Knebworth opens the Watchman's Tower

  • 14 Aug 2020
  • Article

This week, Trustees representing Knebworth House Education and Preservation Trust (KHEPT), officially opened the newly restored Watchman’s Tower.

The Watchman’s Tower was built by Robert, first Earl of Lytton and dates back to the 1880s.

It was originally built to provide shelter for a night watchman responsible for the security of the House. The tower was used daily by the night watchman in late Victorian and Edwardian times, and during both World Wars to see the whole area. The tower was in regular use until the 1940s but since then has been disused and rapidly declined. Before renovation of the Watchman’s Tower took place there was no access to the Tower and very little was known by the community or visitors about its history or purpose. The aim of the project was to change this, and make the tower accessible for day visitors and school children during educational programmes, adding an exciting and memorable element to their visit and extending heritage learning.

KHEPT is grateful to have secured grants from Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Historic Houses Foundation to enable the two-year project to restore the exterior and interior of the Victorian Watchman’s Tower. The exterior restoration was completed in February 2019 by Messenger BCR. This phase completed repairs and patch replacement of brickwork and render on the Watchman’s Tower and the adjoining screen walls, and installed new windows and a door in keeping with the historic surroundings, as well as the new roof and roof access for the Watchman’s Tower. Local company Ecovril, based in the Knebworth Estate, were contracted to design, engineer and install the new staircase.

Ecovril Designer, Chau Lee commented:

“We are proud to have been asked to design and install the new watchtower stairs. We used oak and reclaimed Victorian iron railings from the woods inside Knebworth Park and commissioned specialist bespoke ironwork to be fabricated in the village. We are protecting and nurturing one hundred self-sown oak saplings to maturity in the woods which completes a virtuous circle of sustainable local development, providing local employment and a significant conservation gain for Knebworth House whilst leaving an interesting attraction for park visitors to view the park and house at roof level.”

The grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund allowed KHEPT to develop an interactive virtual reality App ‘Knebworth Watch’, which shows the view from the top of The Watchman’s Tower, which is available to download for free on the Apple Store and Play Store. Harmony Studios, who developed the App, generously matched the National Lottery funding for the App development.

On the 28th February 2020, Ecovril finished the installation of the staircase, and for the first time it was possible to access the top of the tower. The building work was signed off on Monday 2nd March, but because of the closure of Knebworth House, Park and Gardens due to the Covid-19 pandemic, visitors have been unable to access the completed tower.

During the project KHEPT has worked with teachers from Roebuck Academy, Broom Barns Primary School and Trotts Hill Primary School and Nursery to create local history lessons for primary school aged children in the area. These are now available on the Knebworth House website. KHEPT is looking forward to welcoming schools and day visitors to visit the tower as soon as this is possible. In the meantime, exciting online storytelling videos for children from Lauren and the Story Box and a video tour of the Watchman’s Tower will be coming out soon.

This week KHEPT were able to formally open the Watchman’s Tower and celebrate the achievement. Chairman Robert Fernley alongside Vice-Chair Bob Rutter and Trustee David Morgan were in attendance to commemorate the occasion.

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