Oak Wainscoting

Fron ftîi old tueuse in Easier, Museum rtríjüu: Èj'KGLtJiiB KÜ,WAi&dAlïqjfc I A sou? 1330-75]

Another Museum specimen of Elizabethan carved oak is a fourpost bedstead, with the arms of the Countess of Devon, which bears date 1593, and has all the characteristics of the time.

There is also a good example of Elizabethan woodwork in part of the interior of the Charterhouse, immortalised by Thackeray, when, as "Greyfriars," in "The Newcomes," he described it as the old school "where the colonel, and Clive, and I were brought up," and it was here that, as a "poor brother," the old colonel had returned to spend the evening of his gentle life, and, to quote Thackeray's pathetic lines, "when the chapel bell began to toll, he lifted up his head a little, and said 'Adsum!' It was the word we used at school when names were called."

This famous relic of old London, which fortunately escaped the great fire in 1666, was formerly an old monastery which Henry VIII. dissolved in 1537, and the house was given some few years later to Sir Edward, afterwards Lord North, from whom the Duke of Norfolk purchased it in 1565, and the handsome staircase, carved with terminal figures and Renaissance ornament, was probably built either by Lord North or his successor. The woodwork of the Great Hall, where the pensioners still dine every day, is very rich, the fluted columns with Corinthian capitals, the interlaced strap work, and other details of carved oak, are characteristic of the best sixteenth century woodwork in England; the shield bears the date of 1571. This was the year when the Duke of Norfolk, who was afterwards beheaded, was released from the Tower on a kind of furlough, and probably amused himself with the enrichment of his mansion, then called Howard House. In the old Governors' room, formerly the drawing room of the Howards, there is a specimen of the large wooden chimney piece of the end of the sixteenth century, painted instead of carved. After the Duke of Norfolk's death, the house was granted by the Crown to his son, the Earl of Suffolk, who sold it in 1611 to the founder of the present hospital, Sir Thomas Sutton, a citizen who was reputed to be one of the wealthiest of his time, and some of the furniture given by him will be found noticed in the chapter on the Jacobean period.

There are in London other excellent examples of Elizabethan oak carving. Amongst those easily accessible and valuable for reference are the Hall of Gray's Inn, built in 1560, the second year of the Queen's reign, and Middle Temple Hall, built in 1570-2. An illustration of the carved screen supporting the Minstrels' Gallery in the older Hall is given by permission of Mr. William R. Douthwaite, librarian of the "Inn," for whose work, "Gray's Inn, its History and Associations," it was specially prepared. The interlaced strap work generally found in Elizabethan carving, encircles the shafts of the columns as a decoration. The table in the centre has also some low relief carving on the drawer front which forms its frieze, but the straight and severe style of leg leads us to place its date at some fifty years later than the Hall. The desk on the left, and the table on the right, are probably later still. It may be mentioned here, too, that the long table which stands at the opposite end of the Hall, on the dai's, said to have been presented by Queen Elizabeth, is not of the design with which the furniture of her reign is associated by experts; the heavy cabriole legs, with bent knees, corresponding with the legs of the chairs (also on the dai's), are of unmistakable Dutch origin, and, so far as the writer's observations and investigations have gone, were introduced into England about the time of William III.

Cabriole Legs
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Sctjen ih Tiiu Hall, of Grav's I^k WHii T&hli; ami referred to.

The same remarks apply to a table in Middle Temple Hall, also said to have been there during Elizabeth's time. Mr. Douthwaite alludes to the rumour of the Queen's gift in his book, and endeavoured to substantiate it from records at his command, but in vain. The authorities at Middle Temple are also, so far as we have been able to ascertain, without any documentary evidence to prove the claim of their table to any greater age than the end of the seventeenth century.

The carved oak screen of Middle Temple Hall is magnificent, and no one should miss seeing it. Terminal figures, fluted columns, panels broken up into smaller divisions, and carved enrichments of various devices, are all combined in a harmonious design, rich without being overcrowded, and its effect is enhanced by the rich color given to it by age, by the excellent proportions of the Hall, by the plain panelling of the three other sides, and above all by the grand oak roof, which is certainly one of the finest of its kind in England. Some of the tables and forms are of much later date, but an interest attaches even to this furniture from the fact of its having been made from oak grown close to the Hall; and as one of the tables has a slab composed of an oak plank nearly thirty inches wide, we can imagine what fine old trees once grew and flourished close to the now busy Fleet Street, and the bustling Strand. There are frames, too, in Middle Temple made from the oaken timbers which once formed the piles in the Thames, on which rested "the Temple Stairs."

In Mr. Herbert's "Antiquities of the Courts of Chancery," there are several facts of interest in connection with the woodwork of Middle Temple. He mentions that the screen was paid for by contributions from each bencher of twenty shillings, each barrister of ten shillings, and every other member of six shillings and eightpence; that the Hall was founded in 1562, and furnished ten years later, the screen being put up in 1574: and that the memorials of some two hundred and fifty "Readers" which decorate the otherwise plain oak panelling, date from 1597 to 1804, the year in which Mr. Herbert's book was published. Referring to the furniture, he says:—"The massy oak tables and benches with which this apartment was anciently furnished, still remain, and so may do for centuries, unless violently destroyed, being of wonderful strength." Mr. Herbert also mentions the masks and revels held in this famous Hall in the time of Elizabeth: he also gives a list of quantities and prices of materials used in the decoration of Gray's Inn Hall.

In the Hall of the Carpenters' Company, in Throgmorton Avenue, are three curious carved oak panels, worth noticing here, as they are of a date bringing them well into this period. They were formerly in the old Hall, which escaped the Great Fire, and in the account books of the Corporation is the following record of the cost of one of these panels:—

"Paide for a planke to carve the arms of the Companie iijs."

"Paide to the Carver for carvinge the Arms of the Companie xxiijs. iiijd."

The price of material (3s.) and workmanship (23s. 4d.) was certainly not excessive. All three panels are in excellent preservation, and the design of a harp, being a rebus of the Master's name, is a quaint relic of old customs. Some other oak furniture, in the Hall of this ancient Company, will be noticed in the following chapter. Mr. Jupp, a former Clerk of the Company, has written an historical account of the Carpenters, which contains many facts of interest. The office of King's Carpenter or Surveyor, the powers of the Carpenters to search, examine, and impose fines for inefficient work, and the trade disputes with the "Joyners," the Sawyers, and the "Woodmongers," are all entertaining reading, and throw many side-lights on the woodwork of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


The illustration of Hardwick Hall shews oak panelling and decoration of a somewhat earlier, and also somewhat later time than Elizabeth, while the carved oak chairs are of Jacobean style. At Hardwick is still kept the historic chair in which it is said that William, fourth Earl of Devonshire, sat when he and his friends compassed the downfall of James II. In the curious little chapel hung with ancient tapestry, and containing the original Bible and Prayer Book of Charles I., are other quaint chairs covered with cushions of sixteenth or early seventeenth century needlework.

Before concluding the remarks on this period of English woodwork and furniture, further mention should be made of Penshurst Place, to which there has been already some reference in the chapter on the period of the Middle Ages. It was here that Sir Philip Sydney spent much of his time, and produced his best literary work, during the period of his retirement when he had lost the favour of Elizabeth, and in the room known as the "Queen's Room," illustrated on p. 89, some of the furniture is of this period; the crystal chandeliers are said to have been given by Leicester to his Royal Mistress, and some of the chairs and tables were sent down by the Queen, and presented to Sir Henry Sydney (Philip's father) when she stayed at Penshurst during one of her Royal progresses. The room, with its vases and bowls of old oriental china and the contemporary portraits on the walls, gives us a good idea of the very best effect that was attainable with the material then available.


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Richardson's "Studies" contains, amongst other examples of furniture, and carved oak decorations of English Renaissance, interiors of Little Charlton, East Sutton Place, Stockton House, Wilts, Audley End, Essex, and the Great Hall, Crewe, with its beautiful hall screens and famous carved "parloir," all notable mansions of the sixteenth century.

To this period of English furniture belongs the celebrated "Great Bed of Ware," of which there is an illustration. This was formerly at the Saracen's Head at Ware, but has been removed to Rye House, about two miles away. Shakespeare's allusion to it in the "Twelfth Night" has identified the approximate date and gives the bed a character. The following are the lines:—

"SIR TOBY BELCH.—And as many lies as shall lie in thy sheet of paper, altho' the sheet were big enough for the Bed of Ware in England, set em down, go about it."

Another illustration shows the chair which is said to have belonged to William Shakespeare; it may or may not be the actual one used by the poet, but it is most probably a genuine specimen of about his time, though perhaps not made in England. There is a manuscript on its back which states that it was known in 1769 as the Shakespeare Chair, when Garrick borrowed it from its owner, Mr. James Bacon, of Barnet, and since that time its history is well known. The carved ornament is in low relief, and represents a rough idea of the dome of S. Marc and the Campanile Tower.

We have now briefly and roughly traced the advance of what may be termed the flood-tide of Art from its birthplace in Italy to France, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, and England, and by explanation and description, assisted by illustrations, have endeavoured to shew how the Gothic of the latter part of the Middle Ages gave way before the revival of classic forms and arabesque ornament, with the many details and peculiarities characteristic of each different nationality which had adopted the general change. During this period the bahut or chest has become a cabinet with all its varieties; the simple prie dieu chair, as a devotional piece of furniture, has been elaborated into almost an oratory, and, as a domestic seat, into a dignified throne; tables have, towards the end of the period, become more ornate, and made as solid pieces of furniture, instead of the planks and tressels which we found when the Renaissance commenced. Chimney pieces, which in the fourteenth century were merely stone smoke shafts supported by corbels, have been replaced by handsome carved oak erections, ornamenting the hall or room from floor to ceiling, and the English livery cupboard, with its foreign contemporary the buffet, is the forerunner of the sideboard of the future.

Forndei"ly aL the Saracen's Ilemd, Ware, but now at Rye H-juse, BrOJibwirne, Herts.

PELKn>ii- XVI. Century,

Forndei"ly aL the Saracen's Ilemd, Ware, but now at Rye H-juse, BrOJibwirne, Herts.

PELKn>ii- XVI. Century,

Carved oak panelling has replaced the old arras and ruder wood lining of an earlier time, and with the departure of the old feudal customs and the indulgence in greater luxuries of the more wealthy nobles and merchants in Italy, Flanders, France, Germany, Spain, and England, we have the elegancies and grace with which Art, and increased means of gratifying taste, enabled the sixteenth century virtuoso to adorn his home.


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