Anyone seeking a stately manor experience within easy reach of London might consider Knole House, in Sevenoaks, Kent. Depending on the train, it’s about 30-40 minutes by train, and my roundtrip fare purchased online was less than 12 pounds. Situated about 1.5 miles from the train station, there are buses from the station. If you go on a weekend in the summer, you can ride the vintage bus that does a simple trip around the town and ends up at Knole. (If you meet Alan or Ian or Ray, please say hi for me!)
An Archbishop’s Palace
Originally built in 1456 for Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, who left it to the Canterbury See, the house was later enlarged and improved with a new courtyard—Green Court—and entrance tower. Henry VIII liked it so much that he apparently thought it much too palatial for an archbishop, and he seized it for himself from Thomas Cranmer in 1538.
In 1566 the house came into the possession of Thomas Sackville, a cousin of Elizabeth I, and it has remained in the Sackville family (Earls and Dukes of Dorset and Barons Sackville) since 1603. Vita Sackville-West, author of Knole and the Sackvilles, a classic in the literature of English country houses, was unable to inherit the house due to the family tradition of primogeniture, and it passed on to her uncle instead.
Currently maintained by The National Trust, the Sackvilles still own (and occupy) more than half of the house and a large share of the gardens.
The collection of 17th century Stuart furnishings is unmatched anywhere, primarily because the 6th Earl, in his position as Lord Chamberlain to William III, was able to snatch for himself pieces discarded from royal redecorating schemes.
Toward the end of the 18th century, the third Duke added to the collection paintings by the old masters from his grand tour of Europe, as well as portraits commissioned from (then contemporary) artists Reynolds and Gainsborough.
Due to the fact that the house was occupied intermittently and the pieces kept under dust sheets for many years, the visitor will find little changed in this house from the time of the third Duke.
A Calendar House
This house may have once been a calendar house, with 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards, but the current number of staircases is much lower.
For more photos, check out my Pinterest board.