The Ballroom is one of the most striking and unique showrooms at Knole.
The distinctive decoration dates from the time of the 1st Earl of Dorset Thomas Sackville, who upon acquiring the house in 1603, began several years of renovations and remodelling. He wanted to transform the house into a fashionable and imposing country residence which would reflect his position as a leading figure of the Royal court. Contemporary accounts suggest Thomas employed master craftsmen, many of whom had previously worked at Royal palaces.
Between them they created many of the structural features that we still recognise today; the distinctive frieze and panelling, the plaster ceiling depicting the Sackville leopards and the magnificent marble fireplace.
With so much to consider in the Ballroom, it presents us with a number of conservation challenges.
As we have no environmental control in this part of the house, the Ballroom, like the other showrooms, suffers from fluctuating relative humidity. The constant change from dry to damp and back again can cause the panelling to split, develop staining and threatens the intricate carvings around the frieze.
The changing humidity and temperature (along with the plentiful food supply) also help to create the perfect home for pest insects, particularly clothes moth and carpet beetle larvae. These have recently caused damage to the Ballroom’s 17th Century carpet.
In order to reduce this problem, we removed the old, woollen underlay which was providing the pests with plenty of food and replaced it with a synthetic one, which we hope will discourage the pests by reducing their food supply. The carpet was cleaned and the floorboards beneath were treated with insecticide to kill any remaining pests. (More information about how we are tackling this can be found in an earlier blog entry https://knoleconservationteam.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/how-many-people-does-it-take-to-roll-a-carpet/).
The fantastic marble fireplace is made from black, white and grey marble and alabaster. Over time, cracks had developed which required consolidating to prevent further cracking. In 2012 Cliveden Conservation repaired the cracks to ensure the safety of the fireplace.
A leaky water pipe in the attic above the Ballroom caused water damage and staining to the ceiling. When the stain had fully dried, the Conservation Team scaled the scaffolding tower to remove surface mould that had developed with a smoke sponge. This is a fine, specially treated sponge made from vulcanised rubber which is used to clean dirt or soot from surfaces such as paper or plaster without the use of water.
We hope that as the Inspired by Knole project progresses and we are able to gain a tighter control on the environmental conditions, it will help us to prolong the life of this amazing room and the furniture and art work that can be found here.
Lucy, Emily, Melinda and Sarah.