Revealing Knole’s roofscape

The barn’s new pitched roof at Knole, Kent

The sun was shining on Knole’s medieval barn, as a crowd gathered to witness a major milestone in the Inspired by Knole project, in February 2016.

Work has been ongoing over the past two years to transform Knole’s barn into an impressive conservation studio. It will be the first of its kind within the National Trust, when it opens to visitors in 2017.

The new roof is the latest instalment in a five-year, £19.8million building and conservation project, in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will restore Knole’s beautiful building and protect its interiors and collection. 

The project has now celebrated a milestone as the scaffolding has been taken down, revealing the new roof of the conservation studio. Dozens of people gathered to mark the special occasion and to see the barn with its impressive pitched roof, for the first time since it was destroyed in a fire in 1887.

They looked on as Robert Sackville-West, the seventh Baron Sackville to reside at Knole, climbed the scaffolding to sign and lay the final tile on the barn’s roof, in a traditional topping out ceremony.

The final roof tile is signed and sealed by Lord Sackville
Lord Sackville signs the final tile on the new roof at Knole, Kent

A history spanning centuries

The barn is one of the oldest parts of Knole, built in the late 15th century for storing grain and hay for Archbishop Bourchier’s horses. The building was used for agricultural purposes for around 400 years.

Tragically, the barn roof was destroyed by fire in 1887. Fire crews galloped from Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells with horse-drawn steam pumps to quench the flames. In their haste, the Tonbridge team commandeered horses from a passing funeral cortège. 

Before the Inspired by Knole project began in 2012, the barn was used for storage and parking cars. At one time it even housed a squash court.

Lord Sackville lays the final tile on the new roof
Lord Sackville lays the final tile on the new roof at Knole

The ancient roofscape restored

The barn roof has now been rebuilt to match the line of the steeply pitched, 15th century original. Its lofty peak now adds to the staggering 6.7 acres of roof at Knole.

65,000 new tiles were carefully selected so that their colour and shape matched those on Knole’s existing roofs. It then took just over two weeks for a group of four tilers to lay all the tiles on the new roof.

The barn will soon be home to the Knole Conservation Studio, which will conserve precious paintings, furniture and textiles from Knole’s impressive collection. The studio will open to visitors in 2017, where they will be able to see conservators up close as they study, clean and stabilise Knole’s fragile treasures.

The barn’s new pitched roof matches the 15th century original
The barn’s new pitched roof at Knole, Kent