Knole’s future secure as we open doors to new conservation studio

Senior conservator, Heather Porter, lowering the arm of the Knole sofa
Published : 15 Mar 2017 Last update : 16 Mar 2017

A new state of the art conservation studio at Knole has opened its doors for the first time as part of the largest building and conservation project in our history, securing the future of hundreds of historic objects.

Knole in Kent is one of Britain’s most important and complete historic houses with a colourful past as an archbishop’s palace, the home of the Sackville family for 400 years and the inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s iconic novel ‘Orlando’. 

However, ever since we acquired the property in 1946, it has faced a running and expensive battle with leaking roofs and windows, damp, moths and woodworm which have all put Knole’s collection of furniture, paintings and textiles at risk. 

Knole
The exterior of Knole

New life for Knole’s collection

The new conservation studio is part of a £19.8 million building, conservation and restoration project, supported by a major National Lottery grant of £7.75 million, which will rescue Knole from centuries of decay, to upgrade, repair and re-present its grandest rooms and open domestic spaces that have never been seen before. 

To ensure the care of Knole’s treasured collection and provide a permanent space for the conservation of these and our other collections, the new two-storey conservation studio has been created on site within a former medieval barn.

The studio will not only employ a permanent team of specialist conservators to clean, repair and treat objects, but it will be the first based at one of our properties where you can see all of the work taking place, demonstrating the expert techniques and cutting-edge technology that are needed to protect our heritage.

Showrooms brought back to life

Also new for visitors to enjoy will be the re-opening of four of Knole’s important Showrooms following completion of the first phase of building and restoration work. 

This has included the installation of controlled heating systems to protect the collections, along with bespoke new lighting to transform the once gloomy rooms.

The newly completed ballroom in the Showrooms at Knole
The newly completed ballroom in the Showrooms at Knole

The completed Showrooms include the King’s Bedroom, with its suite of silver furniture and seventeenth-century State Bed designed for a visit from James II, and the Cartoon Gallery, with six full-height restored copies of paintings known as ‘cartoons’ or working designs for tapestries by the Renaissance artist Raphael.

‘First-class space for our experts’

‘Knole is one of the Trust’s most important houses and this is an exciting moment where we can begin to open new spaces within this vast property to tell the story of its occupants and outstanding collections,’ said Dame Helen Ghosh, Director-General.

‘The new conservation studio is a first-class space for our expert conservators to work on collections from Knole and across the Trust, and share their expertise with our visitors. We are grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and to the many individuals and organisations that have enabled the Trust to restore the glories of the house.’

Mark Searle, a conservator at Knole, works on one of the portraits in Knole's collection
Conservator, Mark Searle, consolidating the decorative scheme for the Lionel Portrait, a portrait of Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex

‘We are in the final stages of the biggest building and conservation project that Knole has witnessed in the last 400 years,’ said Hannah Kay, Knole’s general manager.

‘It is an enormous but exciting challenge and we are thrilled that we can now share the next chapter in the story of this fascinating house with our visitors and supporters.’

New spaces 

The new spaces that have been restored and opened for the first time include the Gatehouse Tower, which was inhabited by novelist and music critic Eddy Sackville-West in the 1930s. A new café, shop, visitor centre and learning centre have also been completed. 

Knole’s remaining Showrooms and unseen attic spaces from its final phase of work will open in 2018. 

The Gatehouse Tower dominates Knole’s west front

Find out more about Knole 

Discover 400 years of history at Knole - its parkland, house and gardens have a rich past from its beginnings as an Archbishop's palace to its time in the hands of royalty and later a family home.