An aerial photograph shows the Knebworth House and Garden surrounded by trees with fields in the distance and a setting sunset.
Knebworth House and Garden © Knebworth House Education and Preservation Trust
Knebworth House and Garden © Knebworth House Education and Preservation Trust

Grant Funding for Urgent Repairs to Knebworth House in Hertfordshire

Historic England has awarded a £74,175 grant for emergency repairs and investigative work to Grade II* listed Knebworth House in Hertfordshire.

The grant, given to the Knebworth House Education and Preservation Trust, will fund emergency repairs to the north-west turret of Knebworth House where cracks are affecting the original 19th-century structure and exterior decoration to the 15th-century Tudor building.

A survey of the house will also 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: increased levels and cycles of rainfall combined with periods of higher temperatures.

Extensive repair and renovation

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

Knebworth House Education and Preservation Trust 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 - a brief history

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 (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 repairs preventing the building falling into a state of dilapidation.

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

Knebworth House is an important historic building and a major visitor attraction. 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.

Tony Calladine, Regional Director (East of England) Historic England