Experts Fascinated By 400-Year-Old Note Found In Medieval Manor

The world has seen different periods of existence and transformation. Some rare findings have shown that people living in the 21st century have similarities with those that existed centuries ago. The 400-year old shopping list found by archaeologists in Medieval Manor explains some of the similarities we have with the early men. In 2014, the renovation project to preserve Knole (the century’s old estate) led to the discovery of the piece that amazed experts, enthusiasts of antiques, and scholars alike. But what is fascinating about this estate, and what is the note all about?

The Restoration

The five-year restoration project of Knole began in 2014 by the National Trust - the British body in charge of preserving historical sites and national heritage. National Trust embarked on the project to restore the building and preserve the historic items embedded in the estate. Various teams worked on preserving the antique paintings, vases and other artwork found in various rooms of the estate. Almost 20 million pounds were injected into the renovation project; much of the fund which came from the benevolence of Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Knole Manor

Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury purchased the 12th-century estate known as Knole from Lord Saye and Sele. The building was transformed with the influence of Bourchier into an estate - a structure which probably resembles a College like Oxford other than a typical imperial home. Knole is a 1,000 acres country home in Knole Park which, is located in Sevenoaks district of Kentish Countryside. It ranks among the top five of the largest houses in England under any parameter used. Construction of the estate dates back to the mid-15th century but, the first record about this old estate goes as far back as 1290. For a century and a half after the 15th century, Knole passed through the hands of royals, clergymen, and nobles. King Henry VIII was in charge of Manor until he bequeathed it to his successor - Elizabeth I. During the reign of Henry VIII, several portraits were made and kept in the Manor, many of which remained in the estate today.

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The Knole And The Sackville Family

In 1637, Elizabeth I of England gave out Knole on lease to her cousin - the 5th Earl of Dorset, Richard Sackville. The descendants of Sackville have since been in charge of the mansion, which has witnessed the progress of human history. Just as England expanded, successive Sackvilles have added several showrooms to Knole to display their affluence. Also, the small seafaring country has since been transformed by England into a global empire within the hundreds of years that followed.

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Calendar House

So many additions were made to Knole until it developed into a mansion far different from the original historic figure. Currently, the house occupies a four-acre space with lots of showrooms and halls. An English author named Vita Sackville, and other members of the Sackville family who grew up in Knole, claimed that the mansion is a calendar house. They claimed ‘the seven courtyards correspond to the days of the week, the fifty-two staircases to the number of weeks in a year, and, the three hundred and sixty-five rooms agree with the days of the year.'

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Given To A Trust

Following the various additions made to the house by the members of the Sackville family, the claim made by Sackville-West seems false of the calendar house. Although there are indeed seven courts in the house, the number of staircases is fewer than fifty-two while the number of rooms is much higher than 365. In any case, the house is quite a big one, and it ranks as one of the largest in England. The 4th Baron Sackville handed over Knole to the National Trust, the body that worked on the site until some historic figures were uncovered.

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Strawberry Fields Forever

The National Trust started work on the site and slowly began to uncover the artwork and other figures in the building. The building attracted a lot of visitors and admirers who came to see the splendor, and the originality of the historic figure because of its uniqueness. One of the notable admirers is the Beatles; they recorded the ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ video of their hit song at the Knole site. Because of the popularity of the Beatles, many of their fans traveled to the mansion’s ground to see the building and the ground where the clip was filmed.

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Still Housing Sackvilles

Even though the Sackville donated the house to the National Trust, the Sackvilles still live in the Mansion. They occupy a small fraction of the 420 rooms which are connected by the courtyards, hallways, and staircases. The National Trust is only in charge of 52 acres of the 1000+, they require a large labor force and volunteers for the upkeep and preservation of the Manor and mansion. Despite the permission given to the National Trust, the Sackvilles do not permit access to the grounds for visitors or for sporting events whatsoever.

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Items Discovered

The National Trust did not only refurbish the building, but they also discovered some items of historical value as they cleaned the old furniture and paintings. They searched difficult to reach areas in the building; like the attic, floorboards, and in between rafters. As work progressed on the side, some objects and items discovered on the site tell us more about the people who lived in the estate. The letters found showed the diligence and commitment of the workers, staff, and volunteers who lived long ago.

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Jim Parker

 Jim Parker, a volunteer that has devoted his time and labor to the project found two letters in the mansion. He is part of the 40 volunteers that the National Trust trained in special research techniques for the project. The volunteers have proved productive and invaluable in the conservation of the mansion. Parker has worked as a volunteer in the estate for over six years before making the incredible discovery of the letters.
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Southern Barracks

A substantial part of the 420 rooms at Knole has been explored by the National Trust trained volunteers. Also, the Ballroom, the King’s room, and the Cartoon Gallery have been explored as well. The work of the volunteers in these rooms was under the auspices Museum of London archaeologists, but the search was yet to produce items like the letters of Parker when the rooms were explored. Parker had found the letters in the attic which, is above the Cartoon Gallery - called the South Barracks. The attic was found in a poor condition; it was lucky for the letters to have survived so long there.

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Something Beside Bones

Old animal bones, wiring, and rust nails are some of the items uncovered. Droppings from visitors and people found in the Southern Barracks were items that are generally considered worthless. But for the letters found by Jim Parker, it was such a discovery for him as he once recalled: “I was very excited to see some pieces of paper hidden underneath some rush matting”. 

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A Third Find

Dan Morrison, a building contractor also made an incredible discovery in the same area Parker saw two letters. He found a piece of parchment, which dates as far back as 1622 in a ceiling that was near the Upper King’s room. The letter is likely to have fallen from the attic at some point over the centuries; like those of Parker, the note is made of parchments. It is a type of paper that is made of stretched animal skin.  

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17th Century Notes Found In Kent

The renovation of the old mansion that dates back to the Middle Ages led to some discoveries. Volunteers were able to unearth three letters that are 400 years old in the English countryside estate. The letters provide a rare insight into how the early occupants live and how they behave in society.

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Archaeology Conservation Lab At University College London

Before anything could be made out of the papers, they were sent to the Archaeology Conservation Lab at University College London for treatment.  The 15th-century mansion is a regular field trip site for the school, where students are thought about Knole. The school had enjoyed a working relationship with the Knole, and it has been instrumental in treating some of the unearthed artifacts.

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A Skilled Expert

A conservation expert named Jan Cutajar worked on restoring the letters. The lab teaching assistant of the University College London took pictures of the letters before beginning the careful restoration process. Unfortunately, the result gotten was not at the best condition expected. Any attempt to bend the paper for clarity would result in a disastrous consequence; it was brittle besides the stains, dirt, and dust that covered it.

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Techniques

Being skilled personnel, Jan Cutanjar used brushes, rubber powder along other special cleaners to restore the old parchment letter. After being subjected a humidifier, Jan Cutanjar flattened the paper in a paper press before viewing it with infrared technology. Until these processes were carried out, experts could get a proper look at the letters nor decipher their contents.

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October 1633

One of the letters believed to have been written by a high ranking servant, it reads: "Mr Bilby, I pray p[ro]vide to be sent too morrow in ye Cart some Greenfish , The Lights from my Lady Cranfeild[es] Cham[ber] 2 dozen of Pewter spoon[es]: one greate fireshovell for ye nursery; and ye o[t]hers which were sent to be exchanged for some of a better fashion, a new frying pan together with a note of ye prises of such Commoditie for ye rest.

Octobre 1633

Copthall

Your loving friend

Robert Draper"

The 1633 note was the most readable of the three after treatment.

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Origin of the Note

The shopping list found provides a glimpse into the daily activities and life of people who lived centuries ago. The list contains Greenfish (an unsalted cod), a shovel for shifting coals and a spoon made of Pewter (a metallic substance). One thing noticed in the letter is the archaic spelling and the English used in communication between servants of the estate. From the letter, It was discovered that Robert Draper was a high ranking official of the old estate, although the return address was different from that of Knole; the address carried Copthall.

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How it Got There

The letter was likely sent to Knole from Copthall when trunks of items were transferred from Copthall. Copthall had a good relationship with the Sackvilles. The Cranfield of Copthall married off one of their daughters named Frances to Richard Sackville several years ago. This was after the letter was written; the letter was probably sent with the load which fell and settled in the attic for hundreds of years.

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February 1622

The letter found by Dan Morrison had a bad condition. Sequel to its treatment, all its content could not be deciphered. But thanks to the infrared technology which made some of the contents readable. The readable parts probably says, “The xviijth of February 1622, [Received] by us the poore prisoners in [illegible] the [illegible] [from the] right honourable the Earle of Middlesex our worthy [illegible] [by the hands] of Mr Ayers the some of three Shillings [illegible] for our releefe & succour for which wee give [good] [illegible] for all our good benefactors. Richard Roger [illegible].”

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Significance Of Find

Nathalie Cohen described the discovery as a thing of extremely rare occurrence; the National Trust’s regional archaeologist talked about the insight the letter has uncovered, in terms of management of the household and how items were moved from one location to another. Wirings and nails are some other items find in Knole, they tell of the maintenance and usage of items in the mansion. But for the letters, where are they now?

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On display

For the letters, they will be on display for visitors at the Knole center to see them. Nathalie Cohen opined that “the letters are significant as artifacts but also for the insights they give us into the correspondence of the early seventeenth century, Also speaking was Hannah Kay, the general manager of Knole, he stated that “We regularly make new finds, but such rare items mark a particularly special moment for us – made all the more exceptional by the fact that it was our dedicated volunteer team who came across them.”

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