Forty years of preservation work at a historic house and regular filming location has been marked by a charitable trust.

The Knebworth House Education and Preservation Trust (KHEPT) charity celebrated its 40th anniversary this month.

Since its creation in May 1984, the charity has worked tirelessly to preserve, restore, interpret and provide access to historic Knebworth House and Gardens.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Restoration work taking place at Knebworth House.Restoration work taking place at Knebworth House. (Image: Knebworth House)

Its nine volunteer trustees are immensely proud of the progress that has been made during that time.

Trustee Edward Lytton Cobbold points to the new exhibition of Knebworth House’s use as a movie and TV location, which list chronologically all the 90 films that have been made at the historic Hertfordshire house since 1956. 

Famous as 'Wayne Manor' in the 1989 Batman movie, in recent years the house and estate has featured in everything from The Crown to Will Ferrell's Eurovision film, and Netflix serial killer thriller YOU to Paddington 2.

“In the early ones Knebworth House tended to play rundown old ruins and forgotten gothic castles," said Edward Lytton Cobbold.

"In the more recent ones the house has been playing home to royalty and oligarchs.

"As custodians of Knebworth House we must be doing something right. Our restoration programme has clearly made progress.”

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Fixing a weather vane at Knebworth House.Fixing a weather vane at Knebworth House. (Image: Knebworth House)

The history of KHEPT

The trust is a non-profit charity whose sole purpose is to preserve and maintain the house for the benefit of the public.

In the mid-20th century Knebworth House was in a poor state of repair after two World Wars, the depression and taxes had taken their toll.

Family chattels were sold to pay for emergency repairs, but this was unsustainable in the long term. The task was simply too large.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: A crack in the wall at Knebworth HouseA crack in the wall at Knebworth House (Image: Knebworth House)

In 1984, David Lytton Cobbold came up with the idea of creating KHEPT. 

With the support of the local authorities, the Lytton Cobbold family was able to raise an endowment that it gifted, along with a long lease of Knebworth House and Gardens, to the charitable trust.

In the years that have followed the charity has made a major contribution to urgent repairs and the general restoration of the estate. It has also made the venue available for use for educational visits.

Despite good progress, in 2012 Knebworth House was designated by English Heritage as a ‘Priority Building at Risk’.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: A 'Beware Falling Masonry' sign at Knebworth House.A 'Beware Falling Masonry' sign at Knebworth House. (Image: Knebworth House)

As repair costs rise and resources continue to diminish, saving Knebworth House is a continual battle against time.

The trust has four phases left of a ten-phase programme of essential repairs to the structure of Knebworth House.

Costs to complete the essential repairs needed are currently estimated at £14million.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Putting the final touches to a restored gryphon at Knebworth House.Putting the final touches to a restored gryphon at Knebworth House. (Image: Knebworth House)

KHEPT needs to secure an endowment beyond this figure to continue the preservation of Knebworth House into the future.

Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Historic Houses Foundation are among the bodies to have awarded generous grants to the trust to assist with the cost of works.

Donations to commemorate this milestone can be made via JustGiving here.  For more, visit

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Gryphons arrive at Knebworth HouseGryphons arrive at Knebworth House (Image: Knebworth House)


KHEPT's 40 years of restoration highlights includes:

1990 - Banqueting Hall

During extensive works going on to combat dry rot within the walls and stabilising the structure of the Banqueting Hall roof, a 17th century wall painting and an 18th century shoe were discovered.


1990 - 2013: Eastern Courtyard and Balustrades

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Before restoration work.Before restoration work. (Image: Knebworth House)

December 2013 saw the end of a multiple-year project to make safe and restore the Eastern Steps, gate pillars, balustrades and beasts at the entrance to the courtyard of the house.

This not only improved access but increased film location work opportunities, raising much-needed restoration revenue.


2015: Central West Elevation

The works involved rebuilding the unstable roof and parapet down to the bottom of the decorative frieze on the central west elevation and refurbishing the two adjacent copper turrets.

The work was carried out using traditional methods and materials, and has reduced water ingress into the building.


2018 - 2020: Watchman’s Tower

The Victorian Watchman’s Tower became accessible to the public for the first time in 2020 after a two-year project to restore the tower.

This included building a new staircase — using Knebworth estate oak and upcycled estate fencing — and initiating new educational programmes in the local area.


2021: North West Corner

Climate change with an extremely hot summer and cold winter caused extensive movement of the North West Tower, creating destabilising cracks through the building, windows and stonework.

Urgent work was required to underpin the north-west corner of the house and undertake associated repairs to windows, masonry and loose stucco enabling continued public access.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Restoration work at Knebworth House.Restoration work at Knebworth House. (Image: Knebworth House)


Educational visits

KHEPT offers 11 different educational visits for schools and home-educated students and four different talks for adult groups.

The educational visits for young people cover areas from the National Curriculum ranging from history to English to science, with a focus on providing hands-on inclusive learning opportunities and using the inside and outside of this fantastic setting to inspire learners.

The archives team host researchers and answer enquiries from all over the world as well as providing talks both on- and off-site for adult groups.

Education is one of the key purposes of the charitable trust and the trustees are keen supporters of the education programme.

The trust is proud to have held the Sandford Award continuously since 2001. The Sandford Award is an independently judged award for quality heritage education. 

Trust chairman Bob Rutter said: “As the Knebworth House Education and Preservation Trust looks to the future, our visitors’ support will help us to continue with our programme of building restoration works, the conservation of objects within the house, the care of the gardens, the provision of our award-winning education programmes, our talks to adult groups and the support the archive provides to researchers.

"The trust has achieved a considerable amount over the last 40 years, but more support is required to continue with this valuable work.

"We thank you for the support you have given by visiting today and hope that you will continue to support the trust into the future.”