Knole Kent (c) National Trust Antony Crolla

Revealing the hidden history of Knole

MOLA team

Knole is one of England’s greatest historic houses and has been home to archbishops of Canterbury and high-ranking servants of the Crown, yet knowledge of its earliest phases of development was elusive. A new book Knole revealed: archaeology and discovery at a great country house, explores the hidden historical gems that have been uncovered as part of the National Trust’s Inspired by Knole project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.  

MOLA carried out archaeological work at the property from 2012 to 2018 as part of the major conservation project, the biggest in the house’s recent history and a flagship project for the National Trust.

Building recording was undertaken in the East Range and its roofs, the ranges around Water Court and Stone Court, the Old Laundry and Fred West’s Flat. Within these spaces we had a unique opportunity to archaeologically investigate and record never before seen areas of Knole, uncovered under floorboards and behind panelling.

This work involved recording and interpreting earlier fabric and gaining a greater understanding of the phases of historical and architectural development of Knole.

The building recording work has revealed Knole’s beginnings as the mid-15th century manorial complex of one if its earliest owners—Sir James Fiennes, first Lord Saye and Sele. Evidence was traceable in the structure and fabric, with elements of his building surviving around Stone and Pheasant Courts.  The change from the manorial complex into an archiepiscopal palace was a complicated one and later changes completely transformed Knole, so this evidence was deeply hidden.

The project has shed new light on the development of the built structure, and also revealed the personal stories of some of the people who lived and worked at the house. Unique graffiti featured names, dates, information about activities such as snow clearance, installation of services, architectural sketches and pencil portraits, as well as ritual protection marks including ‘witchmarks’ scratched onto timbers, intended to protect the occupants from demons or witches who were thought to come through open doors, windows or fireplaces.

Alongside the programme of building recording, National Trust volunteers retrieved thousands of artefacts; many, such as nails, building materials and tools, wiring and cabling, relate to the servicing and maintenance of Knole. Some of the smallest artefacts were discovered when floorboards were lifted the floor boards to as part of the building survey. Hundreds of gold and silver sequins that had fallen from the 17th century Spangled Bed were painstakingly retrieved from beneath the floorboards of the Spanglebedroom, whilst a short ‘shopping list’ from the South Barracks provided a glimpse of daily life  during the 17th century.

Knole revealed: archaeology and discovery at a great country house, is available to buy at priced £10. For more information about Knole visit

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