Discover the Gatehouse Tower at Knole

The Gatehouse Tower dominates Knole’s west front

For centuries, visitors to Knole have been met by the imposing façade of the Gatehouse Tower. Passing through the huge wooden doors with the tower arching into the sky above, many have gazed in awe at the impressive entrance to this historic house.

The commanding tower dominates Knole’s west front and was built for Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, between 1472 and 1474. Since the eighteenth century, the Gatehouse Tower entrance has only served as the main thoroughfare for visitors making their way to Knole’s historic courtyards and showrooms. That is until now, when the grand opening of the Gatehouse Tower gave visitors the opportunity to explore its fascinating rooms and enjoy stunning views from Knole’s rooftop.

A new space to discover

Knole made history in June 2016, when the Gatehouse Tower opened to the public for the first time. Access to the commanding tower marks a new era for the Kent family home as the first ever domestic area to go on show. The historic unveiling is the latest milestone in an ambitious, five-year building and conservation project to preserve Knole and its precious collection.  

Visitors will be able to climb the steep spiral staircase to the top of the tower, where they will be met with panoramic views of Knole Park. The breath-taking sight is worth the steps as it takes in the vast parkland with its wild deer herd, giving members of the public the chance to appreciate the scale of Knole’s complex, seventeenth century roofline, with its many chimneys and carved stone leopards (the Sackville family’s emblem).

It is here that Virginia Woolf’s claim, in Orlando (1928), comes to life - that Knole is ‘more like a town than a house’ – and you can experience Knole’s setting in this beautiful, historic landscape.

Experience panoramic views of Knole Park from the top of the Gatehouse Tower
Experience panoramic views of Knole Park from the top of the Gatehouse Tower

Explore a former resident’s rooms

Visitors can also explore two private rooms belonging to a former resident in the Gatehouse Tower. The previously unseen bedroom and music room were once home to Edward Sackville-West, 5th Baron Sackville. On display are many of his personal belongings, including books and music records from his varied collection, as well as his gramophone and visitor book.

Known to his friends as Eddy, he was a novelist and music critic who lived in the Gatehouse Tower at Knole between 1926 and 1940. Eddy was passionate about art, music and literature and was regularly visited by artists and literary figures of the Bloomsbury Group, including novelist Virginia Woolf and the painter Duncan Grant, as well as his famous cousin Vita Sackville-West, the gardener and poet.

Eddy's bedroom in the Gatehouse Tower at Knole
The recently restored Gatehouse Tower dominates Knole’s west front

Eddy’s visitor book at Knole contains records of visits by LP Hartley, Aldous and Julian Huxley, EM Forster, Raymond Mortimer, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant and others – many of whom made up the backbone of the British literary and artistic establishment in the 1920s and 30s.

Surviving snippets of information suggest that the decoration of the Gatehouse Tower apartment was overseen by one of Eddy’s friends, the surrealist artist John Banting. Eddy’s life mask can be found on the wall at the entrance to his bedroom and is estimated to date from 1926.

Eddy was a prodigiously talented musician, whose ear for all things musical defined much of his personal life and professional career. Prevented by ill health from pursuing life as a professional musician, he turned to music criticism and writing, becoming a respected music journalist, literary critic and novelist. Eddy wrote much of his work when he resided in the Gatehouse Tower, including publishing five novels.

Portrait of Eddy Sackville-West by Barbara Ker-Seymer, c.1930
Portrait of Eddy Sackville-West by Barbara Ker-Seymer, c.1930

Work continues at Knole

The opening of the Gatehouse Tower is a milestone in an ambitious, five-year building and conservation project and the first domestic space to go on display at Knole. The £19.8million project is the largest ever undertaken by the National Trust, and aims to conserve Knole’s precious collection and open new spaces to the public, including a state-of-the-art conservation studio, a learning centre, and a new café.

The opening of the Gatehouse Tower has been made possible thanks to a £7.75million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), plus generous support from Ibstock Cory and Cory Environmental Trust in Britain, as well as private donors and National Trust members.