Corporate Takeover

Corporate takeover 024

The only bit of cobbles showing at the start of the day.

Some time ago our project surveyor Robin came across an old photograph that showed a feature to an existing footpath in the park at Knole that we were unaware of. The path appeared to be edged with two cobbled gullies.

None of us could recall seeing the gullies so we took a trip down to the path, which runs from the front of the house down to the gallops, to investigate whether we thought they still existed. Well blow me if we didn’t find a few small sections poking through the grass. The question being; was it still all there, covered by decades of mud washed down from the surrounding grassland?

To uncover the two gullies down the entire length of the path would take an army of volunteers which we don’t have at present. However help was at hand from a local division of Direct Line Insurance who were looking to conduct a corporate volunteering day.

First a good sweep and rake to get the worst of the dirt off.

First a good sweep and rake to get the worst of the dirt off.

 So with 24 Direct Line personnel armed with brooms and trowels and with advice and instruction from our Archaeologist Nathalie they got to work chasing down from the area that was visible. In order to give our willing volunteers a bit of variety we split them into two groups; one group on the path and the other group collecting up some of the million plastic tree cages in the park that were installed to protect the young replanted trees following the Great Storm in 1987.
After lunch the two groups swapped over so everyone got to experience trowelling in the dirt on the path and bouncing around in the back of the truck as Paul (one of our regular volunteers) drove them off-road across the park to the plantations. (Much to the bemusement of picnickers!)

By the end of the day the teams had collected thousands of tree cages and uncovered a massive part of the cobbled gullies including an offshoot down a steep embankment!

Then on to hands and knees with small trowels to uncover the cobbles.

Then on to hands and knees with small trowels to uncover the cobbles.

We are extremely thankful to all the volunteers from Direct Line who worked tirelessly all day (as a reward we gave them a trip up the gate tower which is not open to the public), to Paul, Malcolm Fran, Sue and Alan our regular volunteers for setting up, looking after the team, ferrying them around, clearing away the spoil and cages and clearing away at the end of the day.

By the smiles on the faces we gather they all enjoyed themselves and got a good sense of achievement from the day.

We still have a long way to go on the path and the cages so if anyone out there would like to bring a group of volunteers for the day we would love to talk to you.

Oh and the gullies; what are they? – there are two thoughts, one being drainage for the path down the steep hill or, my favourite, tracks for carts bringing ice from the main drive up the hill to the nearby ice house – cool! 

Revealed: two parallel gullies – but lots more to go…..

Revealed: two parallel gullies – but lots more to go…..

Jo, Marisha and the Premises Team


so long…

With a very heavy heart I must bid you all farewell.

This will be my last day at Knole, as I shall be moving on to National Trust pastures new in Sussex. Knole is a fantastic place and the people here are wonderful and committed in the most special way. I shall miss each and everyone.

The Premises team volunteers and staff where wonderful to work with and I am so proud of the huge impact we all have made on this fine property.

To my successor, I wish you all the very best – you will be very lucky. I have loved every minute.

Farewell is never goodbye



Flying the flag (but not for a while!)

The Premises team has a wide and varied work load including the upkeep and maintenance of items people probably don’t even consider.

Last month we called in a specialist contractor to repair our flagpole that tops Masons Tower at our visitor entrance.
As the property sits on one of the highest points in Kent the flagpole takes a battering from the high winds that frequent Knole. These winds not only whip the flag around but also the ropes that raise and lower it. The constant rubbing of the ropes and the metal brackets have worn away at the some of the fabric of the pole. On top of this the constant movement of the pole has taken its toll on the mounting itself.

damage to the base, areas are worn away making the pole weak

damage to the base, areas are worn away making the pole weak

So all in all it was time for a bit of TLC so a specialist was bought in to take the pole away for repair.
You may wonder… how do you get a 20ft pole off a 60ft tower? Take one Landrover, measure and add a long length of rope, stir in a pulley and whisk in some brute force with a big spanner! (Oh and decorate with a good dollop of snow).

The flag pole on it journey down

The flag pole on it journey down

First the flag pole was lowered onto the roof of the tower by pivoting it on its mounting. Once detached it was attached to a pulley that was then attached to a long length of rope secured to a Landrover at the base of the tower. In essence a giant zip line. The guys then carefully lifted the pole over the edge of the battlements at the top of the tower and guided the pole to the ground. We assisted by ensuring the pole didn’t impale the Landrover when it came into land!

there she goes...for a safe landing

there she goes…for a safe landing

The pole was then loaded onto the Landrover for its trip to the workshop. We expect to see it back in about 3 weeks looking spic and span and ready to face the elements again.

How do we get it back into place? – reverse the procedure I guess although we did increase the amount of brute force as sadly we can not reverse the effect of gravity.


Look back and remember 2012

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 internal walkway being constructed in the Spangled bedroom

The internal walkway being constructed in the Spangled bedroom

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.Pumping the water away


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.

A view across the deer park to the house at Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent, after a heavy snowfall

beautiful snowy day


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.


we all screamed as the planes passed overhead (well I did!)

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.

ooh! its lovely on the busses..

oh! its lovely on the busses..

best paw forward...

best paw forward…


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.

Chris add the finishing touches to the new signs

Chris add the finishing touches to the new signs

31.01.11 009

The scaffold structure grows and grows


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.


Nice cuppa?

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.

Crane 5

What a huge day!


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.


bare bones of the roof structure in the dust


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.

guests enjoying Green Court

guests enjoying Green Court

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.

Where do we begin?

Where do we begin?


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.


Scaffold at sunset

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!


1872 workmen make their mark


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.

Say cheese! the team full of food and worn out from rounders

Say cheese! the team full of food and worn out from rounders


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!)

a festive shot of the shop... one area of refurbishment this winter

a festive shot of the shop… one area of refurbishment this winter


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.


Tour de Force

Tour de Force

As the building work is now well under way we thought it would be a nice idea for the site staff and volunteers to get an idea of what is going on under all the scaffolding by offering them the chance of a tour up the enormous structure that now dominates the south-east side of the house.

The house guide volunteers particularly have only seen the impact of the project from the inside with the protection tunnel that runs the length of the East front show rooms. So it was a good opportunity to expand their knowledge and in turn better help them understand and explain to the visitors what is going on outside and above their heads and why we have had to make the necessary changes in the house.

Pauline identifies points of interest to the group

So once the interested volunteers were dressed in the statutory safety gear; steel top capped boots, hi-vis vests and hard hats, Pauline the Premises manager led groups up the four scaffold levels.

She explained at each level the progress already made and some of the interesting things we had found, such as the writing by the previous plasterers in 1891 on the back of the show room paneling,  the level of decay in areas where water had penetrated, samples of the concrete render that had been removed and some of the more modern, attempts at repair.

Timber repairs to the oak frame of the house

Timber repairs to the oak frame of the house

By far the most dramatic level is the roof where all the tiles have now been stripped back and stacked up on the storage area revealing the skeleton of the house.  It is a weird, and for some, emotional experience seeing the house reduced to its bare bones and feels more like standing on a film set than on the roof a 15thcentury house.

The rooftop stripped, and ready for tiles, at the top of the tour

The rooftop stripped, and ready for tiles, at the top of the tour

It gives a real insight into the building techniques of the day good and bad and sometimes makes you wonder how it still survives today.

Those who attended seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the tours which were also offered to visitors throughout September.  As one steward said “I thought you were just doing some re-pointing”!!  If only – it would certainly have been a lot cheaper!


Any excuse to get together…

Say cheese! the team full of food and worn out from rounders

The end of the season is a time of mixed  feelings, we are all tired and relieved that another exciting season full of visitors is coming to a close and excited for the future “closed” season will bring with its myriad of maintenance tasks which must be shoehorned into a very short space of time.

So with the closure of the garden comes the annual end of summer Premises party on the cricket pitch.

Trepidation as the course is set…

With food a plenty and a fantastic team turn out, it wasn’t long before the games began. This year Marisha and Adam hatched a plan for a “Knole –  It’s a knockout style Olympic special”.

Howsat! Sue tags Lisa out during the game of rounders

Oh it did hurt! jumping the hurdles, treading steps at speed, skipping, weaving between poles, sack hopping and balancing – just like a normal working day!!

Marisha and Rebecca take a tumble

All was finished off with a good game of rounders, we had a fantastic time, now a quick rest and recuperation before the next task.

Mark hits a six, while Steven watches on as the ball passes in a blur