Hello and Thank You


Once again the clocks have struck midnight and we’re into a New Year. Personally I’m excited, it feels like the reset button has been hit and I can start afresh with a new batch of goals.  But before I do,  I’d like to say thank you to you for reading my blog, whether this is your first visit or umpteenth.  I really appreciate your support.

I’d also love it if you would continue to join me in going behind-the-scenes at some of Britain’s most beautiful historical houses, discovering extraordinary restoration stories and sharing the stories of some of the county’s most remarkable rooms.

So if that sounds like the sort of post you would like to see in your inbox, please click the follow button at the right hand side of this page and get ready to take a peek inside some beautiful homes.

See you soon





What can you see at Knole’s Great Store?


03/03/2016 – Ciaran McCrickard / National Trust – Staff at Knole put the finishing touches to the Great Store as part of the house’s huge renovation.

Have you heard about the ‘Great Store’ at Knole? The National Trust property based in Sevenoaks? It’s a fantastic temporary exhibition that allows visitors to get close enough to see over 150 pieces of art and furniture in detail. And one of the most amazing things is that the store was never supposed to have existed in the first place.

As far as houses go, very few can compare with the sheer size of Knole. It was built to impress and show off and has been described as looking more like ‘a town rather than an house.’ Since I was a little girl, I’ve known it as the ‘calendar house’ due to its reputed 365 rooms, 52 staircases and 7 courtyards. I’ve recently learnt that this is sadly, just a myth. In the past, Knole has served as an archibishop’s palace and a hunting lodge for King Henry VIII.

With a footprint of over four acres, Knole is the largest private residence in the country and since 1603 it’s been in the custody of the Sackville family. The family has always moved in elevated circles and Knole’s gigantic ‘showrooms’ and galleries have been filled with an amazing array of paintings, furniture and objects, which were once on display in royal palaces, to amaze and amuse the great and the good.

Over time, however, the need for such formal spaces has dwindled, as have the resources to maintain such an extravagant property, and the Sackville family has withdrawn from the large formal ‘showrooms’ and galleries leaving them untouched and preserved in a somewhat Miss Haversham fashion.

Decanting the rooms - Knole House 2016

Image published with the kind permission of The National Trust

Many of these enormous rooms are now managed by the National Trust and the house is in the middle of a five-year, £19.8 million building and conservation project in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund. The current phase involves the opening of a new conservation studio, where Knole’s treasures can receive some tender loving care under the watchful gaze of visitors, and the conservation of the Reynolds Room, Cartoon Gallery, Ballroom and King’s Room.

Centuries of damp and poor heating have severely damaged both the rooms and their objects and, once the showrooms have been returned to their former glory, the newly conserved objects will be returned to their original settings.

Although running alongside one another, the building of the conservation studio and the conservation of the showrooms are separate projects with their own timelines. The original idea was that the conservation studio would house all the objects removed – or decanted to use the correct terminology – from the showrooms. But the building work didn’t quite go according to plan and the opening of the conservation studio was delayed.

All the objects from the showrooms still needed to be safely re-homed, however, and the idea for a Great Store within the Great Hall was conceived.

It took eight members of staff and twenty-seven volunteers 1,124.5 hours to move all the furniture, paintings, textiles and objects to their new temporary home in the Great Store and place them in the carefully lit, non-reflective cabinets and wall racks.


Decanting the rooms - Knole House 2016

Image published with the kind permission of The National Trust

Hannah Pearson, Knole’s Marketing and Communications Officer, says ‘you walk into a room here and they are massive. With enormous ceilings and huge paintings and it’s easy to overlook things. So, although it wasn’t planned, the Great Store has worked nicely because it’s allowed people to see things up close’.

Past visitors will know that, although it has many treasures, Knole is not the brightest of buildings. Some people take the view that it’s dark and gloomy but I prefer to think of it as being part of the house’s slightly mysterious atmosphere. When the current conservation project is over, and the showrooms are fully re-opened, they ‘will be more environmentally friendly for the collections and the lighting will be better for visitors to see’.

Decanting the rooms - Knole House 2016

Image published with the kind permission of The National Trust

Back within the Great Hall, the furniture and objects are being well cared for. Items range from a crimson velvet close stool – that’s a stool containing a chamber pot – that originated from one of the royal palaces and is likely to have been used by King Charles II or King James II to an incredible silver table that was made for Frances Sackville, Countess of Dorset. Each corner of the table displays her initials and this type of ornate silver furniture was made fashionable in Versailles by King Louis XIV. That is, until the money was needed for military campaigns and every piece in France was melted down. In England, only three sets now survive, two at Windsor Castle and this one at Knole.

Numerous ornate silver and gold objects can be seen shimmering under the spotlights so when I asked Hannah what her two favourite objects would be her answers were a little surprising –

John Miller July 2012 - copyright The National Trust

Image published with the kind permission of The National Trust


Russia Leather Coffer circa 1668

Her first item was a Russia Leather Coffer or chest made in the 17th century. Hannah says ‘I love this chest. It was in the Cartoon Gallery before and you couldn’t see it up close. When you see things in the rooms, your mind is trying to take in everything but when you are close to the objects, they are all you focus on. I love all the detail, even on the lock itself – all the etchings and designs.’

Russia leather is cattle hide that’s been processed using birch oil to make it hardwearing and water resistant. This one was probably made by Richard Pigg, coffer maker to Charles II and Hannah explains that ‘coffers were usually used for storage as the richer families moved between houses quite a lot. This one is quite a grand one, so it’s ornamental as well as practical.’

Decanting the rooms - Knole House 2016

Image published with the kind permission of The National Trust

Ebony Cabinet made in Paris circa 1650

Moving onto her second object, Hannah is quick to point out this ebony cabinet. A photograph shows that it usually has legs attached but they have been removed for ease of storage. Hannah’s says ‘It’s usually displayed in the King’s Room which is very gold so you walk in and your eye is immediately drawn to the bed’.

This cabinet is also usually closed ‘so you don’t get to see all this beautiful detail which is just really lovely. When they opened it up I was like “Oh, that’s amazing!” It’s got all these little cabinets and storage bits and there are hidden sections behind the mirrors that you have to tuck your hands around to get to.

It’s in this cabinet that they found a note from Vita Sackville-West. Vita was about six when she wrote it and it reads ‘Dada, Mama and Vita looked at this secret drawer on 29th April 1898. It’s still in there, tucked back in the secret drawer.’

Once Hannah has finished telling me about her two favourite pieces I ask her why she chose them, she says ‘I really like that chest and maybe I go for the less blingy sort of objects. We don’t always tell the people stories at Knole, its usually about the collection or showrooms, so it’s amazing when you make a connection between an object and a person who lived here.’


Decanting the rooms - Knole House 2016

Image published with the kind permission of The National Trust

Moving past the lower level of furniture, towards the rear of the Great Hall, you come across a large rack of paintings. Their sheer size is staggering and somewhat intimidating, but being able to peer closely at the textures and detail is amazing. As is the fact that, once you have taken the stairs to the upper level of the store, you can see the plasterwork ceiling at close quarters and admire the detailed carvings adorning the Minstrel’s Gallery.

What strikes me most though is that, if all had gone to plan, then this remarkable experience would never have been available and that, in my opinion, would have been a great shame.

When the conservation studio opens later this year, the furniture and objects within the store will start to be moved over. As an item is removed, another will take its place until on 30 October 2016 the house will close for the winter and the Great Store’s 375 metres of scaffolding will be dismantled.


03/03/2016 – Ciaran McCrickard / National Trust – Staff at Knole put the finishing touches to the Great Store as part of the house’s huge renovation.

The Great Hall will then start yet another phase of its life as it takes its turn to be conserved. Until then, Hannah says that it will be ‘such a busy time. The Gatehouse Tower has just opened. It’s part of the conservation project but, as its where Edward (Eddy) Sackville-West lived, it’s the first domestic space to be opened and has a very different feel to showrooms in the main house.’

‘Then there’s the conservation going on in the showrooms, the conservation studio being built and the opening of the Hayloft Learning Centre and the Brewhouse Café. It’s so exciting and busy, people always seem to be moving some incredible object or finding something new’.

It’s also a very exciting time for visitors as a series of behind-the-scene tours and up-close sessions with expert curators and conservators, have been arranged to give an insight into the objects on display and reveal more about the ongoing conservation work. You can find out more by visiting Knole’s events page.

With the opening of several new spaces, this conservation project has also given rise to a range of new opportunities to volunteer at Knole. So, whatever your skills or the amount of time you have available, if you fancy stepping behind-the-scenes to help put the sparkle back in Knole and help visitors find its best bits, take a look at Knole’s volunteering page or pop along to one of its special volunteer coffee mornings.

Full visitor information, including opening times and charges, can also be found at www.nationalrust.org.uk/knole

Knole, Knole Park, Sevenoaks TN15 0RP Tel: Phone: 01732 462100


2016 – Ciaran McCrickard / National Trust – Staff at Knole put the finishing touches to the Great Store as part of the house’s huge renovation.

How to be inspired by Kent Homes

Kent Homes & Interiors Spring 2016 Cover

Peering in estate agents windows, looking through the property pages and drawling over gorgeous houses on the net can become addictive.  We’re all looking for something, our dream home perhaps or inspiration for what we can do with our own home.  The styles and materials that build those properties can vary vastly from one end of the country to another, so when you spot another house that looks similar to your own, it adds that extra spark of interest. Which is why you may like to know that a new magazine titled Kent Homes & Interiors has just hit the magazine stands (with ahem…three of my articles in it.)  At the head of the production team sits Lee Grover, its co-owner, and Lee has kindly agreed to tell us all about it.

Hello Lee, thanks so much for taking the time to chat to me. How does it feel to finally hold a copy of the Spring 2016 Kent Homes & Interiors magazine in your hands?

I feel it’s my baby so of course I’m very proud but I don’t intend to rest. My plan is now to improve the magazine by increasing the number of pages and the number of issues being released in the future.  For 2016, we’re producing four seasonal issues and, being Kent’s only dedicated Homes & Interiors magazine, I hope our readers enjoy it and gain inspiration for their own homes.

You’ve wanted to publish this magazine for a long time – can you remember what inspired you in the first place?

I’ve been in the publishing industry for a long time and I’ve always loved working on home interest magazines.  Over the years, I’ve heard from lots of readers who were fed up with seeing adverts for shops and products they could never go and see before buying, because they were at the other end of the country. So I wanted to publish a regional magazine to highlight everything that Kent has to offer.

G. Dalby Stairway Image taken by Amanda Bryant

Take a tour through the Dalby’s ‘Modern Classic’ in the Spring issue of Kent Homes & Interiors magazine. Image taken by Amanda Bryant

Kent Homes & Interiors will be highlighting homes of all ages, styles and decorating tastes – what would be your ‘perfect home’ and how would it be decorated?

I already live in my perfect home.  It’s a Georgian house split up into apartments and I’m very much into furnishings that complement the period features in the property.  My personal taste is to decorate with egg shell paint colours on the walls and bold colour on the chairs and picture frames. I’m also always keen to find something wooden to put on my shelves. 

One of your aims it to highlight Kent’s abundance of independent shops, talented tradesmen, and women, and crafts people. In your home, what’s your favourite item that’s been ‘made in Kent’?

Well, I bought a side table from The Painted Pearl in Whitstable, it’s been upcycled with Authentico Vintage Chalk Paint and new drawer handles and I love it.  I’m now looking for glass vases to put on the top. 

A. Campbell Front Room Image taken by Rachael Hale

Garden blogger Alexandra Campbell reveals her secrets for creating ‘Eclectic Elegance’ in the Spring Issue of Kent Homes & Interiors Image taken by Rachael Hale

Three very special homes are highlighted in each quarterly issue, what else can readers expect to see?

One of the special things about the magazine is that we insist that over 60% of it is editorial and in the Spring Issue we have a very special guest writer in the form of interior guru, Kelly Hoppen.  We also have many other features covering Kitchens, Bathrooms, Extensions & Renovations, Flooring, Home Automation, Gardens, Shutters and Blinds and a lot more besides.

Is there a chance for readers to become involved in the magazine?

Yes, of course! It’s their magazine so if our readers want us to cover something in the magazine they just need to email me at lee.grover@cimltd.co.uk.  We are also seeking houses to feature in future issues so if you have a beautiful home and would be happy for us to come and talk to you, and takes some photos, then again, email me with half a dozen photos.  (For more information about what is involved click here or the tab at the top of this page that reads Your Home In The Press)

derek_seaward_dining_room_2_final.-p1aehdci3i11o31bjd1tchndpq7b (1) (1)

Discover how artist and author Janet Seaward showcases here artwork in ‘Picture Perfect’. All images for this feature were taken by Derek Seaward.

I know that choosing a magazines’ front cover can be tricky – what made you choose the Spring cover and why did you like it?

Having looked at many images we found this one from Wesley Barrell in Tunbridge Wells. It’s light and fresh with a hidden, budding flower to the right of the image which I think gives it that spring feel. 

Now that readers know what the magazine looks like, where can they find it?

It will be on sale in Supermarkets such as Asda, Co-Op, Tesco, Waitrose as well as premier newsagents such as One Stop, Martins and McColl’s.  We also have a facebook page and a twitter account and would love to know what readers think of the new magazine and what they would like to see in the future. (You can also buy a copy through


Kent Homes & Interiors Spring 2016 Cover

And finally, when you’re not working, do you have a favourite historical house that you like to visit and, if so, why?

I have an annual ticket for Leeds Castle, which I regularly visit.  I’m one for dragging family and friends on walks around the castle and pointing out the changes of the seasons in the trees and woods surrounding it.  I even play golf at the club there so I can spend more time taking in the views and I always go to their open air classical concert and firework nights.

Many thanks for taking the time to chat to me, Lee. I wish you every success with the magazine.

Leeds Castle Kent  Photo by DAVID ILIFF.jpg

Leeds Castle, Kent Photo by David Iliff.  License: CC-BY-SA 3.0


Expert Interview: Jonathan Riley shares his passion for Indian Antiques, Food and Artwork

Jonathan Riley of Grand Auctions

Jonathan Riley of Grand Auctions  – Image Rachael Hale

As a journalist, I’ve had to become very aware of people’s facial expressions and how they react to questions so I love watching the faces of the Antique Roadshow experts when they’re first presented with ‘Great Aunt Maud’s treasured teapot’ or some flea bitten teddy found in an attic. Their range and depth of knowledge is staggering but, as they listen intently to each owner’s story, I can’t help wondering whether they’re actually thinking, ‘Wow what a gem!’ or ‘Crikey what can I tell them about that?’  So when I was offerred the opportunity to talk to Jonathan Riley, a painting and sculpture specialist based at Grand Auctions, by Jeff Sims at Edwards Harvey Limited, I jumped at the chance.

Jonathan was holding a valuation day at the Indian Restaurant ‘Flavours by Kumar’ in Ramsgate when I managed to catch a few moments with him and watch his partner Robin Newcombe in action.  No two valuation days are ever the same and Jonathan says ‘you never know what will come through the door’ although, usually, ‘70% will be rubbish and 30% will be interesting’.  Every item and owner is treated with the same respect, however, and Jonathan says that ‘art has become very much part of my life’.

It hasn’t always been that way and he reveals that his personal ‘damascene moment’ occurred while visiting the Uffizi gallery in Florence on his way back from a cricket tour he took while at university.  He says, ‘I had never been in an art gallery before because all the art I had ever seen was utterly boring, dull religious pictures. Anyway, I decided I had better go and what did I see? Dull, boring, religious pictures but then I turned a corner and there was the Birth of Venus by Botticelli and I was absolutely transfixed.  I had never seen anything like it and the colours… it had been done in 1480’s and it looked like it had been done yesterday.  It was so bright and colourful and that was me, totally hooked.’


Birth of Venus by Botticelli – Image sourced via wikipedia


From that moment on Jonathan became passionate about paintings and although his ‘original interest was Modern British’ he’s also ‘had to learn German, French, Chinese and God knows what – you have to widen out as you see things from all over the world all the time.’  Jonathan is now the leading authority for certain English artists but he has strong interest in Indian art, and food, due to spending the first eight years of his life in Gwalior. He says he was so immersed in the Hindu culture that Hindi was his first language and it was only when his parents were travelling back to the UK that he realised he was different. He says, ‘we went to the swimming pool and apparently I rushed back to my mother howling ‘Mummy, Mummy, they’re all white!’

13th Century Sandstone Temple Statue of Shiva

13th Century Sandstone, Temple Statue of Shiva – Image Rachael Hale

Jonathan’s deep-seated love of the country has remained with him so, when asked him what his favourite antique object was, it was no surprise to learn that it too was Indian.  With a rustle of paper and bubble wrap Jonathan revealed a small, smooth sandstone sculpture about 30cm high. Its delicate, slightly feminine, facial features are compellingly tactile and Jonathan explained that it’s the image of Shiva, one of the top three Gods within the Hindu Pantheon.  The other two, Brahma and Vishnu are credited with creating and preserving the universe but Jonathan says that Shiva is said to have ‘destroyed the universe in order to recreate it.’  The God ‘represents all the contradictions of man – of good and evil, kindness and unkindness and ignorance and knowledge etc.’ and by destroying the world he hoped to ‘bring back kindness and peace but, as a God, he is also known to lose his temper very easily.’  Dating from the 13th Century, Jonathan’s sandstone temple statue was bought at auction some 15 years ago and now stands in his sunroom as ‘there’s no chance it’s going to fade.’ As a child Jonathan says he ‘spent hours and hours talking about the gods’ and, as he holds it close while I take a photograph, he adds ,‘It’s not worth very much but to me it’s worth a great deal.’

Khajuraho by Charles Newington

Khajuraho by Charles Newington

With his ingrained love of Indian art and the admission that, to him, ‘Indian food is a drug’ which he has to have every week , Jonathan reveals that he’s recently been working hard to bring his two passions together through a special art exhibition called the ‘Best of the Best: Homage to Indian’. With the aim of ‘celebrating and rewarding excellence’ Jonathan says this event will ‘bring together what I regard as the best two local people in their fields.  It’s especially hard for people in the art world to get recognition for what they really are’ and Charles Newington, ‘is the best local artist by a street’.  He ‘is a painter of exceptional ability and originality’ and ‘a fabulous painter of Indian art’.  The exhibition will showcase some of Charles’ work which, in Jonathan’s opinion ‘captures what I would call the sensuality of India’ his work is ‘tactile, with very gentle curved lines and I think that’s the great joy of Indian work. To me all art has to have an element of poetry, if it doesn’t its boring.’


Anil Kumar, Tiffin Cup holder and owner of Flavours by Kumar in Ramsgate

Anil Kumar, winner of the Tiffin Cup and owner of Flavours by Kumar Image Rachael Hale

Hosted at Flavours by Kumar in Ramsgate, which was recently lauded the ‘best South Asian Restaurant in the UK’, the event, which begins on Sunday 6 March 2016, will also provide visitors with an opportunity to  taste ‘exceptionally good and exceptionally reasonably priced’ Indian food made by restaurant owner Anil Kumar. Jonathan has been enjoying Anil’s food for several years now and is thrilled that this ‘humble, decent man’ recently gained the recognition he deserves by winning the prestigious Tiffin Cup. Beating off competition from 121 other chefs, Anil was presented the award at the House of Commons where judges included celebrity chef Ainsley Harriet and EastEnders star Nina Wadia.  Anil says he’s, ‘excited and happy to see the exhibition happening in my place and that people are learning about the culture and seeing what the paintings are.  At the same time, I’m happy that people are also seeing my restaurant and trying my dishes.’

Following a private viewing on Sunday 6 March, ‘Best of the Best: Homage to India’ will continue until 16 March 2016 and be open from noon to 3pm every day.  All ages are welcome to dine at the restaurant, although the paintings on display during this period are of a very sensual nature, and guests wishing to taste Anil’s food are encouraged to book a table by calling 01843 852631.

The entire event is sponsored by Grand Auctions and Flavours by Kumar is based at 2 Effingham Street, Ramsgate, Kent CT11 9AT. Further information about both businesses can be found at www.grandauctions.co.uk and www.flavourbykumar.co.uk

Charles Anil and Jonathan

Artist Charles Newington with Anil Kumar and Jonathan Riley



Be inspired by History, and the History Magpie, at the Rochester Litfest on October 10 2015

Poster for Rochester Litfest 2015

Poster for Rochester Litfest 2015

On Saturday 10 October, the third Rochester Literary festival – ‘Live’n’Local’ – will be kicking off a fantastic line up of literary events inspired by local people and places.

The Saturday programme is full of workshops and talks perfect for history fans and I’m absolutely thrilled to be running a creative writing workshop in the Guildhall Museum in Rochester between 10am and 12 noon.  I’ve been busy taking photos and arranging to borrow a few of the more tactile pieces from the museum’s collection for you to get your hands on and I hope the morning will inspire you to use objects as prompts for your own writing. The session is suitable for both fiction and non-fiction writers and I would love to see you there. (Cue sales pitch – tickets are £5 each and you can find further info here :))

What’s even more exciting is that the museum will also be hosting talks by these amazing speakers that afternoon:

Toni Mount Rochester Litfest

Toni Mount: 12 noon – 1pm

Prolific medieval specialist Toni will be unravelling the mysteries of ancient medicine and revealing a time when butchers knew more about anatomy than university trained physicians.

Truda Thurai Rochester Litfest

Truda Thurai: 2pm-3pm

Referencing short stories inspired by Rochester Cathedral and her own methods of research, Truda will share some of her secrets to writing historical fiction.

Sir Robert Worcester Rochester Litfest

Sir Robert Worcester: 4pm-5pm

Sir Robert’s talk inspired the festival’s history themed day. The Magna Carta is widely regarded as a potent symbol of the freedom of the individual and 2015 is the 800th anniversary of its sealing at Runnymede. Sir Robert, the Chairman of the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, is a powerful and evocative speaker and during his talk he will be discussing its legacy.

Rochester Litfest is ‘run by writers for readers’ and materialises each year through the efforts of an incredible group of volunteers led by local writer Jaye Nolan. Jaye is one of life’s little whirlwinds, who filled with passion and commitment, has a knack for making things happen. This year’s ‘Live’n’Local’ festival is going to be amazing and I’ve only highlighted a few of its wide-ranging and diverse events.  The full programme can be found here and it would be wonderful if you could join us.

Looking forward to seeing you there.