Finally arrived in good time, with my glasses and without interruption. So far, so good. Our speaker arrived and I was thrilled to see that he was a total dandy. Blue suede brogues with red laces, bright pink socks and a pale pink pocket ‘kerchief. Brick coloured trousers, a checked shirt and a pin striped blazer, topped off with a spotted tie and horn rimmed glasses. It was a magnificent display of confidence and style. I figured that the following talk was going to be entertaining. And then we were off. Dr Bostwick was not just knowledgeable but also enthusiastic as well as rather eclectic and we rushed through staircases, hallways and chimneys. Front doors and windows stood open before our whirlwind tour of the shift in 16th century architecture. He spoke about Bess Hardwick as though she was an old friend and all the while he delivered his knowing commentary in an accent that brought Alan Bennett to mind. It felt familiar and gossipy and very entertaining indeed; it also turned out to be very educational.
Little Moreton Hall c.156
Longleat House 1580
Little Moreton Hall was built in stages but was finalised to look how we see it today around 1560. Compare that to Longleat Hall which was completed in in 1580, only twenty years apart and yet they look like they come from different centuries. Out with the old and in with the new. Architecturally, this was a time a massive developments.
There was a hell of a lot of stuff discussed but the following caught my attention.
The main door. Rather like a church, you would enter a home at one end and progress to the other. The grander the house, you would climb a staircase to the main floor upstairs. By traversing the hall you had a sense of procession and a chance to view the wealth of the house as you approached your hosts. Over the decades though builders began to employ a symmetrical look to the front of the house but had to contend with the fact that the main door was deeply off kilter. A wide range trompe l’oils were employed to try to balance things up. Francis Bacon believed houses were to be lived in rather than looked on and didn’t consider the issue important.
Bess Hardwick however revolutionised things and turned the main hallway 90 degrees with the door
Floor layout showing the revolutionary new hallway
in the centre of the house and the hallway running through the middle of the house towards a grand staircase at the rear where guests then walked up to the main hall upstairs. This hall was so grand that Hardwick Hall was called more glass than brick. It was also so cold in winter that Bess had five sets of curtains on every window and found the main hall intolerably hot in summer. Thankfully the reception floor was only for entertaining, the family lived on the other floors that were far more hospitable. Unfortunately a more recent resident of Hardwick wasn’t as wise as Bess and tried to live mainly on the grand entertaining floor. Eventually he too fled to the other floors.
So that was symmetry taken care of. Then there was the start of perpendicular architecture. Obviously castles went up but most homes sprawled and grew sideways, tacking bits on here and there. With the inclination for symmetry the houses began to rise. The first obvious rise was the heraldic crests above doorways. First the family crest. Then a local Lord’s or another family crest and finally at the top the royal crest, if you were very grand. After crests we had columns. Corinthian, topped by Ionian, topped by Doric. A reversal in importance over the family crests. Then windows began to conform to the sense of rising grandeur.
I also loved demonstrations of how our language has developed. In the serving hall cups were placed on a side board for servants to fill and distribute. This was the Cup Board. A collection of dinner plates or where everyone dined together was called a mess.
Bread was kept in the Pantry (pain try) Buttery (Bouteille) is where the bottles are kept. A lot of our “Dignified” language comes from the French and our down to earth language is Saxon. For example: animals as livestock is Saxon; pig / sheep / cow. But animals as food is from the French, pork / mutton / beef.
Finally, here is a very evocative piece of writing describing a female scholar and her chamber.
Lady Anne Clifford (1590 – 1676) distinguished herself, according to Edward Rainbowe (a contemporary scholar and preacher), by combining effective household management with effective textual management:
“she would frequently bring out of the rich Store-house of her Memory, things new and old, sentences, or sayings of remark, which she had read or learned out of Authors, and with these her Walls, her Bed, her Hangings, and Furniture must be adorned; causing her Servants to write them in Papers, and her Maids to pin them up…. So that, though she had not many Books in her Chamber, yet it was dressed up with the flowers of a Library”
Sadly there are no pictures of her room but maybe it was a bit like this?
So, a whistle stop tour and the bits and bobs that I got out of it.