Protecting the Upper King’s Room

Old watering cans, empty picture frames, an old traveling case filled with empty shoeboxes, easels, mirrors, wall hangings, tables, ceramic bowls, an elaborate punched metal hanging lamp, a collapsible writing desk, a mattress, a tea chest,  stacks of prints in gilded frames, a whatchamacallit, and some thingamajigs. The Upper King’s room at Knole has it all, and all of it covered in layers of dust almost undisturbed for at the last 50 years.

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Situated above the sumptuous King’s Room on the south west side of the house overlooking the garden, the second floor space had fallen into disuse over a century ago and has been used by the Sackville-West family to store items no longer needed or not fit for purpose.

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The Upper King’s Room before being protected for external building work.

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Beginning in August, a team of conservation staff and volunteers began to go through the clutter, dusting off the cobwebs, carefully examining and recording the condition of each object. Tears, mould, dust, chipping gesso and gilding, insect holes, and general wear and tear were all recorded. Recording the condition of objects is an important part of the conservation process. It establishes a baseline for monitoring the object in the future, providing valuable data for the management of change in the collection.

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As the scaffolding for roof repairs went up around us, the Upper Kings’ Room remained pleasant through the Indian summer. It is a bright space, uncharacteristic compared to most of Knole’s stately dark paneled rooms. We slowly worked our way through the prints, newspapers, photographs, tables, chairs, and dishes, wrapping and packing them to keep the dust out when repairs to the roof begin.

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We saw objects that told stories,  that conjured up images of times gone by. My favorites were the many traveling cases that suggest the connection of the family to a wider world: a traveling case with portraits, that would likely be taken along when the family was spending a season away, and a case full of shoe boxes and perfumes, the remnants of a fashionable life. The objects in the Upper King’s room cannot begin to tell the whole story of Knole or the Sackvilles throughout the centuries but in the time I spent there, I began to get a feel for the hundreds of years of history told by the presence of these objects.

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The Upper King’s Room ‘put to bed’ to protect the contents fom external building work.

Leslie (conservation student internship)

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