As I look over my shoulder at the last 12 months, I am reminded of all the wonderful things which I found the time to report on the blog. I remember also all the other myriad of happenings which disappear into “normal” life here at Knole for the wonderful Premises team.
Come with me whilst I reminisce over some of the extraordinary events which stand out amongst the everyday.
The dawn of 2012 brought an exciting prospect for the coming year. All the planning for the internal walkway structures was in place to ensure that we could open our doors to visitors whilst the first phase of the building works could commence. The screens and walkways were built throughout the beginning of the year and it was obvious that visitors would see and hear a very different side of Knole in 2012.
The chill of winter took its toll and we had many leaks and burst pipes, on the park a section of the mains froze and on the North side of the House, in the roof space, an expansion pipe exploded dramatically drenching walls and ceilings over three floors, with water cascading down the servants’ stairs.
Wind biting hard and heavy snowfall on the eve of an extra-special day didn’t deter us. We were expecting very important guests from America, for a private visit and tour of the house. Not wanting to disappoint, we set about showing our visitors a side of Knole which was set to be a very special treat. From very early on a white snowy Sunday morning, resident staff worked hard to ensure the visit could go ahead. With the help of the Estate team and their trusty tractor the paths were cleared enough that our overseas guests could walk on to the park and be welcomed safely into the courtyards and the House. What a treat! We delivered a money can’t buy day for extra special visitors.
Brought excitement as the pilots of AeroStars gave a aerobatic treat in a training exercise above Knole. It was a lovely clear day and the team were thrilled to witness a fantastic show of talent as the planes flew in formation above the House and park. A truly thrilling experience as the House reverberated to the roar of the engines and propellers.
Later in March we had a visit from a red London bus for a tourist promotion and the first walk in association with dogs for the disabled raising much-needed funds.
As the start of the season loomed and huge preparations were in place for the next open season. Signage changes, car park improvements, new paving to Green Court, expansions to facilities and services offered to those with disabilities were just a few of the new ventures for the open season. Knole in Flux was launched as was our fundraising appeal and visitors came in great numbers to see what exciting things were changing the face of Knole, and as the garden opened it was clear that there was a huge addition creeping its way across the East of the House.
Was an extraordinary month for the team and one which I fear will never be surpassed in my working life. The team hosted a visit from His Royal Highness Prince Charles, who arrived by helicopter and toured the House. The knowledge that I made him a cup of tea! will stay with me forever.. despite the fact that being very practiced at making tea, I almost forgot how to and made the worst looking cup ever! No matter this was a sensational day – one of three this year.
Day two comes in the same month and saw the commencement of construction of the East phase scaffold. Managing the construction of roof beams and overseeing the first crane lift was the most frightening and exciting day. It was hard, intense, heart stopping and the satisfying feeling of achievement in a one day only team – something I could never have imagined.
Brought day three but not before the Queens Jubilee celebration, Knole was alive with little Union Jack flags waving around Green Court in the breeze. The construction works were moving at a pace and tours of the scaffold and roof tops were almost daily with the our visitors, staff and volunteers keen to see the work in progress and the bones of Knole exposed.
Each year the property hosts a community evening, the doors are opened up to our community and we put on an extra special show to welcome all comers. This year was different on the same evening we also hosted a dinner for 80 guests who enjoyed an extra special dinner in one of our superior and largely hidden galleries. From the windows guests could watch as the community evening progressed in full swing. It was a fantastically successful evening with lots of smiling faces and lots and lots of new and old visitors for Knole. It was a great privilege to host such a special night where we all shone at the center of a thriving community event.
Not content to sit back and relax the warmer (ish) weather spurred us on to maintain the parks, paths and drives. Knole sits on a 1000 acre site and the team manages 100 acres of the park which makes up the High Street entrance, drive, car park, House and its curtilage. After a big shout out into the local community for volunteers, the team were joined by some new helpers to assist on a special clean-up project. The response was excellent and goes to prove there are some really super people out there, who will turn up time after time with a smile on their face and a spring in the step all for a share of Knole spirit.
Much of August for me was spent on the roofs, much to my delight. Because of the renovation works during the day I was up on the scaffolding for one reason or another as the works progressed. In the evening I spent countless hours waiting… and waiting and watching. It drove me batty! Well nearly, except for the fact that there were very few bats. Early in the year we had monitored bat activity on and around our buildings. We have 7.5 acres of tiled roof above Knole and expected to find many groups living amongst the rafters.
To ensure the building works were not disturbing roosts it is essential that we monitor activity and respect any living space we may suspect. The roof top at dusk is a superb place to be and some of the sunsets this year were truly breath-taking. Spending so much time just sitting and watching it is amazing what you see. Deer on the park feeding, lonely joggers enjoying the seclusion, a hawk surprised by me sat beside its favorite evening perch, and the scribing’s of workmen who once were here too. Oh and the odd and infrequent bat!
Means the main season for the House is coming to an end, and we are relieved the summer children’s’ activities are over for another year! but no rest for our team. The garden season closure means the annual team summer get together and this year we were all worn out, by the year so far and by the games Marisha had lined up! This time of year is a time for reflexion and planning and we busily started to put together the schedule of works for the winter season. This includes refurbishment and decoration, deep cleaning, compliance testing of electrical systems, water and gas and routine servicing of the ten boiler systems, path roadway and parking maintenance and health and safety monitoring and reporting.
As the days grew shorter towards the close of the year, the team focused on staff and volunteer facilities with the reworking of rest rooms and kitchen services. For many years these spaces have been used and used and unfortunately become damp following heavy rainfall due to leaky roof tops. We now have bright and comfortable spaces no longer featuring wet patches and peeling paint.
As the year draws to a close the trees on Webs Alley were treated to a substantial trim, following a week of heavy work the path is bright and breezy with the tree canopy opened up to expose the sky. The construction work moved on and was threatened by the approach of the cooler weather. The biggest treat for me was a peek at the internal spaces of the rafters above the Medieval Chapel, with the wind whistling through the scaffold and for a very short time only the huge hand carved 600 year old oak structures making up the roof were visible once more. Another fantastic treat..
So as the tinsel comes out and the tree is delivered, Knole kicks up another gear. We have as many events in December as we have during the summer months, with tree dressing, concerts, lectures, lunches, craft days, shoppers, walkers, mince pies and mulled wine. It’s a special time of year but always a busy one as our winter schedule of maintenance waits to begin. With the dawn of January a change of pace once more as the new phase of the construction works, annual refurbishment and our review of key Health and Safety policy standards and compliance, (you may yawn but it all has to be done!)
And so a new year… let’s start all over again, one thing is for sure this year will be different. Changing as every day is, different by the hour and each dawn unplanned and unknown. You never know what Knole will give you or what bizarre happening will take the time away from all your careful planning. But you do know that it will be exciting and challenging and that Knole will inspire you to do much more and love her more. We are all so lucky..
Happy New year to all our readers and a huge thank you from me to the Premises team and to the wider team at Knole – lets make another fantastic year in our history.