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Recently a friend of mine broke his collarbone and was out of action for a while. To cheer him up, a few of us went for a visit and as he had just had a positive doctor's appointment they said he was OK to go out and about for a bit but to be careful. We decided to go to Knebworth House which is just a few miles from his home in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.
I only really know of Knebworth as a place where they occasionally have big pop concerts which are a nightmare to get out of, but in fact it is a privately owned home with large grounds and an interesting place to visit for the afternoon. It is situated just off the A1(M) at Stevenage South (Junction 7) and is probably easiest accessed by car. Alternatively you can get a train to Stevenage station and a taxi the rest of the way (3 miles - but the house is quite away back off the road.) Upon arrival we paid at the kiosk by the entrance, the cost of which was £12 for adults to visit the house and gardens (£9 gardens alone). Children 4-16 and OAPs can get in for £11.50, which isn't really much of a concession, but the Family ticket of £42, may be better value. The House and Gardens are open daily from 11am-5pm (last admission 4pm) on weekends and school holidays from mid-March to late September.
Although there had been a property in this place for many centuries, Knebworth didn't really develop until Tudor times, when Sir Robert Lytton was fortunate enough to have picked the winning side at the Battle of Bosworth (1485) and subsequently required a property down south (originally he was from Derbyshire) to be closer to the Court action in London. Although unchanged for many years, come the early nineteenth century, a lot of it was torn down and re-modelled and indeed, this has happened several times since. The gothic style turrets and battlement originate from the 1810 re-modelling. Some subsequent re-modelling was done by Edwin Lutyens who married into the family.
Except at very busy times, when tours of the house are 'free-flow', you can only access the house by guided tour. These last approximately an hour, but our large group of 25 took about an hour and twenty minutes. Our guide had been working here many years and knew the current family (descendents of the original Sir Robert) well. She gave us a lot of information about the family including Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton a former Victorian politician and writer, and his son, the first Earl of Lytton, who was another poetry fan and subsequently Viceroy of India. I have to admit to mudding up my Lyttons for much of the tour. She also liked to name-drop visitors that have stayed here, such as Winston Churchill and Charles Dickens. The tour is quite extensive and you see a number of rooms that contained the armoury, the library, a sitting room and the bedroom of matriarch Elizabeth Bulwer-Lytton. Details relating to different periods of history are also pointed out. For an extra £3 on your gardens admission price, this is well worth doing.
BRITISH RAJ EXHIBITION
Out the back of the main house are two small rooms that feature the Lytton family's involvement in India, where the aforementioned Earl Lytton was viceroy. The rooms explain the history of India during colonial times, as well as containing artefacts and personal items of the family members who lived out there. Admission is included with your house ticket. Allow 15 minutes.
There have been gardens here since the 17th century, but much of the current layout can be credited Edwin Lutyens in the Edwardian period, and he gave different areas of the garden a different 'feel'. We enjoyed our meander through the gardens and were pleased that the rain held off for it. They are done nicely and are well maintained. There are some interesting wood sculptures done on some stumps which are worth looking out for.
There is a small maze here. It would amuse children but isn't really that sophisticated as mazes go. For a start, the bushes are only a waist height, so you can sometimes see if a turn is wrong before you make it. It took us only a few minutes to get into the centre and meet Geoffrey the Gorilla. I am not sure if there is any significance to the presence of a gorilla on the maze, or why he is called Geoffrey!
There are 72 life sized dinosaurs available to spot in the Wilderness part of the gardens. I think we saw about 15-20 of them, but there is a chance we were not that observant or that interested or most likely in need of a cuppa. Youngsters seemed to like it though, so I highly recommend it if you have any with you. Each dinosaur is accompanied by an informative plaque telling you about its life all those millennia ago, great for dinosaur geeks.
This is a little way from the house and I gather there is a courtesy bus running from the house to the play area on Sundays and Bank Holidays or you can drive and park here directly. We didn't visit being a tad older then the target age range but it seemed popular with a wide range of slides and things to climb, plus a bouncy castle.
We had a light lunch in the café. It wasn't cheap: £5.95 for a filled baked potato. I had one with mushroom stroganoff and a friend had one with chilli. He commented that the filling was a bit cold, although the potato was hot and fresh with a lovely crisp skin. Another friend had the soup, which she enjoyed. There were also pre-packed sandwiches (including kiddie lunch pack), crisps and home-made cakes. There is a good sized gift shop offering a wide variety of gifts, not just Knebworth related. Posters of past rock concerts and dvds were also on sale.
There are loos in the café, outside near the car park and in the house. I used the ones in the house, which were also disabled loos and they were well maintained. Not all of the house is suitable for wheelchairs, as there are some big, old staircases involved. One chap on our tour had a mobility scooter which he left in the entrance foyer, and used a stick for the tour. In every room there is a seat if someone needs to sit down. There is a disabled/pushchair friendly route from the café to the house, as well as a scenic one where you take in more gardens. The car park is gravel though.
Obviously Knebworth still has the occasional concert here, but they also play host to a lot more events than I realised. The day after our visit there was a car show, and they also have other themed events and open air theatre, much of it family orientated. The website is the best place to check things out: http://www.knebworthhouse.com/events
We were here about four hours including a light lunch and tour of the house. I think that represents good value for money and we all enjoyed our day out. If you are in the area and love a good historic house then this is a worthwhile place to visit.
Knebworth House is a stately home dating from 1490, close to Stevenage in Hertfordshire. Although the house itself is a very pleasant place to visit, Knebworth is much more than just a stately home. For me, Knebworth means rock concerts, fun with the children and long walks.
My first visit to Knebworth was at my first rock concert, in June 1980, when I danced along in the rain to the sounds of Elkie Brookes, Santana, Mike Oldfield and the Beach Boys. Since that time I have moved closer to Knebworth, and over the years have discovered that the park is an endless source of fun for children of all ages, that the gardens are lovely to walk around on a summers day, that the grounds are surrounded by a network of footpaths and lovely walks, and that there is always a selection of interesting shows and events there, as well as the yearly music festivals.
The grounds of Knebworth comprise 250 acres, which seems enormous - and within this, about a mile from the house and formal gardens, is the children's play area, which we have always called Fort Knebworth. A long time favourite with both my children, we have spent many long days at Fort Knebworth; a huge children's wooden fort, about 15 foot high, built out of logs - wild west style. Inside the fort are ropes and swings, a parapet so that you can run around the top wall of the fort and shoot the Red Indians, and smaller crawling tunnels at the bottom of the wall. My sons used to bring huge gangs of friends with toy rifles with them to re-enact wars (sorry, I know this isn't very pc!).
At the back of the fort are two enormous slides. I mean really, really enormous! Both of them are staffed, and you slide down very fast on a mat with a foot glove attached. One has lot of bumps but is straight, and one has a vertical drop and is a corkscrew. The vertical drop part of the slide has a glass viewing top and the sight of hair standing on end, combined with blood-curdling screams, has always made me too scared to go on this slide!
Just next to the fort is a bouncy castle (free of charge) and a miniature steam train (free of charge). In addition there is an adventure playground, with zip wires, climbing ropes and swings.
I could spend all day at the fort, but I usually persuade the kids to jump on the free vintage bus that takes you to the house and gardens, which include the Dinosaur Garden.
~~The Dinosaur Gardens~~
The Dinosaur Trail is a relatively new and surprisingly tacky addition to Knebworth. Situated in a wild corner of the formal gardens, 72 very large and brightly coloured plastic dinosaurs have been put into mock pens amongst the trees and rhododendron bushes. Although this is not very appealing to adults, all children seem to love it, and rush along the woodland paths, screaming with excitement every time they see a green T-Rex.
~~Knebworth House and Gardens~~
Knebworth is home to the Lytton family, including the Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton - author of the words "the pen is mightier than the sword". Current owners are now the 19th generation of Lyttons, and run it as a business as well as a family home.
Knebworth House is well worth a visit - opulently decorated rooms, suits of armour, paintings - the usual trappings of a stately home, in very beautiful surroundings. A nice touch to modern life is the photos of the rock concerts that have been held there over the past few decades.
The gardens date from the Edwardian era, and are a truly lovely break from the chaos of the play area. They were designed by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, who, as the website claims "simplified the ornate beds and statuary of the Victorian garden with lawns and avenues of pollarded lime trees".
As always, there is something for the children - a maze has been grown in the gardens, which is always huge fun.
Adults will love to stroll around the formal gardens, admiring the fountains and statues, the walled kitchen garden and the magnificent view down to the house.
~~Knebworth on Film~~
Knebworth really is a lovely location, and has been used as such in many films. Perhaps its most famous appearance was as Wayne Manor in the Batman films. It has also been used in other films and TV shows such as The Shooting Party, Wilde, Jane Eyre, The Canterville Ghost and Haunted Honeymoon.
~~Music at Knebworth~~
Many of the greatest rock bands have played at Knebworth over the years, and I am totally gutted that the only time I have ever been there was to see the Beach Boys! I would have given anything to be at the Floyd gig, but .........
The first event was in 1974 - and the event has run nearly every year since then. I am going to write a quick list of the headline bands over the years to give an idea of how great Knebworth has been, although today it is easily overshadowed by Reading and Glastonbury. The event has been truly great... and truly awful over the years - sometimes boasting audiences of 120,000 and the biggest names, and sometimes plumbing the depths of middle aged, middle class boredom.
1974. Allman Brothers, Van Morrison, Doobie Brothers.
1975. Pink Floyd, The Steve Miller Band, Linda Lewis.
1976. Rolling Stones, 10cc, Lynyrd Skynyrd.
1977. Genesis, Jefferson Starship, Torn Petty and The Heartbreakers.
1978. Frank Zappa, The Tubes, Peter Gabriel, Boomtown Rats.
1979. Led Zeppelin, The New Barbarians [featuring Keith Richards & Ronnie Wood]
198. The Beach Boys, Mike Oldfield, Elkie Brooks, Santana, Lindisfarne.
1981 and 1982. Jazz years.
1982 and 1983. Nothing I want to talk about. (Cliff Richard...)
1985. Deep Purple, Scorpions, Meatloaf, UFO.
1986. Queen, Status Quo, Big Country.
1990. Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Phil Collins and Genesis, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Status Quo, Tears for Fears.
1992. Genesis, The Saw Doctors.
1996. Oasis, Prodigy, Manic Street Preachers, Charlatans, Chemical Brothers.
2003. Robbie Williams, Moby, Ash, Kelly Osbourne, The Darkness.
2006. The Who.
2009. Metallica, Linkin Park, Lamb of God, Mastadon.
There are always special events at Knebworth, ranging from literary and artistic events, to car rallies and historical re-enactments. These are all listed on the website: www.knebworthhouse.com
There are many footpaths leading to and through the grounds, across the deer park and around the chapel. It is possible to enter the grounds for free if you start your walk from Knebworth village, and by doing so you can add a variety of unusual things to a ramble, from jousting knights, to archery events, to vintage car rallies. The countryside around the House is lovely and the walks are extensive. There are many books containing circular walks for the area.
The House and Gardens are used for private events all year round, and are only open to the public on weekends and during school holidays, from March to September.
There is a small shop and cafe in the gardens, along coffee and snack huts throughout the grounds.
Adult and children 4-16 - £7.50. Children 1-3 free. Family ticket £26.00
Opening times: 11am-5pm
The garden is very accessible to those with a disability, having wide gravel paths. A wheelchair is available from the House staff.
Unfortunately there is no lift in the house, and those with mobility difficulties could not see the whole range of rooms.
The vintage bus is also not suitable for those with mobility problems, as it has steep, narrow steps - but is it possible to drive around the grounds in your own car.
Knebworth is 29 miles from London on the A1(M) - the nearest station is Stevenage.
Well-known for hosting rock concerts!