Brougham Hall

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Just a mile south of Penrith is the estate of Brougham Hall. Originally a medieval manor house, the site has been fortified since 1307 and the last battle on English soil was fought in the meadows below Brougham on 18th December 1745 – the climax of the ’45 Rebellion (Jenkins, 2003). The ruin of Brougham Hall conceals a long history. The name Brougham derives from Brocavum, celtic for home of the badgers, and was adopted by the Romans for their fort located one roman mile north east of the Hall. Brocavum Fort commanded the bridge over the River Eamont and controlled the junction of the principle roman road from York to Carlisle with the secondary roman road to Ambleside and Hardnott. Until 1237 Scotland started at Brougham and the St Andrews Cross still flies from local churches. King Alexander, Prince Charles Stuart of Scotland, King Henry II, King Richard I, King Henry III, King Richard III, King James I and King Charles I of England have all had an influence on this area. With history that can be traced back to the Late Neolithic Period, Brougham Hall has been host to many great characters. From Hadrian and his northern defences to Winston Churchill, accompanied by Eisenhower, who came to inspect his top secret C.D.I tanks. These vehicles were used in the first Rhine crossing at Remagen on 7th March 1945. Initially owned by the de Burgham family, ownership of the house was divided into three parts during the 13th century and remained this way until 1676. On the death of Lady Anne Clifford, her share was sold to James Bird, her trusted agent, which gave him full ownership of Brougham. James was responsible for extensive building work and the expansion for the Hall. Part of the estate was already owned by the Broughams prior to James Bird and it wasn’t until John Brougham of Scales bought Brougham Hall in 1726 that the Hall was returned to Brougham ownership. The Lord Chancellor of England, Lord Brougham and Vaux, also lived at Brougham Hall and after successfully defending Queen Caroline against King George IV in 1820, he went on to design the famous Brougham Carriage.

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Brougham Hall received license to crenelate in 1307 and the oldest surviving building above ground level at the Hall is the Tudor building in the courtyard. Dating to around 1480, the door, lower windows and upper west window are all original with two upper windows later installed, as is the machicolation over the door. The date of the building falls at about the most turbulent time in British history when no fewer than four monarchs came and went within a three year period. Richard III was well known in the Penrith area as ‘Lord of the North’ and his reign, between 1483-1485, was also short-lived. The fine studded panelled entrance gates (above) are made of Oak and date to the Tudor period. Still in use every day, the gates have been repaired in finest quality English Oak by a master craftsman, in memory of Brougham’s Clerk of Works, Don Mawdsley, who sadly passed away in 2003. The gateway doors are in a round chamfered arch under a machiolated parapet and originally there was an inner lock which was dated and inscribed AP 1680 (Anne Countess of Pembroke). The nails, bolts and hinges attached to the door also date from the Tudor period. History was made at 11am on 15th October 1905 when King Edward VII set off through this early 17th century gate to Raby Castle, over Stainmore, in the first motorcade in the north of England driven by a British monarch. Setting off along a 54 mile stretch of road (which had been hand-swept to ensure that the king did not get a puncture!), there was a policeman at every intersection pointing in the direction that the king should go. A 40hp plum coloured Mercedes was taken to Brougham Hall from Balmoral specially for the journey and various other motorcars joined in this historic event.

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The First Lord Brougham acquired the Hall in 1810 and under the stewardship of his younger brother William, the house was restored and improved. As Brougham Hall is en route to Balmoral Castle in Scotland, it was host to royalty on several occasions and became known as The Windsor of the North. The house remained in the Brougham family for four generations until the 4th Lord Brougham, Victor Henry Peter, accrued numerous debts and was forced to sell the estate in 1934. Purchased by his neighbour, Major Carleton Cowper, Brougham Hall was stripped and partly demolished. The site retains the fortified walls of the original enclosure and the ruins of the Hall, billiard room, coach archway and the cellars beneath. The remaining buildings are constructed from mixed sandstone rubble with ashlar dressings and the hall range has only the cellars and a few courses of stonework that still survive. The last substantial structure to be built at Brougham was the tower, Lord Chancellor’s Den (below), built by Richard Charles Hussey, Vice President of the RIBA, in 1864. The tower sits on huge foundations of a much earlier tower and incorporates an early example of a Bitumastic damp-proof course. On the ground floor there was a full sized billiard room and in the office above, Henry Peter, Lord Chancellor of England, thought out some of his famous contributions to British history – the Great Reform Bill of 1832, the establishment of the Charity Commission, the reform of the Privy Council, the establishment of the Old Bailey, the establishment (with Bentham and the Prince Consort) of London University and many other far reaching pieces of socialistic legislation. Phase I of the restoration of this tower was completed in 2012 and involved the de-vegetating, stabilising and reinforcing the upper-most part of the ground floor of what will eventually be a three floor tower. The ultimate aim is to house an extensive collection of site specific Regency State papers (an archive containing many of Lord Brougham’s more important documents, which are of national and international importance) and become a public exhibition and scholarship centre. Phase II will involve the reconstruction of the first and second floors and Phase III will involve the archiving and conservation of the aforementioned documents.

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Winston Churchill commandeered Brougham Hall, Lowther Castle and Greystoke Castle in 1942 for the development of an extraordinary weapon. The Canal Defence Light was a top secret weapon devised between the two great wars and a development and testing site was set up in and around Brougham Hall. The tank was equipped with a 13 million candlepower white arc light which had a strobe operating at a frequency that had the effect of temporarily blinding the enemy. These tanks were without any other offensive weaponry and the intention was to move forward in a V formation of 150 tanks which comprised three squadrons of 50 tanks. On 5th May 1942 Winston Churchill drove through the 17th century gateway arch to inspect the Canal Defence Light Tanks and in December of the same year, he returned to watch the trials of this secret weapon. Although the tanks were never used as intended, they were used to illuminate the Rhine for the Remagen crossing on 5th March 1945 and for operations in Mesopotamia and north Eastern India. A plaque under the staircase in the courtyard has been erected, unveiled by Brigadier Ewan Morrison on 16th July 1992, dedicated to the memory of the officers and men who served at Brougham Hall between July 1942 and June 1944. These men were drawn from the 1st and 35th Tank Brigades of the 79th Armoured Division and were supported by the R.E.M.E. who left in 1945. After the war, the army camp at Brougham was used as a displaced persons camp until the early 1950’s and thereafter, it was used by the Ministry of Supply as a petrol dump.

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Over the next couple of decades Brougham Hall became a neglected ruin despite being purchased by two companies who had intended to make commercial gain from the land. Christopher Terry had fallen in love with the dilapidated Hall during the 1960’s and after hearing of plans to build on the land, he acquired Brougham in 1985. The Brougham Hall Charitable Trust was founded in 1986 and for one peppercorn, Christopher Terry transferred the Hall to the Trust on 8th October of the same year. Committed to conservation, Christopher has intended to restore Brougham as it was externally and having been rescued from dereliction, restoration work also commenced in 1986. Now home to an array of arts and crafts workshops and businesses, the Hall has a restored Tudor Block, Brewery and Stable Block. Priority is given to the parts of the building that are in most urgent need of attention and original building materials are being re-used wherever possible. Brougham Hall has its own skilled craftsmen and thankfully, there are sufficient drawings, photographs and paintings to be certain of the external appearance of the building.

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While the tracery of the ornate windows looks delicate, it actually weighs well over a ton. One of the windows in the Lord Chancellor’s Den was repaired by master craftsmen in May 2005 and it took three men to lift the larger pieces of stone. The sculpture of Christ (below) is the work of Josefina de Vasconcellos who continued to visit Brougham long after her 100th birthday. Helen Beatrix Potter was also a frequent visitor to Brougham Hall as her brother in law, the Reverend Arthur John Heelis, was the Rector of Brougham from 1900-1922. The Rev Heelis had a Phoenix three-wheeled car, which is still in existence and this was the sixth car to be registered in Westmorland. Beatrix Potter complained often about having to push this car to a start every time she came to Brougham! On one of her visits, she gave a copy of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ to Eileen Brougham for her birthday and signed the flyleaf: “to Princess Eileen, on Peace Day, Brougham, August 23rd 1919”. Peace Day was chosen to celebrate the official end of the War. Beatrix Potter’s husband, William Heelis, was a solicitor and he chaired a Coroner’s inquest after James Maughan from Byker in Northumberland was killed by falling masonry in the Lord Chancellor’s Den. Maughan was 22 years old and his demise was pronounced “accidental death” in the days before Health & Safety. The co founder of the National Trust Canon Rawnsley was also a frequent visitor to Brougham Hall.

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In November 2010, Brougham obtained full planning consent and listed building consent to proceed with one of the very few specially built political archive centres in the country. This consent was expanded in October 2013 to include the greater part of the remainder of the Hall. Of British Library calibre, the best of Brougham’s papers, of which many are hand illuminated on vellum, are to be mounted in a rotating exhibition in the Lord Chancellor’s actual office at Brougham. The display will be on two levels – a public exhibition and a separate static one for students of Politics and Economics and scholars. One of the buildings in the courtyard is devoted to the preservation of parts of the history and heritage of Brougham Hall and the encouragement of vernacular skills. NADFAS are currently engaged on a three year programme to clean and restore a 1675 Flemish Oak screen which once adorned the Brougham Armour Hall until the sale of the 1930’s. It was then removed to a church in Ayrshire, the roof of which collapsed onto the screen causing considerable damage which is now being rectified. Other projects involve workshops and the restoration of a Brougham Carriage, made in Paris in 1894, the restoration of two mid 18th century sphinx and the restoration of a stained glass window for the Lord Chancellor’s Den.

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From 1837 Brougham Hall has had a fascinating and varied vehicular history. Designed by the first Lord Brougham, the Brougham Carriage was the veritable Volkswagen of horse drawn vehicles. In 1837 Henry Peter Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux, Whig Politician, and Lord Chancellor to William IV, perceived a need which would make his mark on the carriage world forever. With coachmen and grooms waiting into the small hours for debates to finish in the Palace of Westminster, his usual form of transport was cumbersome and labour intensive. Brougham thought there was a need for “a refined and glorified street cab that would make a convenient carriage for a gentleman, and especially for a man of such independence of ideas as one who carried his own carpet bag on occasions when time was important and his own servants otherwise employed!” (Furnival, 1999). This carriage was the first to have elliptical springs and his revolutionary design included the necessity of being light and compact and needing only one horse and coachman. Lord Brougham’s coach builders, Messrs Sharp and Bland of South Audley Street, advised him that his designs would never find popular appeal. To their eternal discredit, they completely failed to recognise the potential of Lord Brougham’s design. Lord Brougham duly took his design round the corner to the Mount Street premises of a neighbouring firm, Robinson and Cook (later to become Cook and Holdway of Halkin Place, London), and on 15th May 1838 the first Brougham Carriage rolled off the production line. Thousands of this carriage were eventually produced in factories all around the world. The original 1838 Brougham Carriage, which was used by Lord Brougham, Gladstone and Disraeli, was restored in 1977 by the company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Markers to commemorate HM Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee. It was exhibited that year at Ascot and the Guildhall and then presented to the Science Museum in South Kensington.

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1838 Brougham Carriage (Ragley Hall Collection)

 In 1995 the fourth Lord Brougham purchased two eight litre Bentleys, of which only 100 of these vehicles were ever made, and both cars are still in existence. Wolfie Benarto, the Chairman and owner of Bentley Motors, was a regular visitor to house parties at Brougham Hall. In 1931 Rolls Royce bought Bentley Motors and on 16th May 2004, Brougham Hall played host to the Rolls Royce & Bentley Enthusiasts Club who were celebrating the centenary of Mr Royce meeting Mr Rolls. Cumbria Classic Cars makes an annual visit to Brougham Hall with numerous other arts festivals and events held throughout the year.

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Courtyard Door Knocker Brougham Hall

There are only four known examples of the 12th century design of the door knocker (above) in existence – two are in Durham and two from Brougham. Both of the Durham rings were bronze and the sanctuary ring on the north door of Durham Cathedral (below) is considered to be “one of the most striking achievements of Romanesque bronze casting” (Archaeologia, Vol 107 1982). During the medieval period, Durham Cathedral offered St Cuthbert’s protection to fugitives who had committed a great offence. Those claiming sanctuary held onto the ring of the Sanctuary Knocker, which dates to 1172, until a monk admitted them into the Cathedral. Sanctuary seekers were given a black robe to wear and offered 37 days of sanctuary in the Cathedral, after which they either chose to stand trial or were taken to the coast and sent into exile. The right of sanctuary was abolished in 1623. Concern was expressed for the safety of the Sanctuary Knocker at Durham Cathedral in 1977 and eventually the decision was taken to remove it and replace it with a copy. There was no evidence to suggest that the ring had been removed previously and for the first time, it was possible to thoroughly examine the ring in laboratory conditions. The Victoria and Albert Museum carried out metallurgical tests and the British Museum made a cast (Archaeologia, Vol 107 1982). The original Sanctuary Knocker is displayed in the Durham Cathedral Treasury with the copy now hanging on the north door. The Brougham ring was made of iron and similar to the one at Durham Cathedral, it faced due north, on the courtyard gate. The Brougham ring was stolen and in an attempt to replace it, the Brougham Hall Charitable Trust asked the Bishop of Durham for consent to use the mould cast by the British Museum. Although the Bishop was amenable, the Dean and Chapter were not so the long task of drawing another from the monster’s head began. Carved in wood, a sand mould, in seven pieces, was taken from the wooden head and finally cast in bronze by Collier’s Foundry in Sussex in 1993. This copy now graces the courtyard door at Brougham Hall.

Brougham Hall is Grade II* Listed.

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Sanctuary Knocker Durham Cathedral

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Corbridge: Aydon Castle

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Amid the scars of ancient roads and fortifications, the slopes of hills in Northumberland conceal the austere and strong architecture of the “land of great castles” (Allsopp & Clark, 1969). The steep gradient to the Cor Burn forms a defence on three sides of Aydon Castle and its bailey with strong walls and gateway protecting the north side of the house. A wonderful survival from the Middle Ages, Aydon Castle is often recorded as Aydon Hall. Although planned as a manor house, its proximity to the England-Scotland border meant that it had to have some of the attributes of a fortress. Prehistoric and Roman remains have been discovered near Aydon yet there is no certain evidence that the site of the castle was occupied before the 13th century. First recorded in 1225, the village formed part of the barony of Bolam and combining two Old English words, meaning ‘hay pasture’, Aydon was acquired shortly after 1290 by a Suffolk landowner – Robert de Raymes. Most of what survives at Aydon was built between 1295 and 1315 and it is an exceptionally well preserved fortified manor. As one of the first areas to be raided from Scotland, Edward I granted a royal licence to crenellate in 1305. Most of the buildings were already completed by this time with a licence to crenellate more often granted when works were finished. Licences were very rarely refused as those who wanted the status of a castellated house were charged a fee by the king who could also control the spread of castles within his realm. Exercising control over the building of non-royal castles, 12th century government officials introduced the legal obligation to obtain a licence before a residence could be fortified (Friar, 2003). The earliest stone buildings at Aydon are the hall, chamber block and the garderobe/latrine wing (Summerson, 2004). The battlemented walls were built to the north between 1300 and 1305 enclosing the buildings within an inner courtyard.

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Inner courtyard stairs to the hall

Before entering Aydon Castle it is evident that it was a fortified manor house and not a fortress. There was never a gatehouse or any other form of defensive outworks and the small ditch that extended in front of the north wall would not have kept any serious attacker at bay for long. The smaller outer courtyard was characteristic of medieval architecture – providing some defence and by creating a series of entrances, it was also intended to impress. A further stage to pass before entering the castle buildings is through the inner courtyard (above). Replacing an earlier one, the present stairway dates from the 16th century and originally there was a porch at the top. The porch was later replaced by a lean-to that covered the whole length of the stair of which the roof outline is still visible on the wall. Although staircases were usual and probably of wood construction, the ladder and trapdoor were frequently used in the early part of the medieval period and most external staircases of the 13th century have since been replaced (Wood, 1994).

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Fine stone vault of the stores

The ground floor of an early medieval house was often vaulted in stone which raised the living rooms to the first floor level and thus became more defensible. The vaulted ground floor became extremely popular during the first half of the 13th century and the stores underneath the second kitchen at Aydon are particularly fine (above). Providing fireproof storage accommodation, there are three interconnected rooms that were built to hold the stores for the kitchens immediately above. The doorway into the stores has a shouldered lintel, also known as Caernarvon arch, which became common from the latter part of the 13th century onwards and there are many good examples throughout Aydon. This block was converted to stables in 1657 by William Collinson who briefly owned the estate from 1654 until his son, Henry Collinson, sold up in 1702.

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Downstairs solar

In the early Middle Ages the solar was a private bed-sittingroom of the owner and his family. With servants sleeping in the hall or in work rooms between the storage, individual bedrooms were rare. The downstairs solar at Aydon has three doorways in the west wall of the room, one of which opens onto the inner courtyard. The room was originally only accessible from above which suggests that it was a retreat for the lord’s family, likely during the winter months. The only two 13th century windows that survive are small lancets with others thought to be have been installed during the 16th century when the room was converted into a kitchen. The room features an original 13th century fireplace in the east wall which is beautifully decorated with a row of carved stone bosses (below). Aydon Castle contains several excellent and unusual examples of elaborate 13th century fireplaces.

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Carved bosses above the fireplace (downstairs solar)

The polite version of latrine, a garderobe or privie, was used in the privy sense from the 14th century. The privy chambers (camerae privatae) were attached to other rooms and were usually situated at the end of a passage. Privies were always provided with a small window or some form of ventilation – shafts could be ventilated or ventilators in the roof also occur. Unless a corbel was provided, as at Aydon, the window sill would serve as a place on which to put a light. Adjoining the upstairs solar, the location and amenities of the latrine tower at Aydon (below) suggest that this was the lord’s bedchamber. The room is lit on three sides by windows and was effectively a medieval en suite. The latrine itself is a double-decker and the small cupboard cut into the wall at the far end has the chute next to it. The shaft is concealed in the buttress at the south east corner of the room and although the latrine is directly above one on the ground floor, the upper one is set further back to prevent accidents. Later refurbishments of this chamber resulted in the addition of a fireplace and in the 1920’s, the chamber became a bathroom. By this time the latrine had been superseded by an earth closet in the kitchen garden.

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The latrine tower

The chief room in a medieval house was the hall. With a central hearth, the medieval hall developed from a barn like structure of prehistoric and Saxon times and during the earlier Middle Ages, the room could be raised to the first floor. Raised on a stone basement these first floor halls were more defensible and were in use from the late 11th century onwards. The first floor hall is found common in both town and manor houses and the high table, where the owner and his family would dine, was at the upper end of the room. The private quarters, or solar, was often at the end of the hall and eventually a separate room developed. Divided off with curtains initially, a wooden partition would be used and by the 12th century, there might be a more permanent division built in stone. Retaining the outer staircase, the hall at Aydon has no sign of a wall fireplace suggesting that it was heated from the one in the room below or from a fire in the centre of the room either in a brazier or on a stone hearth.

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East end of the hall

The social centre of the whole complex, the hall was where the lord appeared in public especially when entertaining guests. The open roof at Aydon gives space for smoke to rise and escape through a louvre at the top. The roof is not original but was replaced with one very much like it during the 16th or 17th century when repairs were made to the hall. The walls, which would have been plastered and decorated with paintings or wall hangings, would have needed constant cleaning due to the effects of smoke. There was originally a gallery at the west end of the room where musicians would play and from which a steward or servant could observe the meal. The hall was the communal living room and was also the main living and sleeping space for all but the lord’s immediate family. The room was screened off at one end from the kitchen and other service areas and the stone screen (below) was inserted during the 16th century. The wall of the hall is narrowed at the west end to give access to the doorway suggesting that the chamber block was built before the stone hall and possibly, it may have been built up against an original hall with thinner wooden walls.

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The 16th century stone screen in the hall

During the 16th century the eighth Robert de Raymes consolidated his estates and gave Aydon to Sir Reynold Carnaby in exchange for lands at Hawkwell. In the process of building up a substantial estate at Hexham, Sir Reynold placed Aydon in the hands of his brother Cuthbert. The Carnaby family made significant changes to the estate especially to the kitchen and to the roofs. Dendrochronology indicates that the timber in the roofs of the latrine block and the west wing kitchen date to the 1540’s. Following the civil wars of the 1640’s, Ralph Carnaby was heavily penalised by parliament for supporting Charles I and as a result, Aydon Castle was sold in 1654 with an estate of 300 acres of arable land to William Collinson of Tynemouth and together with his son Henry, they farmed their estate until 1702.

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Around 1830 Sir Edward Blackett, the sixth baronet, put the castle into a complete state of repair as it had long been ‘neglected and ruinous’ (Summerson, 2004). The land was once again used as a working farm and the interior was altered to provide the necessary accommodation. Members of the local Rowell family came into occupation and they stayed at Aydon for just over a century. A schoolroom was installed on the first floor of the old latrine block and as there was no electricity until 1950, oil lamps and candles were used to provide lighting. Aydon was completely self-sufficient and the Rowell family appear to have lived well. In a county guide published in 1889, the writer William Tomlinson described Aydon as “a better class farm house, though still retaining many of its ancient features.” As farming became less profitable in the early 20th century and with the roofs needing constant attention, Sir Charles Blackett, the ninth baronet, placed the castle in the guardianship of the Ministry of Works in 1966. A thorough restoration got underway which included the removal of practically all the 19th century fittings (Summerson, 2004). Surviving little changed from its original state, Aydon Castle is an outstanding example of a 13th century manor house.

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“The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions.” G.M. Trevelyan: Autobiography of an Historian (1949).

Aydon Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I Listed.

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Corbridge: Aydon Castle Kitchens

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The fortified hall house of Aydon Castle has, as so many historic buildings do, undergone numerous changes during its history. The house was unaltered for 400 years until it was entrusted to the government in 1966. This remarkably intact building is spartan and unfurnished and is a beautiful example of a 13th century manor house. The original kitchen (above) was the first of three kitchens to be built and part of the first programme of works to be completed by Robert de Raymes.

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The 14th century fireplace above stands where the oven once stood with a cupboard to its left and a chute for getting rid of slops and rubbish next to the window. The Carnaby’s were the 16th century owners of the castle and their coat of arms can be seen carved above the fireplace.

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The second kitchen range (below) was likely to have been built soon after the first kitchen and hall’s construction around 1305.  As Robert de Raymes was heavily involved in the fighting in the Borders after 1296, the original kitchen proved to be too small to provide for him and the many men involved in defending the house. With easy access to the hall, the room was divided in two which can be seen by the change in floor level. This first room was where food was prepared and where dishes were washed afterwards.

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The second room was where the cooking took place using seasonings stored in the cupboards cut into the walls. At floor level on the west wall (left of picture above) is a chute for waste to keep the kitchen clean of scraps. When this kitchen was in use, food was brought directly into the kitchen through the wooden door to the side of the chute instead of through the inner courtyard. At the far end of the room is the large fireplace which was moved from the service end of the hall to that end of the range. There are two low stone benches on either side of the hearth which may have been used to keep food and dishes warm but also could have acted as seats for watchmen coming off cold duty.

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This kitchen went out of use in the 16th century and when the room was deserted due to the floors becoming unsafe, the only inhabitants were pigeons. The series of holes cut into the stones around the top of the room (above) were added in the 19th century to provide nesting boxes for pigeons – valued for their meat, not as racers. The roof of the west wing kitchen features timbers that were inserted by the Carnaby family in the early 1540’s.

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Corbridge: Aydon Castle Upstairs Solar

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The Chamber (Solar) above at Aydon Castle was used as the Lord’s private apartments and is laid out as a single room. Access to the room was from the hall but the private stair to the ground floor no longer exists. The present stairs are as a result of alterations from when the building was used as a farmhouse from the 17th century and continued until 1968 (Allsopp & Clar, 1969). To provide privacy, the room was divided by a partition – probably where the staircase now stands. The smaller part of the solar would have been used as a lobby or waiting room for visitors.

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The main room was the northern one with a fireplace and three windows with seats. The most significant alteration to the room has been the removal of the main 13th century fireplace from the opposite wall to its present location. The medieval chimney flue remains on the outer wall and despite its move, the fireplace is still impressive and gives an indication of the quality of the interior furnishings and fittings within the chamber block. The previous position of the fireplace was immediately above the fireplace in the room below so it is possible that the chimney flue may have leaked from it into the solar’s fireplace. The rather awkward looking fireplace now stands lower than it should which encapsulates Jenkin’s (2003) view that Aydon “seems gloriously lost in an antique world of its own.”

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Sizergh Castle: Banqueting Hall

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On the second floor of the tower at Sizergh Castle is the Banqueting Hall. In medieval times, this was the solar chamber and is entered from a spiral staircase. The staircase provided the only access until alterations in the 19th century when a doorway was cut through from the Top Passage. The room is lit by a deep set 14th century three light window which overlooks the courtyard.

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The Hall features a 16th century fireplace and adze-hewn oak floorboards. The removal of the floor above was part of the 19th century alterations which were inspired by the fashion for romantic medievalism, creating a highly theatrical interior. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, the ashlar stonework walls were painted with trompe-l’oeil and hung with armour and trophies of weapons in a true baronial style.

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In 1948 Henry Hornyold-Strickland made a gallery (below) around all four sides of the upper storey using timber salvaged from a 16th century barn which had collapsed in 1945.

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Against the early 17th century long-table are two sets of Elizabethan forms, or benches, the sides of which are carved to imitate loosely the hanging edge of a hide covering. One set (below) has the initials of Walter Strickland and the date 1562 while the other may be slightly later and made to match. Chairs with arms were comparatively rare during the mid 16th century and an inventory dated 1569 records only nine in the whole house. Four panel-back armchairs (as seen next to the fireplace in top photos) with flat topped arms are dated 1570 and 1571 and have lozenge panels which match those in the Old Dining Room.

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The late 17th century Brussels tapestry (top) portrays the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius reproving his wife Faustina for her profligate living. This wonderful room is furnished with beautiful Elizabethan and Georgian pieces that highlight superb craftsmanship.

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Lyddington Bede House

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The village of Lyddington lies on the northern edge of the valley of the River Welland where the Hlyde, from which Lyddington takes its name, forms a tributary valley. The forest of Rockingham provided an ideal hunting ground for the Norman kings and was the basis of the Bishops of Lincoln decision to develop their estate at Lyddington. Located conveniently near the centre of the diocese, the rural palace became an important seat of ecclesiastical administration. The palace served the princes of the church up to the sequestration of episcopal property by the Crown in 1547. It then passed to the Cecils of Burghley in 1600 and the surviving buildings were converted by Sir Thomas Cecil into the Jesus Hospital, later known as the Bede House, to house pensioners. The buildings served this purpose and continued to be occupied until 1930. It was acquired by the Ministry of Works in 1954 and has since been restored.

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Originating as the medieval wing of the palace, archaeological evidence suggests that the surviving buildings are only the end cross wing of a great 14th century hall. It is thought likely to have been built by Bishop Burghersh who was given licence to crenellate in 1336. The main upper chambers were refenestrated and re-roofed in the latter part of the 15th century. The archaeological evidence has also revealed that the position, splendour and size of the former hall was greater than that constructed by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Mayfield in Sussex. Running along the front of the building is a lean to verandah which was erected in 1745 to provide some shelter for the old folk of the bede house.

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At the top of the stair to the ceremonial apartments is a landing with two very fine doorcases (above). Dating to the early 14th century, they survive from the newly crenellated residence of Bishop Burghersh. The shields in the spandrels may well have been painted and gilded but no trace of this now survives.

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The Chapel (above) was probably once part of the bishop’s private chapel. Originally there was a window in the wall (now blocked) which would have allowed those in the Great Chamber to hear mass. The room was later used by a bedeswoman and the invalid chair also dates to this period.

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The Great Chamber (above) was the most magnificent room in the bishop’s private quarters. It later became the common hall of the bedehouse. The room is bathed in light from the mullioned and transomed windows which date to the late 15th century. Below the exceptionally beautiful early 16th century cornice (below), the walls had fine tapestries and hangings. This room was where the bishop received eminent guests – high clergymen, heads of monastic houses, courtiers and kings.

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When the palace was converted in 1601, the great chamber became the bedesmen’s common hall. The residents would gather here to say prayers and recite the Lord’s Prayer. Four times a year they would also listen to the warden reading the rules of the bedehouse. With the dispersal of the bishop’s household it is probable that the fine furnishings were stripped out with anything of value being sold to supplement the royal coffers.

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The Presence Chamber is a room in which medieval bishops conducted their business. The room has a blocked doorway that originally lead up to the presumed gallery above the great hall. The room features a fine fireplace (above) with five carved panels datable by analogy to 1480-1520. With its ornamental fireplace and handsome ceiling, the room would have been impressive and furnished with a canopied bed, rich hangings and decorated chairs. Bishop John Longland was possibly the last bishop who occupied the room. He was King Henry VIII’s confessor and was caught up in the king’s struggle against the Church. The king and Catherine Howard stayed at Lyddington in 1541 and met with his privy councillors before continuing north. After the conversion of the palace in the 17th century, this room and those beyond it were used by the warden of the bedehouse.

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In the medieval palace, the attic floor was probably no more than roof storage. Moulded tie beams indicate that these were visible before the fine ceiling of the great chamber was inserted. Part of the floor is laid in gypsum plaster on reed – a flooring technique common in the east Midlands from the late medieval period onwards. The attic floor has a series of fine knee-braced collar trusses with curved windbraces to the single level of butt purlins. The fine roof structure dates to the mid 15th century and was probably built by Bishop Alnwick before his death in 1449. Gabled dormer windows were inserted in the 17th or 18th century and a small iron fireplace indicates that at least one of the attic rooms was used and heated in the 19th century.

Lyddington Bede House is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I Listed.

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Ashby De La Zouch Castle

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On the outskirts of Ashby De La Zouch stands the ruins of Ashby Castle and the earthwork remains of an associated formal garden, known as The Wilderness. The Castle was the creation of William, Lord Hastings, who was one of the leading political figures and artistic patrons of the 15th century. Edward IV granted license to fortify the site in 1474. Adapting an existing manor house, Lord Hastings also built a new chapel and two towers – the Great Tower and The Kitchen Tower. Work to the Castle was interrupted in 1483 when Lord Hastings was executed but Ashby became the principle seat of his descendants. Remaining in the ownership of the Hastings family until the mid 17th century, the Castle was besieged during the Civil War and surrendered to the Parliamentarians in 1646. The site is primarily a 12th century house that was redesigned and rebuilt over several centuries. The early Norman house and buildings were originally timber structures which were replaced by stone after 1150.

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The Kitchen Tower (above) stands to the west of the hall and was erected between 1350 and 1400. The lower two storeys originally formed a vast vaulted space which was ringed with hearths and cauldron stands. The kitchen had its own well, set in a wall niche. Above the kitchen was a spacious room with large windows, a timber floor and its own latrines. To either side of the Kitchen Tower there were further service ranges. The size of the kitchen is unusually large and featured a high vault decorated with carved bosses of stone. Only two hearths remain following the demolition of one wall in 1648 and would have incorporated several cooking spaces, such as cauldron stands for boiling, fireplaces for roasting and ovens for baking.

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Great Chamber

The Great Chamber is at the opposite end of the hall from the services and probably featured a parlour at ground level. Used as a principle room for entertaining important guests, the Great Chamber still retains a fine 15th century fireplace (below) and a huge grid window, cut through in the 16th century.

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Fireplace Great Chamber

The Great Tower is the architectural centrepiece of the castle and is thought to have been completed shortly after Lord Hastings obtained a licence to crenellate in 1474. The Tower could be secured with a portcullis which fitted within the grooves on each side of the small entrance door. The Tower is elaborately detailed and features heraldic achievements of Lord Hastings and lions of England which ornament the entrance door. The Great Tower was the last major addition to the Castle and reflected the power and wealth of Lord Hastings. The Tower was blown up on the orders of Parliament in 1648. The operation was directed by William Bainbrigg of Lockington, a local cavalry commander.

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Great Tower

The Chapel (below) would have been served by priests and singers from the household and is thought to be the earliest of the extensive additions which took place between 1464 and 1483. Situated to the south east of the solar building, the Chapel had two balconies at the west end. Seated in stalls along the sides of the Chapel, original wooden panelling and a first floor gallery were located on the west wall. In 1907 the eastern part of the chapel was screened off for use as a burial place for the Hastings family.

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The Chapel

The remains of the garden earthworks date to the 16th century and are known as The Wilderness. The rectangular garden is divided in two by a raised walkway. Some garden designers are known to have built fortifications which had a strong appeal for the 16th century English nobility. By 1615, the gardens included a ‘wilderness’ which was a newly fashionable type of shady garden planted with trees. The gardens largely disappeared after the Civil War although a kitchen garden was maintained until the 18th century to serve Ashby Place.

Ashby Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I Listed.

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Outer Porch