The attics at Knole

A long, narrow attic room stretches ahead, with wooden floorboards, a window at the far end, patched walls and trunks and chairs lined up against one side wall

Following our ‘Inspired by Knole’ conservation project, Knole’s often-forgotten domestic attics are open to visitors for the first time. Behind the scenes attic tours are now available to book (see below); during the 45-minute-long tours, our knowledgeable guides will reveal the stories behind these fascinating spaces.

Hidden above the grandeur of the showrooms, the spaces – sometimes inhabited but more often used as storage areas – have evolved over the centuries with each generation and are a reminder of how splendid houses like Knole are family homes as well as show houses.

The attics are made up of three large areas: the Retainer’s Gallery, South Barracks and Upper Kings Room. The Retainer’s Gallery, with its curiously sloped floor and graffiti littering the walls, was once one of Knole’s prized long galleries but had fallen out of favour by 1720. Despite its elaborately decorated ceiling and impressive fireplaces, the gallery was never designed to be on show and over the years became more of a vault for spare furniture and objects.

South Barracks reveals the bare bones of the house and have been left exposed for visitors to see the extent of the underlying work and craftsmanship and recent conservation work. An excavation under the floorboards also revealed 17th century letters, including one dated October 1633 describing domestic jobs and tasks.

Upper Kings Room could have been a bedroom for a high status servant, and sits above the sumptuous Kings Room, which was created for a visit from James I. The room conceals a secret: during the conservation project, witch marks were discovered carved into joists under the floorboards in the early 1600s to protect residents or visitors from witches and spirits. By 1837 this room was simply a store.