The sprawling, romantic exterior of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire is
breathtaking. But it is also a disguise, for beneath it is a red brick
manor house dating back to Tudor times.
In 1490 Knebworth was bought by the Lytton family. Sir Robert Lytton was
a favorite of Henry Tudor (King Henry VII) and had fought alongside him
against Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The Lytton family
have lived here ever since, and for the past 200 years, each generation
has worked tirelessly on the house, demolishing, adapting, embellishing
As late as 1805, Knebworth remained essentially unaltered. But in 1810
the formidable Elizabeth Bulwer-Lytton, pronouncing the original
structure "old fashioned and too large," decided to demolish three sides
of the house's quadrangle, and covered the red brick with stucco, added
eight towers, battlements, and modified the windows in the Gothic style.
Her son, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a novelist with a keen interest in
the occult, took over the estate in 1843. He imagined the house as a
Gothic palace, and added domes, turrets, gargoyles, and stained glass.
A third story was added to part of the house, as well as a servants'
wing, around 1878 by Robert, the 1st Earl of Lytton, although the latter
was torn down in 1950. Victor, the 2nd Earl of Lytton, and his wife
Pamela, decided to make their own alterations to Knebworth in 1908.
Victor was able to call on his brother-in-law, Edwin Lutyenswho went on
to become one of England's most renowned architects. Together they
further embellished the house's interior and extensively remodeled the
gardens. Lutyens continued to advise the family on changes to the house
for the rest of his life. Today, the occupants of Knebworth have chosen
to concentrate on architectural restoration rather than innovation,
deciding early on to preserve the house's unique Gothic fantasy
character, an arduous and expensive undertaking in its own right.
Not surprisingly, Knebworth House has hosted a number of famous visitors
over its long history, including Charles Dickens and Winston Churchill,
both of whom were a little too early, however, to enjoy Knebworth's
now-famous open-air rock concerts. Nineteen seventy-four saw the first
festival held on the grounds of Knebworth. Billed as "The Bucolic
Frolic," it featured the Allman Brothers Band. Since then, the house has
hosted such big-name acts as the Rolling Stones, Oasis, Pink Floyd, Led
Zeppelin, Queen, Paul McCartney, and Elton John. The whimsical house has
also had its share of silver-screen appearances, serving as a filming
venue for a number of movies. Making good use of its gargoyles, the
whimsical mansion was particularly perfect as Wayne Manor in Tim
Burton's 1989 film Batman.
To learn more about Knebworth House and Hertfordshire, visit: www.knebworthhouse.com.