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Program 105

Knebworth House


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 and restoring.

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 Lutyens—who 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:


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