A gallery was also a place to hang paintings, particularly portraits (that of Queen Elizabeth herself is among many at Hardwick) and to have 'entertainments'. Roger North's description of galleries, which appeared in his Treatise on Building in 1695-618, is equally relevant to galleries of the late sixteenth century: they should enable people to move around freely and take exercise; they should be easily accessible, preferably on the first floor; they should have bow windows fronting on to the gardens and they should be decorated with wall panelling and oak panelling andcarving, paint or pictures.
The skied galleries were at variance with North's concern for ease of access but there is no denying the splendour of those at Hardwick and Montacute, set so high and long across the plan of the house. The second floor gallery at Montacute House in Somerset is the longest surviving one, of some 172 ft; only two other galleries exceeded this one in length: the gallery designed by Smythson, at Worksop Manor, Nottinghamshire (now demolished) and the remodelled one at Longleat in Wiltshire. An account of Montacute in 1667 gives this description: 'a faire Gallary of 200 feete long Wainscoted, with divers good lodging Chambers adjoyning, and 3 very faire and large Stairecases all built with the same Freestone ...'
During the nineteenth century, this wainscoting was replaced by pine panelling to dado height which was, in turn, stripped out except around the fireplaces and in the oriels at each end. As the setting now for about ninety Tudor and Jacobean portraits from the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, the Montacute gallery fulfils Roger North's edict that it be 'set off with pictures'.
The great Elizabethan gallery at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, was created in about 1598. This date is on an heraldic glass panel in the first of the south window bays beyond the stone stairs, commemorating the liaison of the Manners and Vernon families. The gallery is 110 ft long and 17 ft wide and its wall panelling and oak panelling and plaster ceiling are worthy of description in the relevant sections which follow. Again, as the wing protrudes to look over the terraced gardens of the south front and the upper courtyard to the north, windows are placed on both sides and at the east end; these are square, with stone mullions and transoms and undulating diapers of greenish-white glass.
Stone chimneypiece, surmounted by oak overmantel from
an wall panelling oak panelling room old house in Lime street, London. (circa 1620)
The last of the smaller Elizabethan wall panelling and oak panelling galleries, that at Little Moreton Hall, Cheshire, is perhaps the most charming, as it is within a courtyard house which itself delights, by its disordered, half-timbered black-and-white array. In 1559 the carpenters William Moreton and Richard Dale, whose names are carved above the upper and lower polygonal bay windows, remodelled the living-rooms and started building the south range, which is the one first encountered when crossing the moat. They reared up a long gallery across the ship-like, wooden length of the gate house, with a roof formed, internally, of a collar-beam, two tiers of concave wind-braces and a plastered tympanum at each end. It is an early precursor, in a light and fanciful moment only, of all those late-Elizabethan houses which let in air and sunshine through great expanses of glass - the side-walls are almost entirely composed of leaded lights. But Little Moreton is, of course, built without wall panelling and oak panelling Classical designs thought or precedent, a carpenter's proud achievement. It owes nothing to great patronage, or to the precise lined instructions set out on the 'platt' or to a drawn elevation submitted by a knowledgeable surveyor. It strains and tips like a wooden man-of-war rearing on its anchor, incongruous in the green Cheshire fields.
The siting of long galleries over great halls or loggias gave further variety to the plan, but many have been remodelled, or disappeared at an early date. As a space, the gallery was often near, or gave access to, other important rooms and even, in a few cases, to the chapel. This happened at Copthall in Essex, c. 15 70-80,19 which, alas, only survives in plans and views, having been supplanted by a new house in 1753. The principal room to be served was the great chamber, which was usually sited over the parlour and was sometimes formed with a two-storey solar. From medieval times the great chamber had been a room of state for special occasions but in the Tudor period its use gradually became more defined. It served for entertaining and formal dining, marriage celebrations and even the lying in state of a body before burial. The room could also be used as a state bedchamber at the visit of an important personage.
At Lytes Cary, Somerset, the great chamber is reached by a stone staircase at the great hall archway. It has excellent plaster decoration (described below) dating from about 1533, and this gives an approximate date to the room itself. Next to the great chamber is a little chamber, as well as a small ante-room, which corresponds to the oriel, off the hall. Almost all the original wainscot in the great chamber has disappeared, but a common use for the wall panelling and oak panelling room is suggested now by a canopied oak bed. The great chamber would often be lighted by an oriel built over another oriel below, which in turn may have been formed out of the space occupied by the oriel window of the medieval-hall plan. In the Lytes Cary great chamber the stone arch of the oriel has, moreover, the same Perpendicular Gothic panels as that in the great parlour beneath.
Plaster Ceiling Wall Panelling Oak Panelling Room—Jacobean Starpwork Design In Panels—Aston Hall
I have already mentioned the hall in the half-timbered house, Speke Hall, near Liverpool. Its great chamber has a lovely vine-pattern plasterwork ceiling and an elaborate wooden overmantel to the chimneypiece, representing three generations of the Norris family.
It is, however, in the great 'prodigy houses' (the apt phrase is Sir John Summerson's) of Queen Elizabeth's reign that the finest great chambers are sound, the most supreme example being at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire. This great house for Bess of Hardwick was built a few years after Wollaton Hall at Nottingham, which Robert Smythson designed for Sir Francis Willoughby from 1580-88. Externally Wollaton survives almost untouched. However, the magnificent wall panelling and oak panelling hall within has an elaborate hammer-beam roof (modelled on the one at Longleat) which Mark Girouard has shown to be a fake: 'It does no useful work but is in fact slung from the ceiling which it appears to support'.'` Short timbers were scarfed together in order to span the 32 ft width of the hall. Around this and built high were two great chambers, to north and south. They survive (but with their original decoration long since gone) and are approached up matching staircases. The east side of the plan was given over to a long gallery, all of it symmetrical and based on plans in books by Du Cerceau and Palladio. Mark Girouard captures the spirit of the house in this description:
"Wollaton has something of the quality of nightmare. For many it must have been an experience unforgettable but awful to climb the long avenue up the hill, to round the corner, and to stagger back - amazed and excited, yes, but also appalled, by the basilisk glare, the crash and glitter, of that fantastic facade."
Of the Smythson houses, Hardwick Hall is the best known, not least because of the architect's determination to construct a building worthy of its creator, Bess of Hardwick. There are, of course, differences in the Wollaton and Hardwick plans and Hardwick Hall contains less of the mature, brilliant carving than the Willoughby house.
The High Great Chamber at Hardwick Hall is arguably one of the most beautiful rooms in Europe. It is approached, winding up through the 'tight and dark of the house, by a stone staircase that never reveals where it is going until the last sharp turn to a bright, wall panelling and oak panelling tapestry-hung landing. Bess's arms are set in plaster over the elaborately wall panelling and oak panelling panelled room and door to the High Great Chamber and a fine medieval German lock on the door helped to introduce or bar supplicants to her presence.