Volunteer Experiences

We’ve been very lucky recently to have been joined by a new conservation volunteer at Knole who’s spent a few months with us to lend a helping hand. He has very kindly written a little about his experiences with the team!

Volunteering at Knole

The single greatest and most interesting part of being a Conservation volunteer at Knole has been the immense variety of tasks and small projects that are undertaken by the conservation team.

Involving everything from cleaning 18th century caffoy fabric to waxing the lead fish tank in stone court, it is hard to say that being a Conservation volunteer at Knole entails two even similar days. With the nature of the larger restoration project at Knole, as well as the day to day running of any property of Knole’s size the outlets for conservative work is seemingly endless.

The Monday deep cleans are the best chance to work on the items which are either vast or extremely precious, requiring more time and specialist equipment than many other of the usual but by no means insignificant objects. Utilising specialist material brushes as well as museum vacuums in my opinion the most fascinating part of the deep clean has been the work on the Orangery statues as well as the Roman busts of stone court. Whilst the cleaning of the Great Screen using cloth and ladders is also spectacular, if you think the screen is not amazing enough.


The Great Screen was built c.1605-08 when Thomas Sackville did much to create the Knole you see today. The impressive edifice is bristling with heraldic symbols.

Being involved in the caffoy cleaning project was also highly rewarding. Once again the opportunity to use specialist conservation equipment and follow the stringent methods used to transform the fabric highlighted how precious Knole’s textiles really are. This time it was novel to use smoke sponges and once again low power vacuums to restore the caffoy. I can say that the process of removing a few hundred years’ worth of grime from the fabric was the most rewarding part of all of the mini projects which I have helped with over the last two months.

The caffoy material normally lines the Cartoon Gallery. During July 2016 we gave this piece a thorough clean!

The caffoy material normally lines the Cartoon Gallery. During July 2016 we gave this piece a thorough clean!

Another untold perk of being a volunteer in the conservation team here at Knole is that you truly get to experience the full character of the property, through objects, the different conditions and periods of each parts of the house, some of which is publicly accessible. Being able to see items which the team have restored or conserved is also fulfilling and history creating in itself.

All in all I have thoroughly enjoyed what seems like a very short couple of months at Knole with the conservation team and cannot overstate how fundamental they are to the condition and running of Knole as one of the country’s greatest properties. I would recommend to anyone who has even a slight interest in conservation or history in general to give conservation volunteering at Knole a go.




Cleaning Caffoy!

For the last two weeks the conservation team, along with a group of volunteers, have been busy cleaning a section of the caffoy from the Cartoon Gallery. This was removed by specialist textile conservator Zenzie Tinker, as part of the work to decant the second half of the house last winter.


The caffoy in its original position in the Cartoon Gallery.



Caffoy is a rich, red coloured wool fabric, similar to velvet, with a floral pattern stamped into the pile. It dates from the 18th century and was used for wall hangings and upholstering some of the items of furniture that we have in our collection. This particular piece covered the wall at the east of the Cartoon Gallery.


Decanting the rooms - Knole House 2016

The east wall of the Cartoon Gallery after being cleared of the caffoy.

The back of the caffoy was lined with course linen. Interestingly, in the areas covered by paintings, large rectangular sections were cut out of the caffoy to reveal just the linen. This practice was a way of ensuring that the expensive fabric would not be wasted behind areas that would not normally have been seen. However, it did mean that over time, as and when the picture hang changed, sections of caffoy had to be added to fill in the exposed areas of the linen lining. There are 56 such pieces, some regularly shaped and fixed neatly with stitching, others placed haphazardly, cut in irregular shapes and fixed with tacks. This indicates that there were at least two different picture schemes, as well as the original plan, for that one section of wall.

While these small patches of caffoy have been taken offsite for specialist conservation work, the front and back of the main piece of textile has been carefully cleaned by the team here at Knole.

The caffoy was very dirty with a layer of dust, cobwebs and insect debris on the surface.


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Melinda, a member of the team, cleaning with a low powered vacuum.

Following the advice and training of Zenzie and her team, the textile was divided into workable sized sections, roughly 35cm by 35cm, marked out with pins and white thread. We then worked on each of these sections in turn, making sure that we kept a careful eye on the timing so each area received the same level of cleaning, ensuring we didn’t get any patches that were cleaner or dirtier than the rest of the textile!


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The has been separated into individual squares for precise and even cleaning.

First, each section was vacuumed using a conservation standard vacuum cleaner with a small brush attachment. The suction on the vacuum was set to a specified pressure to avoid causing any damage to the textile fibres.

Next, a smoke sponge, made of vulcanised natural rubber, was used to remove soot damage and general dust.


A clean piece of smoke sponge against a piece already used to clean a section of caffoy.

Finally, the surface was vacuumed to remove any sponge residue.

You can see the results!


A clean piece of linen against a dirty piece.



Next week, the back of the caffoy will be vacuumed to remove any dirt and dust before the whole thing is rolled and put into storage ready to be reinstated, along with the small patches that have been removed, in the Cartoon Gallery next year.


The other sections of caffoy which cover the walls in the rest of the Cartoon Gallery, as well as those in the Reynolds Room, will be worked on, in situ, by the conservation team before the second half of the house is open to the public next year.

Decanting the rooms - Knole House 2016

We’re looking forward to seeing it back home!

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:





Today we’re looking at yet more exciting work in the Spangled Bedroom at Knole. This time it’s all about tapestries! With the bed temporarily living in the Great Hall ready for its own journey away we were able to take down the final two tapestries leaving the walls completely bare. These tapestries went through a careful cleaning and documenting process before being sent off to the De Witt in Belgium. This is a specialist tapestry workshop where the tapestries have been carefully cleaned before being returned to Knole. For a better understanding of how the tapestries were cleaned in Belgium then have a look at our previous blog post ‘How Do You Wash Your Tapestries?’.

The final two tapestries arrived home this morning and have been placed, still rolled and packed, back into the Spangled Bedroom before the next stage of their journey can commence.

Sue and Alice hard at work on one of the tapestries

Sue and Alice hard at work on one of the tapestries

Some of you may remember when we prepared the first tapestries for travel in November 2014. Now that the Spangled Bed has been removed from the room there is plenty of space to work in now. This meant that we were able to set up our tapestry tables right there in the room.

This has a few benefits for us. To start with it means that we don’t have to roll the tapestry, transport it up to the Needlework Room (up some very steep and narrow stairs!) and then unwrap it again. Anyone familiar with the National Trust’s 9 agents of deterioration, to be found in our Manual of Housekeeping will know that the less we move any object the better. Every time an object is handled it increases the risk that it will somehow be damaged.

By taking our tapestries straight down onto the tables to be worked on we reduced the risk and work factor by a lot!

The other big positive about doing this work in the Spangled Bedroom was that we were able to do it in front of our wonderful visitors!

Sarah and Lolly unpicking a

Sarah and Lolly making a temporary repair to the galloon edge.

We all enjoyed talking to our visitors about the work we were doing. It really allowed people the opportunity to see things that are so often hidden away behind closed doors. Here at Knole we are getting more and more excited about doing this kind of work in front of visitors as we really get going on building our brand new conservation studio! When the studio opens it will provide a unique experience for visitors so make sure you come to check it out in a few years.

The rich colours of the back of the tapestries gives a better idea of how bright and vibrant they would have looked when new.

The rich colours of the back of the tapestries gives a better idea of how bright and vibrant they would have looked when new.

We used special 'Musreum Vacuums' to carefully clean the surgace dirt from the front and back of the tapestries.

We used special ‘Musreum Vacuums’ to carefully clean the surgace dirt from the front and back of the tapestries.

Until then there’s plenty of interesting conservation works to be seen at Knole. Now that the Spangled Bedroom is providing more space you may just see more conservation projects appearing in the near future…

Knole Conservation Team


A team of nine volunteers assisted by the Conservation Team spent two weeks at the beginning of November carrying out some essential preliminary conservation work to three of the five 17th century Flemish tapestries from the Spangled Bedroom. Representing stories from Ovid, they came to Knole at the end of the 17th century from Whitehall Palace. Therefore, they are highly significant, but centuries of hanging in the Spangled Bedroom have taken their toll, and these tapestries are now one of our highest priorities for conservation.

The tapestries show signs of substantial wear and tear and light damage. They are extremely brittle to touch and encrusted with dirt. To ensure their survival they require full conservation treatment which will include surface cleaning, washing and re-lining.  To be washed they are being sent off to the De Wit tapestry conservation studio in Belgium.

The work we were to carry out before going to Belgium was to remove the existing linings, vacuum clean the front and back of each tapestry and document the tapestry, including taking thread samples, recording damage and earlier repairs. Thankfully we weren’t going it alone. For the first day we were instructed by Ksynia Marko (NT Textile Conservation Advisor) and Rachel Langley (Senior Conservator) from the NT Textile Conservation Studio.

Ksynia demonstrates how to do a warp and weft count.

Ksynia demonstrates how to do a warp and weft count, this is part of the documentation of the tapestry.

Using a needle you count the amount of warp and weft per centimetre.

Using a needle to count the amount of warp and weft per centimetre.

The tapestries are very vulnerable to further damage and have already torn in many places where the textile fibres have deteriorated. To prevent further tearing during transport and the wet cleaning process Rachel showed the team how to sew in holding stitches.

A polyester cream thread was used for the holding stitches. The stitches are quite big and vary where they are sewn in depending on the path of the damage.

The smallest tapestry laid out before having its lining removed.

The smallest tapestry laid out before having its lining removed.

Sue documents the lining, measuring the components of the tapestry hanging mechanism.

Sue documents the lining, measuring the components of the tapestry hanging mechanism.

Val uses a scaple to cut the through the stitching attaching the lining to the tapestry.

Val uses a scalpel to cut the through the stitching attaching the lining to the tapestry.

Alexandra cuts through the stitching securing the folded galloon edge (the blue border).

The reverse of the tapestry is vacummed once the lining is removed.

The reverse of the tapestry is vacuumed once the lining is removed.

The front of the tapestry is vacummed as we roll it.

The front of the tapestry is vacuumed as we roll it.

The tapestries are stored on a roller. We unroll one end, work on it, and then carefully roll it to another roller.

The tapestries are stored on a roller. We unroll one end a section at a time, work on it, and then carefully roll it to another roller.

The process of wet cleaning the tapestries was patented by the De Wit in 1991. The method involves lying the textile flat on a suction table. The suction applied to the fabric is constant and uninterrupted and keeps the tapestry in this position until cleaning and drying has been completed. A cloud of steam, to which a very small proportion of detergent has been added, is produced above the entire fabric and is sucked through it.

The wet cleaning in action. Image from De Wit website

The wet cleaning in action. Image from De Wit website

Diagram from the De Wit website showing the wet cleaning process.

Diagram from the De Wit website showing the wet cleaning process.

 Thanks to our volunteers, Alexandra, Alice, Andra, Bekki, Jo, Lolly, Sue, Val and Vicky for all your hard work.

Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena.

The treasures of the tea-chests and the tower…

…Knole Unwrapped 2014: Book and Paper Conservation

In 2013 when the hayloft was being cleared of its contents for its transformation into the hayloft learning centre a fantastic discovery was made.  As Project Conservator Siobhan Barratt, Curator Emma Slocombe and Lord Sackville pulled the sheets off piles of furniture and boxes they came across several large tea-chests. And inside…? A huge collection of books, packed haphazardly and now covered in varying degrees of dust, mould and the carcasses of insects.

The hayloft before being cleared.

The hayloft before being cleared.

It turns out they were part of the collection belonging to 5th Lord Sackville Edward (Eddy) Sackville-West and his step-mother Lady Anne Sackville. Combined with the contents of Eddy’s bookshelves from the Gatehouse Tower, working with these books has formed the major part of the Knole Unwrapped volunteer programme for 2014. There are over 1000 books dating mostly from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  The collection gives a fascinating insight into the lives of Knole’s inhabitants. It has been the task of three intakes of volunteers to record, clean, repair and wrap the books, ready for temporary storage.

The books now in the store room.

The books now in the store room.

Eddy’s collection is made up of an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction (Why You Lose at Bridge; Flying Saucers from Outer Space…), with many well, and less well-bound classics. Some of his books contain examples of Eddy’s gothic and cubist bookplates. Anne’s collection shows her love of the theatre through the numerous English and American playtexts, often programme texts bought at the theatre and listing the actors in that show’s run. There are also postcards, calling cards and notes littered through the books as bookmarks, which lead us to speculate about the stories behind the books and their owners.

Eddy's ‘gothic’ bookplate.

Eddy’s ‘gothic’ bookplate.

Step 1: Condition Reports

The first part of our work has been to take down a record of every book, noting its usual features (author, title, publication date), its condition and any interesting features such as inscriptions and inserts. Always in pencil (no pens near the collection).

Sophie records a book’s condition.

Sophie records a book’s condition.

In general, the books are in fair condition with some torn dust-wrappers, a little foxing, perhaps some damage by silverfish or mould. Some are cheap productions, with browning acidic pages and loose bindings, but there are also leather bound collections of classics with stylish marbling on the endpapers. There are literary treasures, including beautiful large format books of art prints, and an edition of Eddy’s contribution to the Hogarth Essays, published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press, The Apology of Arthur Rimbaud, inscribed ‘To Uncle Lionel, with love from the author’.

Our paper records will be transferred later on to a computerised catalogue for the Knole team to use as a reference whilst the books are stored. Every book has been given a shelf mark, which is noted so that those books which came from Eddy’s tower can go back in the position they were found.


Step 2 Cleaning

The books are handled carefully but firmly, with crêpe bandages used to support the boards and keep the pages from being opened at more than a 90-degree angle. We use two separately marked soft-bristled paint brushes to dust the books: one for the outside, one for the inside. A smoke sponge is used to carefully remove any dirty spots; a bone folder to gently lift any folded corners. Any books where the spines are loose or have fallen off (eek!) are secured by a cotton ribbon, tied with a special knot placed so as not to damage the book any further.

Suzi dusting inside a book.

Suzi dusting inside a book.

Step 3: Repair

Many books with damage to the covers can be stabilised using starch paste. This natural paste causes no known lasting damage to the book (unlike the layers of browning sellotape we sometimes find) and can easily be removed later with water. Books with delaminating corners, where the covering material has come apart and the inside layers are showing and separating, or with pealing leather at the edges, have the paste painted onto them with a fine brush. At times it can feel like you are doing more damage by prising the corners further apart to push the paste into the gaps, but it seems you have to be cruel to be kind – this work will help stop further degradation. Greaseproof paper is used in between the covers and pages while the paste dries to ensure these don’t stick together.


Step 4. Wrapping

It’s getting close to Christmas, so it has been useful to get in some wrapping practice these past weeks! Once each book has been recorded, cleaned, repaired and dried, it is wrapped in acid free tissue, secured with a label noting the shelf mark and book title.

Anne and Pip carefully wrap the books.

Anne and Pip carefully wrap the books.

When the books have been stabilised and wrapped, they are placed back on the shelves in the conservation storage area at Knole. The collection will return to the tower when these rooms open to the public for the first time in 2016.

Suzi Williamson, Knole Unwrapped volunteer

ICON visit Knole

ICON (the Institute of Conservation) was created in 2005 by the merging of the following organisations: the Care of Collections Forum, the Institute of Paper Conservation (IPC), the Photographic Materials Conservation Group, the Scottish Society for Conservation and Restoration (SSCR) and the United Kingdom Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (UKIC). Convergence was fostered by the National Council for Conservation-Restoration, which has now been disbanded.


Icon is the UK’s leading voice for the conservation of our precious cultural heritage. They raise awareness of the cultural, social and economic value of caring for our heritage and champion high standards of conservation. They are charity with a subscribing membership. It brings together over three thousand individuals and organisations. Its membership embraces the wider conservation community, incorporating not only professional conservators in all disciplines, but all others who share a commitment to improving understanding of and access to our cultural heritage. You can read more about ICONs aims here.

We were pleased to welcome the ICON team to Knole for the day last week. They were keen to hear more about our Inspired by Knole conservation project and our work involving volunteers, such as the Knole Unwrapped projects. The day began with a short presentation from Siobhan, to set the scene with a brief run through of Knole’s history and an introduction to the project. Then we set off on a marathon tour.

The ICON team and Siobhan in Stone Court

The ICON team and Siobhan in Stone Court.

After taking in the current show rooms, we ventured up in to the attics and some of the new spaces we’ll be opening up to visitors during the Inspired by Knole project. We finished up in our medieval barn that we are converting in to a conservation studio and store.  Work hopefully starts very soon.  We hope to be able conservation training opportunities in the conservation studio once it is up and running in 2016. The ICON website is a great resource for finding out more about conservation training opportunities.
ICON training

It is through ICON that conservators can be assessed in professional practice to gain accredited status as Professional Accreditation of Conservator-Restorers (PACR). As ICONs website explains:
“Accredited status demonstrates that a practitioner is a fully-qualified and capable professional. The PACR accreditation framework applies a common standard across the profession, regardless of the route you have taken to reach a professional level of capability, your specialism, or the context in which you practice. ”

You don’t have to be a remedial conservator working with specific objects or materials, you can qualify as a preventive conservator, which Siobhan has done and I’m hoping to do in 2015. Find out more about the accreditation process here.

Siobhan and I had a great day showing the ICON team around Knole. It provided a great opportunity to share ideas and discuss our project work.