Which is Witch?

Here at Knole we are blessed with many fantastic volunteers. Our volunteers contribute in all sorts of ways; whether it be Room Guiding, helping the conservation team, admin or mucking in with our Premises team, they’re always here to help.

One of the more little known contributions of volunteers at Knole is in the field of poetry! There is a strong literary tradition at Knole with Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset and man most responsible for Knole as you see it today, being a respected poet in his day. From Thomas in the 17th century right down the generations to the 20th century. Vita Sackville-West was a successful writer and poet and her cousin Eddy a novelist and music critic.

Today some of our volunteers take up the mantle of poet with Clare Fallows, a 42 year veteran of Knole producing several wonderful poems about the place.

Clare has been a stalwart here at Knole and has recently written a fantastic poem about the witch marks we are continuing to uncover here at Knole. She has kindly allowed us to share it with you here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!


Which is Witch?

Now down at old Knole there are witch marks galore

And each day, it seems, we are finding yet more,

But are these strange symbols what they seem to be?

Let’s look into the past and perhaps we shall see.


It’s 1605 and the whole house is humming;

With numerous labourers going and coming

The great Thomas Sackville to please is their task

So they must obey him, whate’re he should ask.


He fervently hopes that King James shall one day

In this beautified dwelling be willing to stay,

But all must be flawless, the peak of perfection,

And naught left to chance for the monarch’s protection.


For at night could come witches with evil intent

With spells and with curses on wickedness bent.

So Sackville’s commanded that marks must be made

Convinced that these signs will such beings dissuade.


His men will comply, for they’re filled with alarm

And dread a dire fate should the king come to harm.

Thus on panels and doorways the witch marks they leave

So the house will be fit a royal guest to receive.


But among them’s a rebel; Luke’s known for his jokes

And he has devised an impertinent hoax.

He scoffs at these witch marks, at sorcery jeers

Deriding his workmates, dismissing their fears.


So when evening comes and the labour must cease

Luke lingers awhile and when all is at peace

He takes up his tools, finds a chisel and blade

And in no time at all, many “witch marks” he’s made!


There are scratches and circles and lines to be seen

But Luke alone knows what those characters mean.

His sweetheart and sisters’ initials are there,

The circles their faces, the grooves for their hair.


His friends see the work and are somewhat impressed.

They’ve seen many witch marks and these are the best.

About their creator there’s much speculation

But Luke remains silent and hides his elation.


He’s proud and he’s gleeful, of that there’s no doubt,

Yet anxious as well, lest his mischief’s found out.

He’s beginning to dread that the men are suspicious

When Sackville arrives at a moment propitious!

And seeing the symbols, he’s happy and thrilled

That his wishes have all been so ably fulfilled.


I am sure that Luke’s work is at Knole to this day

But which marks are witch marks? Can anyone say?

Clare Fallows, May 2016


This is such an inspiring reaction to archaeology and our ongoing conservation project it’s just one of the many reasons we’re so lucky to have our volunteers.

To hear Clare talk about her four decades of service here at Knole click here:



To find our more about witch marks and medieval graffiti have a look at these links below:




Listening to the Furniture

At the beginning of March this year Knole was visited by Nigel Blades, the Preventive Conservation Advisor for the National Trust and a team of researchers from the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow. They were here to install some pioneering technology in the world of heritage sciences. With the help of furniture conservator John Hartley they have attached acoustic emission (AE) monitors to some of the most important objects in the house. The basic principal of these sensors is to listen for otherwise imperceptible noises emanating from objects as they react to the changing environment around them. 

Some of the sensors have been attached simply by wedging plastazote (an inert spongy material) into a convenient crevice, whereas others required gluing by a furniture conservator (although a hairdryer was needed to speed the drying process in the freezing temperatures at Knole!). Using a combination of gluing, wedging, and tying all of the monitors have been successfully attached.  

John Hartley preparing the sensor mount (left) and the finished sensor (right).


Sensor wedged with plastazote into a convenient gap in the 17th century Gole table.


These monitors are designed to pick up the tiniest cracks and pops emitted by the furniture as it reacts to the environment around it. The relative humidity (RH) in the Showrooms of Knole can cause certain materials such as wood and metal to expand and contract as it fluctuates. It is impossible to tell how much the objects themselves are moving with the naked eye and so this AE method has been developed to help us better understand what seasonal variations in RH are doing to our collection. The sounds the equipment are monitoring for are so tiny they couldn’t hope to be heard without these specialist sensors. 


The monitoring equipment in the Spangled  Bedroom


Sensors have been attached to 4 objects in the house; the Gole table and a torchere in the Great Store and the Jensen table and a torchere in the Spangled Bedroom. Selecting these objects allows the researchers to compare the effects on similar objects in varying conditions. The Spangled Bedroom currently has no environmental control at all. This means the the temperature and relative humidity change with the weather conditions outside with no human intervention. The Gole table in the Great Store however is subject to environmental control which keeps the relative humidity below 65% at all times. 


The full setup on the Jensen torchere in the Spangled Bedroom.


The ideal conditions for a mixed material collection in the National Trust is between 40% and 65% although this is not always possible. Part of our long term conservation project at Knole is to try and install environmental control throughout the Showrooms so that the RH can be carefully controlled.  


Every room has an environmental monitoring device like this. The Spangled Bedroom one has been placed behind the table and is recording temperature and RH every 15 minutes.


The AE project will run for a full year from now and it will allow us to understand and better manage the change from an uncontrolled to an RH-controlled collection. The sensors and laptops will be left in their current positions permanently and will be checked remotely from Poland once a week to make sure everything continues to function properly. 


Furniture conservator John Hartley (left) and researcher Marcin Strojecki (right) discuss the placement of an AE monitor on the Gole torchere.


It was fascinating to see researchers and conservators of different disciplines come together at Knole to put this project together. Hopefully it will yield some interesting results!


Thanks go to Nigel Blades and everyone on the AE project team for providing the information and pictures in this weeks blog.


Understanding medieval sites in South-East England- a Great Hall lecture

Thursday, 14 August 2014 7pm – 8:30 pm

Set against the backdrop of the magnificent Great Hall, this lecture given by Professor Matthew H Johnson of Northwestern University will report on archaeological surveys of medieval sites at four local National Trust properties.

Join us to hear the results of archaeological surveys at Bodiam, Scotney, Ightham and Knole. Over the last four years a team of archaeologists from the University of Southampton and Northwestern University have worked in partnership with the National Trust to try to understand more about these sites in terms of the medieval landscapes that surround them. Drawing on years of work, the lecture will challenge the idea that the sites were just military castles or pleasure palaces.
Southampton Survey2

A team of archaeologists from the University of Southampton and Northwestern University carrying geophysics in the park at Knole.

More Information: Knole, 01732 462100, knole@nationaltrust.org.uk

  • Booking Essential 0844 249 1895
    Please note that a book fee will apply to ticket bookings. This is 5% of the purchase price.
  • Suitable for Groups
  • Please come to the front of the house where you will be greeted by a member of our team
  • The Great Hall is wheelchair accessible. Please do get in touch if you have any access requirements we can help with for the evening
  • Our lecture will begin at 7pm. It takes about 10 minutes to get from the main entrance (off Sevenoaks High Street) to the car park and then to the Great Hall.

Progression in to the Print Room


The CMS Team has now been up and running for a year, and have progressed  in to the Print Room, our third room since beginning.  The Print Room is on the second floor of the Outer Wicket / Gatehouse Tower. It was another room that made up Eddy Sackville-West’s apartment. If you have been up to the Print Room you will appreciate the HUGE task we have in cataloguing all the documents, printed and photographic materials.

The task is particularly urgent because of the dilapidated state of the the room, and later this year the room contents will be carefully packed away for building work to commence in 2015.  The room environment at the moment is particularly unstable and incredibly harmful to the hundreds of photos and letters that have been stored here.

The print folios – of which there are many – are thankfully not on the CMS Team remit as they require specialist cataloguing and conservation. These beautifully bound collections of prints are probably the oldest objects in the room, and it is not clear exactly when they were placed here. The rest of the archive dates from around the turn of the last century and contains material from the late 1800’s right up to the 1950’s.

At first glance, this task was daunting, so breaking it down into chunks seemed like a good plan of attack.  An initial check through the boxes of papers revealed hundreds of photographs and documents belonging primarily to Eddy Sackville West and his father Charles (Charlie). Luckily, most are in pretty good condition and will be a valuable resource in the coming redevelopment of this space.

Our first job was to sort through the piles of documents and put them into categories, tagging any that were particularly badly damaged. It can be challenging to do this efficiently – it’s hard not to waste time poring over each photo trying to work out who’s who, or trying to decipher signatures on the letters.

Many of the photos depict Eddy Sackville West and his friends, some dating from his Eton days, and provide a fascinating glimpse into his life and social circle. Others relate to Charles Sackville West’s time as a military attaché in Paris and his life with his second wife, Anne.

Charles Sackville-West

Charles Sackville-West married Anne Meredith Bigelow, an American actress, in 1924 shortly before he retired from the military. For the next five years he served as Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey and many of the letters and photos we found relate to their time there as well as his subsequent retirement to Knole.

Anne Sackville-West, nee Meredith

Anne was an enthusiastic actress and her position as Lady Sackville enabled her to hold many theatrical soirees here. The photographs suggest that she was fond of using Stone Court to stage productions, and that she and Charlie frequently entertained the great and the good at Knole.

Theatricals in Stone Court

Theatricals in Stone Court

There are also several boxes of cartes des visites and cabinet portrait cards dating from the 1800’s. These cartes des visites were the precursor to the printed calling / business card and were usually presented to the host when visitor came to call. The sheer number of these cards indicates that the inhabitants of Knole at this time had an extremely busy social life!

Cabinet card portrait of Her Majesty Queen Alexandra

With the documents categorised, we record and describe each item and bundle them in small groups to be scanned. This is the most effective way of ‘photographing’ documents because it’s very quick and we can attach a scan to each record. If you’ve seen any of us hogging the photocopier – that’s what we were up to!

Next we enter each record onto CMS and assign a number, making sure to attach the scan file number to the CMS record for ID purposes. Lastly we mark the CMS number onto the object with a soft pencil. The whole process is extremely time consuming, but will hopefully enable future researchers to access this amazing resource.

In the meantime, we will keep plugging away at the piles of documents and hope to surface by the summer!

Annie, Conrad, Louise, Tony & Vicky – aka the volunteer CMS Team



Understanding British Portraits

This week Knole had the great pleasure of hosting and being the focus of a Understanding British Portraits (UBP) seminar.  The UBP is an active network with free membership for professionals working with British portraits including curators, museum learning professionals, researchers, academics and conservators.  They aim to enhance the knowledge and understanding of portraits in all media in British collections, for the benefit of future research, exhibitions, interpretation, display and learning programmes.  They organise specialist events programme of seminars and private collection visits.

The seminar on Monday explored aspects of portraiture at Knole from the 16th century to today.  David Taylor, the National Trusts Curator of Pictures and Sculpture, chaired the day and the first paper of the day was delivered by Emma, Knole’s curator, ” ‘A Grand Repository’. An introduction to Knole and its collections”.

Seminar discussion, speakers, left to right:

Seminar discussion, speakers, left to right: Emma Slocombe, Anne French, Jacob Simon, Edward Town, Catherine Daunt and Melanie Caldwell. Chairman David Taylor stands on the right.

Click on the images below to read the paper abstracts:

Seminar paper abstracts

Paper abstracts continued.

Paper abstracts continued.

This blog is going to focus on the paper given by Jacob Simon. Jacob is formerly Chief Curator at the National Portrait Gallery, and now a part-time Research Fellow in a voluntary capacity. He is the author of ‘The Art of Picture Frames: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain’. Jacob has also written ‘A Guide to Picture Frames at Knole’. This guide was first produced on the occasion of a lecture by Jacob Simon at Knole on 12 November 1998. 

This is a comprehensive guide to the picture frames at Knole through the historic show rooms.  The paper includes a very useful section on techniques and materials, that I have repeated here:
“The story of the picture frame in England really begins in the 16th century. The earliest frames were made of oak, which remained popular for frame construction until the mid-17th century when supplanted by pine. These early frames were joined at the corners with a lap joint, with the frame sides overlapping at the corners, but by the early 18th century, the mitre joint had become universal, with the corners cut diagonally and joined by a key on the reverse side of the frame.

In the 16th century frames were usually painted or stained, but from the 17th century onwards many frames were gilt, that is covered in gold leaf, or finished in silver and lacquered for protection and to give the appearance of gold. The gold leaf was attached by an oil-based adhesive (‘oil gilt’) or by one which was water-activated (‘water gilt’). Water gilding was a more time-consuming process and required a special preparation of clay (the ‘bole’) which provided the firm, smooth foundation necessary for the gilding to be burnished, or polished.

Elaborately carved frames were time-consuming to make. It was cheaper to produce ornament by pressing a pliable material, such as papier-mâché or compo, in a mould, and then setting it on a wooden framework. Papier-mâché was first used in this way in the 17th century. It was, however, the introduction of compo, a composition of whiting, glue, resin and linseed oil, which drove out the carved frame. Compo became popular in the 1790s and dominated framemaking in the 19th century. It allowed for larger and more richly ornamented frames but its fragility proved a drawback.”

You can access the rest of Jacob’s paper via this link.

Below are the biographies of the other speakers of the day.  We hope to be blogging about some of the other papers presented too in the near future.
UBP Speaker bio
UBP speaker bio 2

Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena

Analysis brings answers for the Spangled Bed!

Emma and I recently took samples of metal thread and spangles from the Spangled Bed for the purpose of analysis.  Using resources provided by the Institute of Archaeology at University College London. They were to be analysed with optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy.

Emma and Lesley carefully remove some thread and spangle samples from the Spangled Bed.

Emma and Leslie carefully remove some thread and spangle samples from the Spangled Bed.

 Close up of appliqué embroidery on the Spangled bed.

Close up of appliqué embroidery on the Spangled bed.

SEM: Scanning Electron Microscopy is a process by which the elemental composition of materials can be determined by exposing samples of material to an electron beam which reflects off the sample surface at an angle. The angle of reflection is measured by the machine, which uses standard angle measurements of different elements to determine the elements that compose the sample being tested.

Scanning Electron Microscopy

Scanning Electron Microscopy machine.

By using this method it has been possible to determine, once and for all, the composition of the spangles which has long been an unanswered question. We took the opportunity while we had access to the machinery to analysis some of the metal threads from several other important pieces, such as the King’s Bed and one of X-frame chairs of state.

Additionally, photographs using a digital microscope were taken of the threads and spangle samples under high magnification. These show the construction of the threads and the corrosion products which have formed over time.  Images of the spangles can be seen in the photographs below, before and after an experimental cleaning trial.

Spangles under magnification before cleaning. Here, it is possible to see the corrosion on a gold (left) and silver (right) spangle. On the gold spangle, it is possible to see where the threads that attached it to the textile protected the metal beneath from corrosion.

Spangles under magnification before cleaning. Here, it is possible to see the corrosion on a gold (top) and silver (above) spangle. On the gold spangle, it is possible to see where the threads that attached it to the textile protected the metal beneath from corrosion.

Gold spangled after cleaning with acetone.

The silver spangled after cleaning with acetone.

The silver spangled after cleaning with acetone.

The spangles were then mounted for analysis in the SEM.

Hitachi Scanning Electron Microscope with chamber open.

Hitachi Scanning Electron Microscope with chamber open.

Analysis results:

The green box indicates the area scanned.

The resulting spectrum shows that the most significant elements present are gold and silver.

Some metal threads were also taken from the head cloth of the bed for analysis.

Photograph of a metal thread under ~235x magnification.

Photograph of a metal thread under ~235x magnification.

Photograph under ~30x magnification.

Photograph under ~30x magnification.

The green box indicates the area scanned.

An electron image of the same sample of thread.

The sampled thread proved to include gold, silver, copper, and traces of several other elements which make up the corrosion products.

Manufacture and Deterioration of the metal threads:

Metal thread is made by hammering gilt silver very thin and cutting it into fine strips which are wrapped around a textile core. Silver and other metals present in such threads are susceptible to the agents of deterioration.

The chief component of the black tarnish that forms on household silver is silver sulphide, which starts in damp conditions (the rate of the tarnishing reaction accelerates about 70% relative humidity). It is caused by the reaction of silver with sulphur in the air. In the past, there were many sources of sulphur in historic houses, such as tobacco smoke and degrading wool fabrics. Many other gaseous pollutants also affect metal threads.


As metal thread is composed of two very different materials, with different strengths and properties, the cleaning of metal threads is one of the most difficult challenges in textile conservation. Methods which clean the textile elements (water, detergents, and solvents) are too gentle to clean the metal threads and methods for removing tarnish and corrosion products from the metal elements (stronger solvents, abrasive pastes, and acids) are too strong for use on the textiles. Silver sulphide is insoluble in solvents and must be removed with acids.

The results of the analysis have answered some long standing questions and will inform the National Trust textile conservators on exactly what materials they are dealing with for cleaning trials on parts of the bed fabric later this year.

Conservation Intern
MSc Conservation for Archaeology and Museums, UCL

The CMS Team enter ‘Eddy’s’ Room!

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.


Edward Charles Sackville West, 5th Baron Sackville.

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.

Tony, Louise and Clare adding furniture in Eddy’s room to the inventory.

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.

Lucy wraps the offending foam cushion in polythene to make it safe to handle.

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!

Dressed to impress!

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!

Moth larvae living in the folds of a bed spread.

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 team admire and discuss the copy of “The Venus of Urbino” by Titian.

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?

Ed's Room-11

One of Eddy’s pocket diaries.

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?

Ed's room-22_3_4

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.