Knole is adorned with leopards almost everywhere you look. Stone leopards sit proud on the gables of the roof, look down on visitors from the screen in the Great Hall and greet you as you climb the Jacobean Great Stairs.
Leopards on the west front
The two leopards that frequently appear at Knole, on either side of the Sackville crest, are known as supporters and only knights and aristocrats were entitled to use them on their personal heraldry. Exactly why the leopard was chosen is not known but like lions, they symbolise rank, status and therefore power. Thomas Sackville became Lord Buckhurst in the 1560s and the use of the leopard probably dates from this time. The use of the leopard may be connected to the Sackville family link with the Boleyns, namely Anne Boleyn, and through her, to Queen Elizabeth. The royal connection was a familial link of which Sackvilles were undoubtedly proud and wanted to advertise as can be seen all over Knole, often accompanied with their coats of arms.
The leopards are made of a variety of materials which all need different types of care. Here are some of them leopards from around the house and courtyards:
Leopards supporting the Sackville family crest at the top of the Great Hall screen. We can only clean these once a year in the winter as it takes a very high scaffold to get to the them. They are dusted with a pony hair brush and lint free dusters.
More leopards at the bottom of the Great Hall screen. These are dusted weekly.
Painted leopards. This and the following leopard are part of the grisaille painted decoration scheme from Thomas Sackville’s remodelling of the Great Stairs (1605-1608). The wall painting is extremely fragile and is best left untouched as areas of the paint scheme are flaking and cracking. If we see any cobwebs on the wall we very carefully tease them off using the tip of a soft pony hair brush.
This leopard (holding the family crest) is a painted version of the wooden newel posts.
Two leopard newel posts on the Great Stairs. They are painted wood, not as fragile as the wall painting but we still use a pony hair brush to dust them. We dust them about once or twice a week.
Glass leopards…in the windows of the Great Stairs. Other than removing cobwebs with the tip of a pony hair brush, when necessary, no other cleaning is carried out to painted glass, except for any remedial works needed which would be done by a glass conservator.
Painted, carved wooden leopards in the Ballroom panelling. Dusted with a hogs hair brush. These are within reaching distance and are cleaned every time the room is deep cleaned during the open season.
Plaster leopards…part of the Reynolds Room ceiling decoration. These are cleaned once a year during the winter clean when the scaffold is up.
There are also leopards in the Retainers Gallery ceiling.
Leopards on the lead drainpipes in Stone Court
Thomas Sackville really was a bit of a show off!
Lucy, Sarah, Melinda and Emily