C. J Charles.

Old English interiors online

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iHE true artistic value of English design
in furniture and interior decoration is
freely acknowledged, and any work
dealing with the subject has been widely
welcomed. Catholicity is characteristic
of every lover of art, and so far as any effort of mine
and the publication of this work may assist in an even
keener appreciation of English design, one may rest
assured that the question of nationality will not
lessen the welcome extended to such efforts by
every art-lover all the world over.

The history of the interior decoration may be
said to be that of domestic architecture. In a large
measure it reflects the manners and dress of the
people. Its development is continuous from the time
when, in the lonely Keep and the desolate Castle,
a few trophies of the chase and the men's weapons,
or the women's needlework, hung on the rough
walls, to the time when, with the aid of carved oak,
stained glass, panelled walls, beautiful tapestries and
splendid pictures the lordly manor houses and princely
mansions reached the height of magnificence and
comfort of which the many remaining examples in
all parts of the country serve to remind us, and of
which we have cause to feel justly proud.

Noteworthy examples, such as Haddon and
Hardwick Halls, Sutton Place, Longleat, Hatfield and
Burghley Houses, Ightham Moat and Warwick Castle
have been carefully preserved and maintained — as we
hope they will be for a long time to come — by their
owners and their sucessors, but, for one reason or
another, many others have been removed or destroyed.
When I became interested in decorative art many
years ago, I was impressed by the almost criminal
ignorance which resulted in the ruthless sacrifice of
work of this description. The housebreaker, for
instance, was gifted with so little knowledge, that
much valuable material and many models worthy of
being placed in our national museums were thrown
away or broken up ^ things beyond price, in the
sense that once lost they can never be replaced.
Time was when they were so lightly regarded as to
be oflfered me for a few shillings. We have changed
all that now, but the models I secured then have
now proved to be of inestimable value.

Purity of style is to be sought, and, above all,
the best style in its purity, and although I have given
special attention to the Elizabethan period in this
work (which was perhaps most characteristic of English
art and feeling, as it was in other respects an age
unequalled in our national history), my interest in and
admiration of other periods are not lessened, and these

it will be my pleasure to discuss in subsequent volumes
which I hope to publish

The influence of the Renaissance began to be
felt in England during the reign of Henry VIII., and
attained its zenith during the reign of Elizabeth. Never
have science, art, literature, adventure and commercial
enterprise been represented with greater ability, and,
indeed, in every respect the Elizabethan age remains
an unequalled example of a nation's prosperity.

The adventures of Drake, the incursions into
the Spanish Main, the seizing of the Spanish treasure
ships, and finally the defeat of the great Armada,
and, not least, the greatest works of literature the
world has known, were all symptomatic of a generation
whose walls and staircases, chairs and tables were
constructed of English Oak.

I know of no finer Material in the world for

such purposes than English Oak. It represents in

its staunch and solid features the very genius of

the nation's character — its durability, its feeling, its

strength, its security. Used, as it has been, from

the earliest period of England's history, it is essentially

The drawings I am illustrating here are of the
many rooms I have carried out in England and
America from old material that I have sedulously
sought and carefully collected. I have been engaged

in work of this description for the last twenty years,
during which time I have learned to know how easy
it is, when making the necessary additions and
restorations, to miss the subtlety, true feeling and
tone of the original, with the result that there is
lacking that indefinable sense of satisfaction and
harmony which arises in the mind only when a work
is complete in all its detail. It is only by long and
careful study, grafted on good and inventive taste,
and the closest attention to the most minute detail,
that mistakes can be avoided.

Amongst lihese drawings of my own work are
one or two others which have been specially designed
and prepared for this book to illustrate some examples
characteristic of the earliest periods of English

It is not my purpose or ambition to treat
the subject exhaustively or to discuss the merits of
the different styles of English decoration, but my
reason for favouring the Oak is that, to me, it has
the feeling of home life, and is unrivalled for its
fine tone and quality and the assistance which it
gives in attaining any real dignity and proportion.

In any scheme of interior decoration the question
of colour is of vital importance, and in this respect
Oak will always hold its own. In no other wood do
I find such subtle colour, or one that blends so well

with its surroundings, as Oak with age. Nothing
equals its effectiveness as a background. Armour,
tapestries, rich embroideries, mezzotint engravings,
delicate water-colour drawings, or the robust work
of Velasquez or Titian are all assisted by the quiet
tones of old Oak. Like a Persian carpet, one may
say that "it goes with everything." It is like the
subdued radiance of old gold or the mellow qualities
of good wine.

It should always be remembered in the decora-
tion of a room, or, indeed, of any decorative object,
that these are qualities to be admired — that it is
far better to err on the side of simplicity than of
over elaboration — that misplaced "decoration" is
"worse than waste" and merely an offence to good

There have been many books written of late
on the subject of English Decorative Art, and one
may have too much of a good thing, but in pro-
ducing this work I hope I have succeeded in making
a not unwelcome addition to what has been done
by the knowledge, industry and versatility of those
who have preceded me in this branch of art.


OME attempt at the history of a
house as a building may be regarded
as a reasonable preliminary to treat-
ment of interior decoration. It will
be of interest to trace briefly the
continuous changes and developments which, during
the course of a few centuries, have transformed the
rude stronghold, the gaunt . castle and the desolate
keep of our earlier ancestors into the princely mansion
and the comfortable home of later times

In the first days of our history man was nomadic
to a certain extent, but, in such a climate as ours,
he could not have survived if he had not obtained
some shelter from the weather such as he may have
received from natural caves or hollow trees. Con-
sequently, there is the probability that wooden huts
or buildings were erected. Of course, this is purely
conjectural, as no trace of any such perishable building

It was not until the 12th century that stone
or permanent buildings of any description were built,
and the few existing remnants of antiquity that
remain of this period go to show that their purpose
was that of military strongholds and defensive

shelters rather than of domestic dwellings or com-
fortable homes.

Huge earthworks were the "castles" which the
Conqueror and his followers found scattered over the
land. These works were strengthened by stone walls
for the purposes of more effective defence, with
projecting towers, so far as these might prove an
advantage, and it was in the midst of these earth-
works that many of the stone keeps of that time were
built, for the domestic use of the owner, his family
and immediate attendants, whilst, for the accommoda-
tion of the vassals and retainers who overflowed from
the towers and the keep, temporary wooden structures
were regarded as forming an adequate shelter.

The keep is the earliest form of English house
built in permanent fashion. It was a massive rect-
angular structure usually several stories in height,
varying in size from 30 to 80 feet square. The walls
were of great strength and seldom less than 8 feet and
often as much as 16 or 20 feet in thickness. With
but one room on each floor, these walls were honey-
combed with mural chambers and contained many
recesses which were used as sleeping and retiring
places by the family and principal guests, whilst in
most instances a circular stair connected one floor with
the other.

The rooms were indifferently lighted by means


of narrow slits in the walls and in cases provision was
made for a fire. In such cases the fireplace was a
mere recess in the wall, with no ornamental feature
and no flue as we know it, but a funnel was provided
which led to a small vertical opening in the face of
the wall through which part of the smoke, or even
the whole of it, could find its way out. This might
not have been so objectionable as one would imagine,
for there are more unpleasant odours than those of
the smoke of a pine or oak log.

These fireplaces, however, were of generous size,
as they might well be, considering that the windows
were unglazed and large enough to make the room
cold whilst they were not large enough to light the
room well.

There was no attempt at decoration in the whole
structure. The floors were of wood, rough, stout
and substantial, whilst the doorways were small and of
the simplest description.

There are but few remains of these " Castles of
the Conqueror," but of the, "keep" we still have
some fine examples. First and foremost, both for
size and historical interest, we have the White Tower
of the Tower of London, which was begun by order
of William the Conqueror near the end of the 1 1 th
century and which measures ii8 feet by 107 feet.
The keep of Rochester Castle was built about the


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year 1130 and measures 70 feet square. That of
Dover Castle (about 1 1 54) is 90 feet square. Kenil-
worth, dating about 1180, is oblong in plan, and
measures 87 feet by 54 feet, whilst a smaller one.
Peak Castle, in Derbyshire, is only some 40 feet by
^6 feet. Allowing for the immense thickness of the
walls the rooms were spacious, although few in
number and badly lighted. This type of building
was continued during the 13th and 14th centuries,
and much later in the North and other disturbed parts
of the country, as instanced by Tattershall Castle in
Lincolnshire, built by Lord Treasurer Cromwell in the
15th century, Cocklaw Tower near Hexham in the
1 6th century, with many others on the Scottish border
as late as the accession of James I. Later on there
were built what may be described as fortified manor-
houses in stone, and it is probable that these embodied
in permanent material the plans which had prevailed in
less durable form.

The keep was planned and contrived for defence,
and one room piled on top of the other, but in the
Manor House, as the state of the country became
more and more settled and defence not so imperative,
the rooms were placed alongside of each other on the
ground, and the keep type with its particular lack of
comfort fell into disuse, and the Manor House type,
on the contrary, survived. It is the old Manor House


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which has developed through the centuries into the
house of modern times as we know it.

The fortified Manor House, in addition to its
strong outer walls, was usually surrounded by a deep
ditch or moat, across which a drawbridge was placed,
which could be raised or lowered as occasion required,
and which led to a strongly defended gateway. In
hilly districts where moats were impossible, advantage
was taken of any precipitous ground which would
afford natural protection on perhaps more than one
side of the building. The principal feature of these
fortified houses was a central hall, where everyone
lived when indoors. It was the living, dining and
sleeping place for all. Adjoining this at one end was
a room or rooms for the master, which was called the
"Solar," and at the other end a kitchen or a culinary
department, which formed the headquarters of the

The hall, or principal room, was necessarily of
large size, lofty and of one story, with an open timber
roof, sometimes freely decorated. Its importance was
so pronounced that the house itself was called " The
Hall," a name which is applied to the principal house
in the parish to this day. The entrance door was at
the servants' end, and, for the sake of privacy and
some degree of comfort, a screen was usually placed
which also formed a corridor between the hall and



the kitchen. This screen was not usually carried to
the full height of the room, but arranged in such a
manner as to form a gallery, and developed, as we
shall show later, into one of the principal decorative
features of the hall of the Elizabethan and Jacobean
days. The kitchen was generally of some importance
with rooms above and cellars for stores, and the
"Solar," in many cases, included a chapel.

In the Manor House of those early days we find
the direct origin of the house of to-day. All the
changes which have taken place have tended towards
increased comfort and privacy. Progress was naturally
slow, but, by degrees, as the country became more
settled, attention became concentrated on comfort
rather than on defence. Drawbridges and moats were
no longer required, the surrounding walls, though of
great strength, needed no defensive towers, houses
were planned with courtyards, more expansive windows
were introduced, sheltered gardens and terraces became
possible, and with increased national security, the
home reflected the growing wealth of the country,
and the house became not merely a shelter or a
defence against enemies, but a real home for its owner
and even a place of entertamment for his friends.
The wider opportunities for trade and adventure
enabled the trader to become rich and the nobles more
powerful. There was added to the great hall, wherein



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the Norman Baron had sat at the table with his family
and guests in patriarchal relation to his retainers and
serving men, the long gallery for entertainment and
for the retirement and privacy which the lord and his
lady might seek from the common throng. By the
end of the i6th century these changes had materially
affected even the size and plan of the house, and
ultimately led to the extinction of the hall as a strong
room, and a height of luxury and refinement was
reached indicated in such noble examples as Burghley,
Hatfield and Audley End, whilst we mark the attain-
ment of comfort and convenience in such lesser houses
as Ockwells Manor, Berkshire, Speke Hall, Lancashire,
and Bramall Hall, Cheshire.

The general appearance of the houses of those
times varied in different parts of the country. The
houses were built of stone, wherever stone was
abundant, varying in detail according to the nature of
the material. In Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Lan-
cashire, where the stone is hard, the work was of a
plain and severe type, the colour grey and sombre.
In the west, Somersetshire, Wiltshire and Midlands,
Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Northampton and Lin-
coln, the easily worked material was both rich and
delicate, and under the influence of time and weather
has acquired a soft grey tint enlivened by the incrusta-
tion of many hued lichens. In the Eastern Counties




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brick was chiefly employed, stone being used only
for "quoms," cornices, parapets and pilasters, and, in
some instances, where stone was scarce, plaster was
used to imitate it. In Cheshire, Worcestershire and
Hereford timber and plaster were more freely used,
and what are known as half-timbered houses were
general. Of this method of construction we find
in various parts of England the most ornamental
examples, with much plainer work of the same kind in
Kent, Surrey, and Sussex.

In half-timbered work the main walls were
formed of stout timber framed together and the
interspaces filled in with lath and plaster. The
structural timbers were left visible, giving the house
an ornamental appearance and satisfying the eye as to
the strength and stability of the fabric. The finest
specimen of a half-timbered house is Bramall Hall,
near Stockport, Cheshire. This house is not only
quaint and picturesque, but approaches as near to
stateliness as is possible with such homely materials.

House-building energies were diverted by the
Civil War, and, consequently, the middle of the 1 7th
century was not prolific in examples of domestic
architecture, with the added misfortune that many
ancient houses and buildings were destroyed. How-
ever, with the Restoration, matters improved, and the
arts received more recognition in high places than had






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been accorded before. The pursuit of architecture
became an elegant accomplishment. Amateurs and
men of culture began to study building from a
somewhat new point of view. English architecture
became completely Italianised. The Banqueting Hall
at Whitehall is quite the most classical building of the
17th century, and one that shows the least trace of
Elizabethan detail. It was designed as part of the
Palace to be built for James II. It is a great loss to
British architecture that the whole scheme was not
completed. The classic influence remained to the end
of the 1 8th and the beginning of the 19th century,
where we must be content to leave it.

Lord Burlington, Henry, Earl of Pembroke,
William, Earl Fitzwilliam, Dean Aldrich and Dr.
Clark at Oxford, and Sir James Burroughs at
Cambridge have good claim to be recognised as
designers of distinction. Indeed, the amateur architect
of the 1 8th century had a long and even illustrious
ancestry. Vanburgh, the poet, built Blenheim and
Castle Howard. Even the great Wren was an
amateur in the sense that he had received no early
training in architecture and was a scientist before he
turned his attention to art.

It was at this time that the arrangements of the
house were altered. The whole of the ground floor
was devoted to the family, who were provided with a


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suite of rooms, dining and drawing rooms, library and
parlours, and the hall then became a large vestibule
leading to them. The servants were relegated to the

The long gallery and the grand chamber went
out of fashion and it became the custom to devote
the upper floors to the sleeping accommodation of the
household. The distinctive characteristics of the new
style were the absence of gables and the substitution
of sash windows for the old mullioned form. This
took away the picturesque treatment which is charac-
teristic of the earlier houses. The sky-line had to be
plain and the decorative chimney disappeared. The
sash window was not susceptible to so much variation
as the old mullioned form had been. The dormers
now belonged to the roof and not to the wall ; in
fact, picturesque details gave way to cold, careful
spacing and other arrangements not conducive to
artistic effects. The classical spirit seemed to pervade
all artistic efforts whether in painting, sculpture or
literature. Stateliness and noble proportions were
achieved at the expense of picturesqueness and com-
fort, and truth gave place to artificiality. Persons of
distinction seemed content to forego the comforts of
home for the opportunity of living the stately life.

This period is, perhaps, best represented by
Blenheim causing Pope, when it was described to


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him, to say " I see from all you have been telling
that 'tis a house and not a dwelling." Less severity
prevailed later, and, whilst still conforming to the
careful proportions of the classic styles, men like
the Brothers Adam, whilst indulging in no great
flights of fancy, imparted an individuality and
restrained refinement which will ever distinguish
them in the annals of English architecture.



N the Middle Ages the manners and
customs of the people were crude In
the extreme, and education so confined
to the priesthood that culture and
taste could hardly be expected of the
masses. Medieval art was to be found in the Abbey
and the Church, but can scarcely be said to have
touched the home, which, as we have shown in the
previous chapter, was more a place of safety and
shelter than of pleasure and delight.

With further national security larger comforts
became available, and as commercial enterprise with
other countries enriched the trader and wealth was
accumulated, so also arose the desire for something
more than bare walls and boarded floors. It was
at the beginning of the i6th century that this rapid
development took place, and especially during the
second half was the extraordinary advance particularly
noticeable. The whole century marks the time of
a vast awakening in all departments of human enter-
prise. New countries were discovered and explored,



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new ways were followed in science, in learning, in
religion and in art; and the knowledge of these
ways was distributed by the invention of printing,
and also by the greater intercourse with the nations
of Europe.

Another cause was to be found in the dissolution
of the monastries, which transferred into private and
secular hands much of the valuable property hitherto
held by the church, and mansions, instead of monas-
tries, became the scene of hospitality and the principal
centres in country life.

All these new conditions of social life expressed
themselves in the stately homes and princely mansions
erected in the late i6th and early 17th centuries.
The culture and ability of the statesmen, and the
courage and endurance of the men who fought the
nation's foe, found an echo in the stone and oak
which remain to this day a monument and example of
a comfortable English home.

Be it in the Manor House of the Squire or the
magnificent Mansion of the Noble, the accommoda-
tion still suffices, and the actual decoration of the
rooms still serves as a model for imitation and

The strength and stability, elegance or refine-
ment, unrest and waywardness of the times are found
in the art of its period, and the Elizabethan era,



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which witnessed this new birth of science and art,
beheld poetry gain the sublime heights to which
Shakespeare led it and which it has never quite
succeeded in reaching again, also produced architecture
and decoration, and such houses as Burghley, Long-
leat and Hatfield remain, which for picturesque detail
and individual effort have never been surpassed, or if,
indeed, equalled in the history of England.

During this remarkable period were some of the
largest houses built which England ever possessed.
Holdenby, built in 1580, so far as the house itself
went, was larger than the great palaces at Blenheim
and Castle Howard. Its fronts were 360 feet and
224 feet, as against 320 feet and 220 feet at Blenheim,
and that at Castle Howard 324 feet by 210 feet.
Holdenby, with the exception of Hampton Court,

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Online LibraryC. J CharlesOld English interiors → online text (page 1 of 3)