Having completed the accessioning of objects in the Estate Office, the next room on our hit list was “Eddy’s Room” in the Outer Wicket Tower. Edward Charles Sackville West, 5th Baron Sackville (Eddy for short) was given apartments at Knole in 1925 when he left Oxford University. His suite comprised two rooms in the tower plus a kitchen in what is now the shop.
An aesthete, music critic and writer, he was never as famous as his cousin Vita, but his social circle was full of literary celebs, politicians, movers and shakers and members of the Bloomsbury set; many of whom visited Knole. We entered his flat hoping that it may have retained some Bloomsbury type glamour… sadly not! It does however house a number of his gramophone records along with a fascinating collection of photos of his social circle, and quite a few of his books. At first glance the rooms are a bit uninspiring, so we began by cataloguing the larger pieces of furniture before we delved into the boxes.
This proved to be rather eventful! On moving an armchair to measure it, the seat cushion promptly exhaled a noxious cloud of green powder – probably disintegrating foam. Siobhan (project conservator) was duly called for and the offending piece removed. Next we tackled the bed and all the layers of bedding, pillows and coverlets; most of which had seen better days and had probably been undisturbed since the 1960’s.
This time we were prepared. Clad in Tyvek coveralls that made us look like extras from CSI Miami , we stripped the bed of each layer, measuring and recording as we went. The more we uncovered the less appealing the bedclothes became until we reached the mattress and could see that much of it looked alive!
Once again the cavalry were called. Emily, thrilled, appeared with her moth spray and proceeded to take samples. It turned out that the mattress was a breeding ground for moths. Needless to say, the CMS team were slightly less thrilled!
Our most exciting discovery that day came when Claire recognised the painting above the bed as a copy of “The Venus of Urbino” by Titian. On inspection we found that it was indeed painted on canvas and was dated 1778. It seems that this work was painted by Ozias Humphrey, a noted copyist and painter in his own right who visited Knole in the late 1770’s to receive commissions.
The problem with the Outer Wicket Tower rooms is that nobody is quite sure when the objects were put in the room and by whom. This means that writing a provenance for each item is tricky. Luckily, in the case of the Venus of Urbino (or vomiting Venus as we have affectionately named her – look it up to see why!), Emma remembered that the painting used to be displayed in the house and located the entry in the 1891 house guide. For many of the other objects, we are working on a best guess.
Did Eddy really bring that soap dish back from the South of France as a souvenir? Is the gramophone the one mentioned in his biography?
Many of the photos are dated to the period of Eddy’s occupation of the rooms, but it is always dangerous to make assumptions. For example, on the bookcase there is a framed photograph of a gentleman. The photo is signed “to Eddy from Paul”. Intrigued, Tony did a bit of digging and identified the gentleman in the photo as Paul Latham, a dashing naval officer with whom Eddy had a scandalous and ill-fated affair. It doesn’t seem likely that the photo was left there by Eddy, or that it stayed in pride of place throughout the room’s occupation by land agent Frank Mason after Eddy moved out. But there it is, in his flat, on the bookcase. Did someone move it back there? If so, when?
Discrepancies like this make it impossible to be as accurate as we would like about each object’s history, but with each object we catalogue, we can build a better picture of this part of Knole’s ‘life’. Luckily, researching this kind of thing makes us all tick so we will continue looking in boxes and searching for treasure!
Vicky, Tony, Clare, Louise, Conrad and Annie, aka the CMS Team.