Drama unfolds in Knebworth

PUBLISHED: 17:22 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 08:57 21 February 2013

Knebworth House

Knebworth House

The curtains go up as Louise McEvoy discovers the village's dramatic side of life

NESTLED in the English countryside, it's amazing to think Knebworth is only 30 miles from London, just south of Stevenage, and you could be in Paris for lunch.

Majestically gracing the village is Knebworth House. Originally a red-brick Tudor manor house, it was transformed in 1843 into the gothic mansion we see today, with turrets, griffins and gargoyles, and the stately home is well-known for hosting rock concerts, with Robbie Williams just one of the big names to have performed in its grounds.

Why not make the most of the summer and head down there? Take a picnic and find a spot to lay your blanket in the 250 acres of parkland, or meander through the rose gardens and maze, which form part of the 28 acres of formal gardens.

There is plenty to keep children occupied, with an adventure playground, complete with bouncy castle and drop slides, as well as outdoor trails and a miniature railway. The dinosaur trail has 72 life-size fibre-glass dinosaurs grazing in the grounds, which are sure to leave you and your children speechless.

Admission to the house, gardens, park, playground and railway starts from 7.50, and if a public show is taking place, such as the classic car show or Noddy in August, admission to this is included at no extra cost.

Generations of the Lyttons have lived in Knebworth House over the past 500 years and it was home to Victorian novelist, Edward Bulwer Lytton - author of the words 'The pen is mightier than the sword'.

Martha Lytton Cobbold and her husband Henry now live in the house with their teenage children and their Great Dane dog. Martha explains, 'The fact the same family has lived here for over 500 years means that no generation has wanted to change completely what has gone before, and as a result there is a taste of all 19 generations still present in the house today - it is an extraordinary walk through history.'

She adds, 'Historic houses are rare in Hertfordshire and Knebworth House and Hatfield House are the only two listed as four star in Simon Jenkins' England's Thousand Best Houses.

'We have to complete the remaining five out of 10 phases of crucial restoration otherwise the house will not survive. Somehow we have to raise at least 9m and there are no easy answers to that.'

Author Charles Dickens was a frequent visitor to Knebworth House and acted in private theatricals in the 1850s and 1860s. Today in Knebworth there are two amateur theatrical societies whose members walk the boards in the name of entertainment.

The Knebworth Players formed in 1921 and productions have since been put on every year, except during World War II, with this year's Flying Feathers becoming their 200th production.

Member Barbara Holgate explains, 'I have been a member for almost two years and the bit I enjoy most is performing on stage. It's also great for getting to meet new people with whom you share a common interest.'

Members meet twice a week and put on three productions a year at the village hall, and for the last few years have also performed as part of the bi-annual Stevenage Festival at The Gordon Craig Theatre.

Barbara jokes, 'Our biggest challenge is probably that we are reined in by a lack of males! Sometimes we don't have enough men to cast some of the plays we'd really like to tackle.'

Knebworth Amateur Theatrical Society (KATS), formerly St Martin's Players, puts on a spring and autumn production every year and members rehearse twice a week.

Member Jo Simson says, 'Occasionally we enter one act drama festivals and once or twice we have performed in a hospital for multiple sclerosis sufferers in Welwyn.

'I joined KATS when it was known as St Martin's Players to give me some mental stimulation and adult company when my first son was eight months old - he is now 30! Best of all I like rehearsing - it's a lot of fun and there's no pressure. We aim to put on as varied a programme as possible and are always attracted by new challenges.'
Find out more about KATS at www.katsdrama.info or for information about Knebworth Players, visit www.knebworthplayers.com

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