Historic house awarded grant for 'emergency repairs'

Knebworth House in Hertfordshire

Historic England has awarded Knebworth House in Hertfordshire grant funding of nearly £75k for emergency repairs. - Credit: Alasdair Massie / Historic England

A popular Hertfordshire visitor attraction has been awarded nearly £75k for emergency repairs.

Historic England has awarded grant funding of £74,175 for urgent restoration and investigative work to Knebworth House.

The grant, given to the Knebworth House Education and Preservation Trust (KHEPT), will fund emergency restoration to the north-west turret of the Grade II* listed stately home where cracks are affecting the original 19th century structure and exterior decoration to the 15th century Tudor building.

North West turret of Knebworth House.

North West turret of Knebworth House. - Credit: Historic England

Historic England classes Knebworth House as of national importance, and the mansion was added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2010.

A survey of the Lytton Cobbold family home – regarded as one of the most extraordinary Gothic Revival buildings in the country – will be carried out to determine the cause of the structural cracks and inform a long-term repair plan.

The cause is thought to be associated with climate change, with increased levels and cycles of rainfall combined with periods of higher temperatures contributing to the damage.

Cracks to the North West Turret of Knebworth House.

Cracks to the North West Turret of Knebworth House. - Credit: Alasdair Massie / Historic England

Tony Calladine, regional director for Historic England in the East of England, said: “Knebworth House is an important historic building and a major visitor attraction.

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"We’re pleased to support the urgent repairs to the north-west turret of the house to ensure that this remarkable property can be enjoyed by visitors in the future.”

This latest funding continues an extensive programme of repair and renovation that started in the mid-20th century, when a leaking roof was found to be causing deterioration of historic room interiors.

Cracks showing in North West Turret of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire.

Cracks showing in North West Turret of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire. - Credit: Alasdair Massie / Historic England

To date, £5million has been invested in these essential ongoing works, of which £1million has been grant funded by Historic England.

Dr Robert Fernley, chairman of Knebworth House Education and Preservation Trust, said: “We are extremely grateful to have received this support from Historic England.

"This grant will allow us to carry out emergency repairs that will enable us to continue visitor access to Knebworth House and retain employment.”

The roof of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire.

The roof of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire. - Credit: Alasdair Massie / Historic England

KHEPT has also received a grant of £180,000 from the Historic Houses Foundation for additional repair works to the north-west turret.

This grant was awarded from the government’s Heritage Stimulus Fund to restart vital construction and maintenance on heritage sites and preserve visitor attractions.

Knebworth House and the estate's grounds can be seen in many film and TV adaptations, including Golden Globe-winning Netflix series The Crown, family film Paddington 2, the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech, and Tim Burton's 1989 Batman movie starring Michael Keaton.

A drone image of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire.

A drone image of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire. - Credit: Knebworth House Education and Preservation Trust

The house was once owned by 19th century novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, famous for the words "it was a dark and stormy night" and "the pen is mightier than the sword".

Knebworth House. Picture: Alan Davies

Knebworth House in Hertfordshire has a rich and colourful history. - Credit: Alan Davies

The history of Knebworth House

Knebworth House has been the home of the Lytton family since the estate was purchased by their ancestors in 1490.

The original brick courtyard house has, over the years, been changed and extended.

In 1811, three-quarters of the house was demolished.

The remaining wing was remodelled and decorated in the restrained Tudor Gothic style that was fashionable at the time.

Around 1843 the new heir, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, commissioned a further remodelling of the house in a more expressive and fantastic Gothic Revival style.

A successful novelist in the Gothic, horror and occult genres, he is famous for the words "it was a dark and stormy night" and "the pen is mightier than the sword".

His writing inspired renovations to the house including the addition of high towers with Gothic figures and heraldic ornamentation.

Throughout the house, the style and taste of former generations can be seen including in 16th century brickwork, 17th and 18th century interiors, and principal rooms decorated by Crace Brothers, who also designed the interiors of the Houses of Parliament.

Following his marriage to Lady Emily Bulwer-Lytton in 1897, renowned English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens brought his own style to Knebworth House, redesigning the interiors and, in the gardens, replacing ornate beds and statues with lawns and lime tree avenues. 

Influential garden designer Gertrude Jekyll designed a herb garden for Knebworth in 1907, which was finally planted in 1982.

Two World Wars and successive deaths in the Lytton family meant the 20th century was a challenging time for Knebworth House, and reduced the ability to keep up with significant dilapidation to the building.  

Things started to turn around in the 1970s when the house, gardens and park became a popular visitor attraction and concert venue.  

The 1980s brought a new lease of life with the creation of the Knebworth House Education and Preservation Trust (KHEPT).

With the support of the local authorities, the Lytton Cobbold family was able to raise an endowment that it gifted, along with a long lease on the house and gardens, to the charity.  

Because of KHEPT and the support it has received, two thirds of the structure of Knebworth House has now been secured and restored, but critical work to the remaining third of the house is ongoing. 

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