By the middle of the 16th century educated Englishmen had learnt a good deal about Italian Renaissance buildings. So when they built new mansions for themselves, although they kept many features which they were used to, such as gables and mullioned and transomed windows, they also introduced other features which were more up-to-date.
One feature they began to insist on was symmetry. The two sides of Elizabethan mansions match each other. The main door still opens out of a lofty porch into the screen passage, on one side of which is the Great Hall with its bay window. But the porch is now in the centre of the main block of the building, and if there is a bay window in the hall it is balanced by one exactly like it at the other end of the block, in the kitchen quarters.
In Elizabethan mansions the courtyard has often, but not always, been abandoned, and the rooms which had before been built in a haphazard way all round it are now fitted into wings which project at either end of the main block. These wings, with the centre porch, form a letter E in plan, which is a good way of remembering what some Elizabethan buildings are like. Montacute House, Somerset; Hatfield House, Hertfordshire; Aston Hall, Warwickshire, are examples. Others which still have quadrangles are Burghley House, Northampton shire; Longleat, Wiltshire; and Knole, Kent.
(Top left) Staircase (Top Right) Porch (Bottom left) Moulded plaster ceiling (Bottom right) An Elizabethan mansion
(Top left) An Elizabethan room (Top right) Fireplace (Middle) Strap-work (Bottom) Half-timbered house
The front door often has a semi-circular head, and on either side of it there are columns or pilasters (sections of columns attached to a wall) similar to those the Greeks and Romans and the Italians of the Renaissance used-though the Elizabethan builders did not know the correct proportions of the various orders.
The porch sometimes reaches right up to the roof of the house, and above the door there is often a window with columns on each side of it and, sometimes, with a pediment over it.
In all the principal rooms there are large fireplaces with elaborate over mantels over them, sometimes reaching up to the ceiling. As the smoke now goes up the chimney and no longer has to escape through a hole in the hall roof, rooms have been built over the hall. There are many more private rooms in the house, such as dining-rooms and drawing-rooms for the family and their guests.
Ceilings are covered with plaster moulded into patterns and the walls are panelled in oak or moulded plaster.
A handsome staircase, built in straight flights around a square well, has taken the place of the Gothic spiral, and upstairs, running the whole length of the house, there is a very long, narrow room called the Long Gallery.
Everywhere in Elizabethan and Jacobean houses, inside and outside, you will find carved or moulded patterns which look as though they are made up from interlacing straps. We call this Elizabethan strap-work.
Several of our colleges and schools date from the 16th and 17th centuries, and there are a number of market halls, such as those at Shrewsbury and Chipping Camped, and almshouses such as the Whit gift Hospital, Croydon; Sackville College, East Grinstead; and Abbots Hospital, Guildford.
Smaller houses-the half-timbered farms, manor-houses and cottages-usually hatheir timbers much wider apart than Tudor houses, and some of the timbers are curved or placed at angles to each other to form patterns. By this time, too, builders had learnt how to erect timber-framed houses so that upper floors no longer projected beyond the lower ones. Quite small cottages, too, were now given brick fireplaces, so upper rooms could be built over the main room.