Knebworth House: Where Winston Churchill got friend-zoned

I’ve lived in Hertfordshire for most of my life, and it is a damn fine county. Just outside of London and a perfect mixture of town and country.  I mean it’s got to be good, Posh and Becks used to live here? Despite my love for my home county, I had never actually visited the biggest attraction nearby – Knebworth House.

You may have heard of Knebworth House as the venue of various concerts and festivals (the Rolling Stones, Queen, Status Quo, Oasis), but weirdly the most famous one was probably Robbie Williams’ concert in 2003. Aside from music, the house and its grounds have also welcomed film crews for movies such as The Kings Speech, Nanny McPhee and St Trinians.

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The grounds of Knebworth House
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Beautiful plants and wildlife

A ticket to the grounds and the house costs £12.50 for an adult. We started off by walking around the grounds and checking out the maze (many Harry Potter references were made) and the weird carvings that were around every corner. Some were very cool, especially this tribute to the 4 muses stretching from the trunk of a tree.

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The Four Muses

We then found ourselves in the dinosaur trail. I have no idea why this exists, but it aims to educate those passing through about evolution and palaeontology, using a serious of large cartoon-ish dinosaur models. While not to Natural History Museum standards, it’s still quite impressive and does offer facts and other fun stuff (some of which is not guaranteed to be paleontologically accurate).

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Casual dinosaur

After a spot of afternoon tea in the onsite café, we decided to go and have a look around the focal point of the grounds – the house.

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Classic cream tea

You can only have a look around the house as part of a guided tour, which leaves every half an hour. This annoyed us slightly at the time, but in hindsight it made sense – the Lytton family still live in part of the house and I’m sure they don’t want random strangers rifling through their drawers and lying in their beds. The tour also allowed us to learn a hell of a lot about the Lytton family’s history, from their Tudor beginnings to today.

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Entrance

As the house has passed hands so many times through the family tree, each owner has tried to add their own spin on things. The house started as four wings, which were demolished leaving just one. Today, the house encompasses a range of styles from Tudor to Victorian, Italian to Gothic, showing the constant rebirth of the property while still valuing its roots and former owners.

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Knebworth House

However, the most interesting figure in the house’s history seems to be the eccentric Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who is also known for his work as an author. Edward was married to Rosina; a tumultuous relationship which caused such scandal that it landed Rosina in a lunatic asylum for a short spell. Edward was obsessed with Pompeii (writing a bestselling book about it) and was a fan of the occult. He owned accoutrements such as crystal balls and even had an in house medium living with him for some time!

Our guide told us about the family’s connections with the following:

  • Henry VII – the first Lord Lytton was given appointment to the Royal Court after helping Henry VII come to the throne.
  • Elizabeth I – the Queen had been a guest of Knebworth House for 4 days and now has a room dedicated to her, which has been stayed in by Oasis and Colin Firth.
  • Charles Dickens and Lord Byron – friends of Edward Bulwer-Lytton; Edward was said to have influenced the ending of Great Expectations.
  • Bovril – the name of this weird beefy paste is apparently a combination of ‘bovine’ and ‘vril’, a substance named in one of Edward’s novels which is supposed to give you special powers.
  • Winston Churchill – he had apparently been in pursuit of a famous beauty called Pamela, who had then friend-zoned him and married Victor Lytton. Churchill was majorly thirsty though and continued to write letters to Pamela, visit her and send her terrible paintings.

The tour lasted for an hour and I certainly felt that I was leaving with a great overall view of the history of both the house and the family.

We were directed on to a small exhibition about the family’s involvement with the British Raj, as many of the former lords had been Viceroys of India. This contained lots of information and artefacts relating to colonial India but the best thing we saw was this photograph of Victor Bulwer-Lytton hanging with his homies #squadgoals. Although British rule in India was far from hilarious, I love the fact that the three Indian guys are throwing Victor such serious shade.

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British Raj exhibition
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“God we hate Victor”

It’s probably safe to say that tourists from say… America…won’t be rushing over to Knebworth House over Buckingham Palace but, if you’re in the area and want a nice day out, it’s a great place to come alone, with friends or with the family. The property has hosted people from the Virgin Queen to Noel Gallagher and has played a role in important events in English history. Who knows? Without Knebworth House, Great Expectations may have been EVEN MORE depressing.

Thanks for reading,

~ Plane Emoji

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