Since the Middle Ages floor surfaces have undergone as many changes as other structural features in houses. The most common flooring materials were stone, bricks, marble or wood, but occasionally hard plaster or tiles were used.
The weight of stone usually confined its use to paving for the basement and ground floor. It came frequently from quarries on or near the site, although the use of some highly prized stone meant seeking it at a distance. Most Tudor houses seem to have been built with stone" from within a radius of about twenty-five miles of their location. The thin flat paving stones needed for floors were dressed on site from the larger rough blocks sent by water and cart from the many quarries." York sandstone is formed of thin 'laminations' that can be split apart easily and it was in considerable demand for all areas where a hard durable surface was needed. Portland limestone, whilst achieving its greatest use after the Fire of London (1666,, had been used for building and flooring since the fourteenth century. It is close-grained with an even texture and whilst not easy to work, because of its hardness, has always been thought one of the finest building-stones in England.
Wall Panelling Oak Panelling Cartouche, Late 17th Century
The first bricks were introduced into Britain by the Romans and, although manufacture died away after they left, it was re-established in medieval times. Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII used bricks in structural and decorative ways at their palaces of Hampton Court and St James's but the use of brick alone for floors was rare. It was tiles, which have much in common with bricks (often being made in brick-kilns), that were chosen for flooring. The early years of the sixteenth century had seen a decline in the English monastic production of tiles at houses such as that of the Benedictines at Great Malvern. Tiles were therefore sometimes obtained from abroad: the maiolica portrait tiles on the chapel floor at The Vyne, Hampshire, for example, have been attributed to the workshop set up in Antwerp in 151= by an Italian from Urbino, Guido de Savino. Among the portrait tiles a: The Vyne is one with the profile head of Federigo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino. They are a colourful foil in their glazes of lemon-yellow, orange green and cobalt blue to the already radiant stained-glass windows of the chapel. Flemish paving tiles were supplied in green and yellow for use a: Hampton Court in 1535" at a charge of 5d a hundred.
One of the richest effects for flooring was achieved with colourec marbles. Marble is a fine-grained limestone containing a high proportion calcium carbonate, Under great natural heat and pressure it is recrystallized and the fissures formed become filled and stained with calcite and mineral colourings. One of the attractions of using marble for interiors is its ability to take a high polish, even if this is gradually lost in a damp atmosphere. Pure forms of white English marble are rare, but impurities such as iron oxide give it an attractive range of warm colours. Some English marbles also contain many fossil-shells of the freshwater snail and this gives an elaborate figuring when cut and polished.
A wall panelling oak panelling room of the William and Pary Period, with walls and ceiling in plaster
The best of the English marbles were quarried in Kent, Derbyshire, Sussex, Surrey and in Dorset, near St Aldhelm's Head, where the famous Purbeck marble was found.'-' In its dark-grey polished state, Purbeck marble was used extensively in English churches (as far away from its source as Durham Cathedral). However, I know of no Tudor Purbeck-marble floor in a domestic interior.
Ceiling of St. Mary Abchurch, London. A typical example of Thornhill’s wall panelling oak panelling work
The material most used for floors in the Tudor period was undoubtedly wood, in particular, oak. When a room had a small span the wooden planks were supported by wooden joists that ran across from one wall-plate to the opposite one. Where the span was over about 15 ft, one or more 'summers' (horizontal beams) were inserted with the joists laid on them longitudinally. The joists were then usually mortised into the summers, with endplates laid on top of them. William Horman in his Vtilgaria recorded this method in 1519 when he wrote. The carpenter or wryght hath layde the summer bemys from wall to wall and the ioystis a crosse.'
Throughout the Tudor period there was an appreciation that dry, seasoned oak in wall panelling and oak panelling was best but it was not in plentiful supply. It was also very heavy - a cubic foot weighing some 55 lbs - and expensive. Other timber of varying sorts and sizes was provided from the Baltic through the trading efforts of the Hanseatic League of North Germany. By the beginning of the fifteenth century the League had control of the Baltic and much else, thus excluding English merchants from its lucrative trading in timber, pitch, tar and fish.
Evidence suggests that early Tudor houses were not always models of tidiness and hygiene. Erasmus, in a letter to Cardinal Wolsey's physician in the late 1520s, wrote that in English houses: 'The floors are commonly of clay, strewed with rushes under which lies unmolested an ancient collection of beer, grease, fragments, bones, spittle, excrements of dogs and cats and everything that is nasty.'
Strewing of rushes on the floor was a common occurrence and in the household of the 2nd Viscount Montagu at Cowdray, as late as 1595, the regulations stipulated that: ' ... the galleyes and all lodginges reserved for strangers [be] cleanly and sweetly kepte, with herbes, flowers and bowes in their seasons."
A Queen Anne room, with wall panelling oak panelling walls and ceiling in plaster
Some part of this entry may refer to the bags containing sweet-smelling herbs that were placed in rooms to scent the air or between linen; 'perfuming pans' in which scented pastilles were burned were also in use.
Finally, we should note that in a number of houses, both large and small, floors were composed of hard plaster (glacis). This type of flooring can be seen in the late 1570s at Burghley House, Lincolnshire and in the 1590s at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, where some remnants survive in the 'banqueting houses' (that is, the small vantage towers) on the roof, almost indistinguishable from hard cement.
Detail of plaster ceiling in a wall panelling oak panelling room of early Greorgian Period