We went on a trip to Knole, mostly chosen as a half-way point to meet step-daughter Anna and her partner Gareth. Despite living quite near Sevenoaks, and passing within a mile of Knole on the million or so journeys we have made up and down the A21, we have never actually been to the house.
The day did not start well – the most horrendous traffic experience on the A21. The M20 and M26 motorways were both closed to allow for removal of a bridge that had been clobbered by a lorry the week before, bringing more traffic onto the A21, and then the A21 was closed by an accident at Hurst Green. We were all funnelled off towards Hawkhurst. Google Maps sent us off onto a little lane – which ended abruptly at a farm gate. Next choice was clearly the first choice for several thousand other vehicles – coming both ways on a narrow single-track lane with huge pot-holes, few passing points, steep drops to ditches on the side, overhanging trees etc. Philosopher was remarkably patient as the driver, but there was a long, long period of effing and blinding while we inched along.
Honestly, the traffic has got so bad. When we came back from Birmingham the other week we had to leave the M25 because it was blocked…. It is totally unpredictable. Hastings has always been a bit cut off, but it is getting ridiculous. Add to the roads the situation with Southern Rail….
Anyway, back to Knole. First thing, it is vast. A huge, totally impractical house with over 300 rooms, set in a 1000 acre deer park. It has been the ancestral home of the Sackvilles since 1600-odd, and they have never really coped with its size hence the second thing, it is falling apart. Very few of the 300 rooms are actually open to the public, and those rooms that are open are in various degrees of disarray – bed curtains being conserved, furniture packed away in cases, scaffolding etc. The National Trust are clearly spending a vast amount of money preserving/maintaining the place. I wonder at some level if it is worthwhile. Knole is interesting, but they might do better letting it fall into disrepair and building a gallery in the park to house all the artefacts and pictures. I know that view will be heresy to many.
|Arms of the Sackvilles|
They have ancient and decrepit furniture going back to Tudor times. Vita Sackville-West said, presumably about the rows of unhappy-looking chairs:
‘They are lovely, silent rows for ever holding out their arms and for ever disappointed’.
|The long gallery, with row of ancient chairs|
Vita was brought up at Knole and was heart-broken about being unable to live there. Battleaxe has trouble with the whole Sackville/Nicolson/Bloomsbury business, and I’ve written about Sissinghurst and Charleston already. Knole was the subject of savage inheritance disputes between different branches of the family, and has been described as a house ‘destined to bring unhappiness’. Certainly, I felt it had an unhappy atmosphere – I felt the same about Charleston, too.
One interesting Sackville is Idina, ‘The Bolter’, member of the notorious Happy Valley set. Try the book by Idina’s great-grand daughter, Frances Osborne (the wife of George Osborne – now that can’t be much fun…..).
As well as the house, we climbed up through the rooms in the Gatehouse, inhabited by the effete Eddy Sackville-West in the early C20. Although he became the fifth Baron Sackville he never wanted the title and never wanted to live in the house. In my view the finest thing we saw at Knole was the Graham Sutherland portrait of Eddy – even that is a sad story. It was commissioned by Jane Phillips, who nursed an unrequited love for Eddy throughout her life, well knowing he was gay.
|Eddy Sackville West by Graham Sutherland|
|Park from the Gatehouse roof|
However, it was nice to see A and G. They are moving from Twickenham to Bristol in the near future. Clearly we are glad for them, but they will be much further away from us…. we can go and stay with them…. we like Bristol.
There was a nice NT cafe, and we had a wander round the deer park. Knole was well known for its huge trees – sadly, many were destroyed in the 1987 storm. However, here is an ancient oak:
The deer were very tame, and despite notices not to feed them, people were doing just that. It is now the start of the rutting season, and as we watched one group of people, a stag with impressive antlers came running towards them. Partly for the grub I guess, but partly to defend his lady-loves, the hinds – or are they does? Partly also because he was feeling feisty. It just needed one accidental prod from his antler in the bum of a visitor and the poor guy would have been venison.
Being Battleaxe, I told the family off for feeding and encouraging the animals. Fortunately they didn’t stab me or shriek abuse and took it in good part.
Changing the subject entirely, yesterday I met with an American Battleaxe reader. Hello Tina if you are reading this! Tina lives in Eugene, Oregon, and is over here staying with her cousin, Rosemary, who also came down to Hastings. It was a long drive for, sadly, quite a short coffee meeting with the Battleaxe, who had a lot happening…. But it was lovely to meet a long-distance reader in person.
Eugene is home to Oregon University, and their football team, known as the Ducks. She bought Battleaxe this little quacking duck as a memento: