Knole’s General Manager, Hannah Kay, recalls the experience of seeing Eddy Sackville-West’s former apartment being transformed as part of the Inspired by Knole Project, right up to the day when the suite of rooms and the rooftop were opened to visitors for the first time. Hannah also looks ahead to having Knole ‘done’ in 2019, as well as the challenges ahead.
General Manager, Knole, from 2015
Interviewed by Veronica Walker-Smith
It was fantastic. It was such a great day because actually from when I was appointed in the summer of 2015 and then started in the autumn, it was first ‘thing’ in its own right that we had done and achieved, and finished and opened.
And for me, the transformation of the Gatehouse Tower was so clear, it was so black-and-white from when I started and went around the Gatehouse Tower with a hard hat and steel toe-capped boots and I hopped between the rafters because there were no floorboards and the ceiling caved in and it was dusty and dirty and damp and I thought ‘Wow! This has got to be done by the summer of 2016, you’d better get going.’ And to see those rooms now, beautifully conserved, meticulously recreated and interpreted with real care and thought, it’s a complete joy.
And I’m really proud of the Gatehouse Tower personally for all of the teams here that were involved. I think it is an excellent piece of interpretation; it’s an excellent piece of historic house conservation and most importantly for me personally, it pushed me forward and gave me encouragement because I could see that this ‘thing’ would be so popular with visitors, this element of Knole – it felt like a little taste of what was to come and so it gave me a real boost.
I’m looking forward to having Knole ‘done’, having our assets in place and going, “Right…”
Interviewer: No more scaffolding!
Yes! What can we do with this amazing house with all of these new facilities, let’s get ourselves out there and be bold and be big. And you know, be proud of ourselves and be proud of Knole and I’m really looking forward to that.
I think there will be challenge. We’ve seen challenges in different ways as we’ve opened the Gatehouse Tower and the Conservation Studio, on a very practical level. To open spaces, more spaces for longer, you need more volunteers. And we have the most amazing band of volunteers here at Knole. I cannot praise them highly enough; not a week goes by when I am not completely bowled over by something that a volunteer has achieved or their attitude; or how they help and support us. But we will need more people in more spaces. We saw that with the Gatehouse Tower when it opened 363 days of the year; and the same with the Studio. And when we open the Showrooms, we will have opening hours which are slightly longer than we do now. And we will have a different rota and schedule for guided tours and that will be hard. It will be hard for the teams of staff who have to ensure that it happens and it will be hard for the volunteers to adapt to that change.
I think what’s important with that challenge is that people understand that it’s not change for the sake of change – that this is the eventual goal, this is what all the work has been for. If we have conserved all our interiors, we have to enable people to see them. And you know at present we have one space that’s open 12 to 4 and another space that’s open 10 till 5. And actually what we need to do is just unlock our doors for consistent opening hours, like other properties do. And there will be challenge around that and there will be really, really hard work. But we’ve done it before and I know that the teams can do it again.