The history of the Knole Barn
- Expert curated
The Knole Barn is a 600-year-old building with a 21st-century interior. The earliest reference to the ‘Great Barn’ is in 1478, when Archbishop Thomas Bourchier bought the manor and estate of Knole and created an impressive residence midway between Canterbury and London. Find out more about the building’s fascinating history up to the present day, including the damaging fire of 1887 and its rebirth as the Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio.
The early centuries
Built of Kentish ragstone and facing Stable Court, the barn’s north-facing slit windows ensured ventilation yet allowed cool storage conditions for hay and grain.
Its use continued in this way for the next three centuries as Knole’s ownership passed from the See of Canterbury to the Tudor Monarchy, and in 1604 to the aristocratic Sackville family, well connected to the Stuart court.
A destructive fire
In 1887, the Barn was damaged by an intense fire. Newspaper reports described the medieval roof burning fiercely for five days and 250 tonnes of hay being destroyed. Fire crews with horse-drawn steam pumps attracted many spectators as they battled the blaze.
Victorian repairs resulted in a flat, crenelated roof considered fashionable at the time. By 1946, when Knole was gifted to the National Trust, the Barn was used mostly to house vehicles as a garage.
The conservation studio is born
In 2013, a £20 million Heritage Lottery-funded project was approved to preserve Knole’s Grade I-listed buildings and collection and open new spaces for visitors.
The Barn was central to this vision: a fully accessible 21st-century conservation studio in a 600-year-old building. The flat roof was replaced with a new gabled structure echoing the medieval pitch.
Architects Rodney Melville and Partners worked with stonemasons to source Kentish ragstone and specialist tilers to create a blend of 65,000 bespoke clay peg tiles to match the surrounding roofscape.
The 2017 opening and ensuing popularity
When the studio officially opened in March 2017, its flexible open-plan work area and soaring ceiling were much admired.
Interactive exhibits continue to help convey conservation principles and practices, while an environmentally controlled store showcases objects awaiting conservation or delivery to clients.
The studio has proved a major attraction for heritage-loving visitors to this day.
2021 - The Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio is created
Early 2021 the National Trust received a generous donation of £3m from The Royal Oak Foundation, based in the US. This gift, made in honour of the National Trust's 125th anniversary, will support collections conservation for the next five years and will fund major work mainly based at our specialist studio here at Knole.
With the help of this donation the studio has already been able to support the conservation treatment of over 200 objects from properties across the UK.
Find out about the work of our team at the Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio in Kent and how we help care for a large number of objects from properties all over the country.
Discover what you can see and do at the unique Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio, plus more about the distinctive building.