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Future of historic treasures now secure as National Trust opens doors to new conservation studio at Knole

A new state of the art conservation studio has opened its doors for the first time at one of the country’s largest and most famous stately homes, securing the future of hundreds of historic objects for the nation.

photo credit: National Trust Images, Robert Morris

photo credit: National Trust Images, Robert Morris

Knole in Kent, owned by the National Trust, 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 the conservation charity 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.

The new conservation studio is part of a £19.8 million building, conservation and restoration project – the largest in the Trust’s history – to 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.

Knole’s treasured collection includes many pieces of rare Stuart furniture, some acquired from Royal palaces by Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset when he was Lord Chamberlain in the seventeenth century.

photo credit: National Trust Images, James Dobson

photo credit: National Trust Images, James Dobson

To ensure the care of these objects and provide a permanent space for the conservation of these and other Trust collections in the future, 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 a Trust property to open year-round, demonstrating the expert techniques and cutting-edge technology that are needed to protect the nation’s heritage.

Items from Knole’s collection that will be conserved include:

  • the famous seventeenth century Knole sofa, which sparked endless copies around the world. Still upholstered in its original but now worn red velvet, it was originally designed as a throne on which a King or Queen would receive their visitors
  • over 40 portraits from Knole’s oak-panelled Brown Gallery, a ‘Who’s Who’ of great names of the English and European courts, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I
  • intricately upholstered and embroidered chairs, some dating to the time of James I, acquired from the Palaces of Hampton Court and Whitehall
  • the Royal ‘Stool of Easement’, an early form of ‘loo’ from the French ‘lieux d’aisance’, thought to have been used by Charles II

As the Trust welcomes visitors into the new studio, the doors of four of Knole’s important Showrooms are also re-opening 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 and make it much easier for visitors to see and enjoy the interiors.

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.

Dame Helen Ghosh, the National Trust’s Director-General comments: “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.

photo credit: National Trust Images, James Dobson

photo credit: National Trust Images, James Dobson

“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 for their grant of £7.75 million, to our members and to the many individuals and organisations that have enabled the Trust to restore the glories of the house.”

Ros Kerslake, Heritage Lottery Fund CEO, says:

“Our support has helped the National Trust successfully complete major restoration and reinterpretation work at one of the UK’s most unusual and dramatic historic houses.

“Skills training is an integral part of the majority of projects we fund and thanks to the National Lottery, the new conservation studio will reflect that as part of the wider ‘Inspired by Knole’ project. Visitors will now be able to see a number of exhibits and rooms as well as watch conservation happening in real time.”

Hannah Kay, Knole’s General Manager says:

“We are in the final stages of the biggest building and conservation project that Knole has witnessed in the last 400 years. 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.

“The new conservation studio will allow us not only to care for our own collections but to take in work from other Trust houses and external organisations in the future, and offer work-based training, which will make Knole a national centre for conservation excellence.

“We have a wealth of conservation expertise in the Trust and we can now share this with our visitors who will be able to see the latest conservation techniques in action for themselves and talk to specialists and volunteers about the work that goes into looking after some of the country’s most important treasures.”

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 spring 2019.

Knole’s four completed Showrooms open from Saturday 18 March. For opening times, to see videos of Knole’s building and conservation project and for further details visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/knole or phone 01732 462100.

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