounds into paddocks or nets, where the kill would take place. Very few deer parks have survived from the 700 in Tudor times. Knole Park is the only survivor in Kent.

16th century

When Henry VIII took possession of Knole, he bought more land around the park. This brought the park's size in 1556 to 446 acres. Knole Park then changed a lot, with its many owners. At different times it had fishponds, rabbit runs and warrens, hops, swine yards and cattle pastures. Many of these continued into the 17th century as sources of income, as well as the leasing of grazing rights for pasture and the selling of deer.

17th century

In 1611, shortly after Thomas Sackville moved into Knole, he enlarged the park southwards by 550 acres. Deer parks can be said to mark a transition between the game forests of medieval times and the ornamental parks of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The park at Knole has changed very little since the death of the first Earl in 1608, surviving the vogue for ‘Capability’ Brown-style landscaping. The medieval landscape survives with some tree species that used to dominate the woodlands of the Weald: hawthorn, oak, yew, hornbeam, silver birch and ash.

18th and 19th centuries

Stands of beech were planted, as well as broad tree-lined avenues instead of the old coppices. Three survive: The Broad Walk (beech and oak) and the Chestnut Walk converge on the Mast Head, and the Duchess Walk (oak) leads away from the house to the north. About 200 yards to the east of the garden are some fake ruins built in the 1760s and the octagonal Gothic Revival Bird House, built around 1761.

From 1825-6 the final additions to the park were completed, extending it to the north, to make its present 1000 acres.

20th century

During both world wars, areas of the park were used for military camps. Near the south end of the Gallops, there’s a concrete platform which we now know was the site of a water pumping station which was put in to serve the encampment in the park before D-Day.

The storm of 1987 destroyed 70 per cent of the trees in the park. Over the next five years, on the initiative of the 6th Lord Sackville, uncle of the present Lord, the park was replanted at a cost of £1 million – half from Sackville family trusts and half from grants.