Hugh Sackville-West (1919 -2001)

Lord Sackville's father was Agent and Administrator of Knole, for Knole Estates and the National Trust

Interviewed by Wendy Ferguson in 1988

The current Lord Sackville’s father, Hugh Sackville-West, lived at Knole from 1967.

These excerpts from Knole’s Oral History archive give us a sense of his earliest memories of visiting Knole as a child, and subsequently as a young man and during the Second World War.

Early memories of Knole

Well my first memory of Knole was when I was about seven years old and I was brought over by my aunt to stay the night I think it was. This was in the days when my uncle Lionel lived here. It seemed an enormous house to me, obviously. And when evening came, I was amazed by the excellence of the supper that was brought to me in my bedroom by a uniformed footman.

Well, that was all very nice, but then of course my aunt, and I think she had a lady’s maid with her as well, they all went off along their way to have dinner. And I was left of course alone in my bedroom, which was all rather terrifying, long before the days of any internal telephones of course. And at one stage or other, I heard footsteps in the passage outside, which of course was the night watchman doing his rounds, of course, I didn’t realise that at the time.

Then I came over once or twice in later years to see, it was then my uncle Charlie who had succeeded. And I just remember coming over to lunch, I didn’t stay, and that was all. About the summer of 1927 it must have been.

When my mother died, my father came to live in a flat at Knole – one of the flats that looks out over the Green Court. And my brother and I went on really having as our main base our aunt’s house. But I came over to see him of course and to stay here several times.

Then the War. Well, there again, I came over whenever I could to see my father. I was in the Army. Then the main part of the House was shut down. In fact, the bits where I used to stay were used as offices by the auctioneers, I think it was, and I used to sleep on a camp-bed in my father’s sitting room.

Knole during WWII

Yes, Knole was very lucky A land mine landed somewhere on I believe, Ice House Hill and blew in  the the main doors and took a lot of tiles off the roof and blew in a lot of windows. And on another occasion a stick of firebombs landed I gathered on the house, but none of them went off. So we were very lucky.

Well, it was in a direct line, of course, between London and of course where the bombers started from and it was in an area where bombers used to offload their bombs if for any reason they didn’t get to London and turn back.

The running of Knole from 1967

H.S-W: My active involvement didn’t begin until 1962. I had been out in Africa in the Colonial Service and when I came back from there I came here as Assistant Agent after suitable training elsewhere.

In those days we didn’t have an Administrator at all. Everything was run on a much smaller, more on a shoe-string. I was Assistant Agent and I became Agent in 1967 and I did everything then. I was Administrator, Agent, the lot.

Interviewer: So you were administrating the estate and looking after the kind of business side of the visiting to Knole?

H.S-W: Yes, indeed, yes. A good deal of it was done; we had a housekeeper of course – the great Miss Morley – and she and her friend Mrs. Grieves virtually ran the showrooms and the showing too. They found the guides and saw that everything was going as it should.  And the Foreman’ s wife [Mrs Piercy] used to be in the box at the door and she sold postcards, apart from taking the tickets and then that gradually grew a little bit – and she sold a little bit more – and then at one time there were two people at the front gate, selling a few more odds and ends.

But then in the late seventies, then it was decided that we ought to open a shop. And we also began opening on Sunday afternoons at about that time. And that of course brought in a lot more people and it was then that we got an Administrator to run the showing of the House in all its aspects.

Knole as a family home; loyalty of estate staff

Interviewer: One of the things about Knole is that it’s always been a family house as well as a great show house. I gather that the family has always lived here and is still living here.

H.S-W: Oh yes, yes, yes. It’s always been occupied by the family and of course at the moment there are two large families, or they were large before the children began to scatter. But my brother Lord Sackville of course has five children and I have five children as well and at one stage we were all here together.

Interviewer: I have always felt that it must be a wonderful house for children.

H.S-W: Well yes, it is, it is. There’s a lot to explore.

Interviewer: Yes, and it seems, from talking to people connected with Knole [it was ] always to have been in many ways an extended family, in that there’s a great deal of loyalty to the family from the people who have worked or who are working still in the estate.

H.S-W: Yes, I think that’s perfectly true. All the people who have worked here seemed to have been interested always in what goes on and in the work they have done over the years.

Interviewer: It’s nice – a silly English word, ‘nice’ – to think that that feeling continues even though the community aspect of living at Knole has disintegrated – since the family has not actually employed so many people to be working and in supplying the House … 

H.S-W: Yes, I suppose there are many many fewer people than there were, but then on the other hand, we’ve got a large number of people working here in a quite different way, like the [showroom] stewards and the people in the Needle Room, and all of those people, and I think in a different way they, too, have a feeling about Knole.

This page was added by Veronica Walker-Smith on 16/06/2022.

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