The Gatehouse Tower at Knole
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 possibly built by Henry VIII between 1543 and 1548.
Climb the steep spiral staircase to the top of the tower to 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 visitors the chance to appreciate the scale of Knole’s complex, 17th 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.
Explore a former resident’s rooms
As you ascend the spiral staircase, explore two rooms belonging to a former resident in the Gatehouse Tower. The atmospheric 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 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 his 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. He wrote much of his work when he resided in the Gatehouse Tower, including publishing five novels.
Exploring LGBTQ history at Knole
Knole is celebrating its rich LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) connections as part of the National Trust’s Prejudice and Pride programme, marking 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality.
There are new permanent displays in the Gatehouse Tower that focus on Eddy’s experiences as a gay man in the early 20th century. They shine a light on Eddy’s time in Germany during the inter-war and World War II period and his friendships, relationships and experiences during this time.
The National Trust has recently acquired a copy of Orlando inscribed to Eddy from Virginia Woolf, which is also on permanent display in the tower.
Eddy’s personal relationships and feelings have remained largely hidden from the history books. He is known to have had close relationships with numerous men, but never enjoyed the freedom to explore his sexuality with the rare openness of his cousin Vita Sackville-West.
This new content aims to build a fuller picture of Eddy’s life and add a new layer of understanding to Knole's complex and fascinating history.