The most active of the eighteenth-century pattern-book plagiarists was Batty Langley (1696-1751), who made a good living from his many practical manuals. He incorporated several of Daviler's plates from Cours d'Architecture (1691) into his own Ancient Masonry (1736) and pavements and floors are given four plates, as Nos. 449 to 452. He describes one Daviler design as 'an Invention of my own, and which being made with White, Black and Dove colour'd Marble, represents so many Tetraedrons or Pyraments ... which in the Dusk of an Evening appear as so many solid bodies not to be walked on'. One of Langley's engravers who worked on Ancient Masonry was John Carwitham and three years later he issued a book entitled Various Kinds of Floor Decorations ... Whether in Pavements of Stone, or Marble, or with Painted Floor Cloths. Of the three interiors he illustrated in the twenty-four copper plates, two were of entrance halls, but the elaboration of most of his designs made them more suited to painting than to being realized in stone or marble.
Langley took up Carwitham's publication challenge with alacrity and in 1740 produced twenty-seven designs for marble pavements, for halls, bathing rooms and so on. The plates are dated 1739 and several are identical to those in Daviler and Carwitham. His book had the wall panelling and oak panelling in Classical precedents, saw no reason not to imitate their better-known colleagues in the use of stone and marble for flooring. Indeed, many of them, training as masons, had, perhaps, a better working knowledge of their physical properties. Two examples of many are typical. At Crowcombe Court, Somerset, the architects Thomas Parker and Nathaniel Ireson, both active in the county, had their mason set out in the hall, c. 1730, the usual black and white diamond patterns in stone. At Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, Colonel John Moyser of Beverley arranged access beneath the perron staircase to a stone-floored lower entrance hall, which was underneath the upper hall on the principal floor or piano nobile, as in the Palladian villa it copied.
James Paine (1717-89), who established himself as a leading architect but with a good provincial practice, had supervised Nostell Priory's erection, as a young man of nineteen. He used stone and marble in both early commissions, such as the chapel at Cusworth Hall, Yorkshire, c. 1752, and later ones, for example, the imposing staircase hall at Wardour Castle, Wiltshire, c. 1775.
At Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire, the saloon floor (c. 1758) is of inlaid marble and not scagliola, as is often claimed. With dimensions of 60 ft square by 40 ft high, the space is well able to take the intricate radiating pattern, which was based (as was the room itself) on the hall in the Queen's House at Greenwich. The central pattern was given a border with a diamond pattern around the edges. But a year or two before this, in 1756, Isaac Ware had written in his planswall panelling and oak panelling A Complete Body of Architecture, 'The use of carpeting at this time has set aside the ornamenting of floors in a great measure'. Timber floors, never out of favour, were originally laid with the intention of being seen, until many were covered, from about the middle of the eighteenth century, with Exeter, Axminster or Wilton carpets.
The class of timber imports for flooring, known as 'deals', was defined in customs regulations as sawn boards up to in thick, from 7 to I I in wide and 8 to 20 ft in length. A width above I 1 in placed the timber in the category of 'planks', on which the highest rate of duty was paid. Norway deals were generally 10 to 12 ft long and Baltic and White Sea deals 14 to 20 ft. They were reckoned by the 'long hundred' or six score: thus a 'standard' of deals consisted of 120 lengths of 12 ft by l 'in by 11 in timber.
More wall panelling and oak panelling exotic timbers, particularly cedar and mahogany, could be obtained at ports such as Bristol and at Antwerp, where there was an international Exchange: in 1700 over 240 ships arrived in Bristol, some carrying cedar planking from South Carolina, whilst Hull in East Yorkshire dealt with the Scandinavian trade." In 1702, when Castle Howard, Yorkshire, was being built, the joiner Sabyn was paid for two days spent selecting deals for flooring which had come to York from Hull. These would often be of varying width, with a tendency in the early years for boards to be comparatively wide. The boards were rough-planed and then set on one side to season. There is no evidence that the seventeenth-century practice advocated by John Evelyn in his discourse on forest trees (Sulva, 1662) was still followed: that is, to immerse the timber in water (preferably running water) for a fortnight and then rear it and turn it daily so that the sun and wind could freely play on all surfaces. If this method were followed and the boards were only nailed firmly the second year after laying, Evelyn asserted that the planks would 'lie staunch, close, and without shrinking in the least, as if they were all in one piece ...'.
Oak boards were used in the 1740s in the best rooms at Temple Newsam House, Leeds, and throughout the new wing at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, in the 1750s, while deal was used in the upstairs rooms. An exception to the norm was the flooring to the best rooms at Claydon, where mahogany was used in the late 1760s, not long after its wide acceptance in England as the best wood for furniture. A half-landing on the inlaid staircase at Claydon contains a board almost 20 in wide, with those in the Great Room ranging from 5 ¾ - 9 ¾ in wide. The intention was always to lay the boards so well that the end joints resting on the joists were almost invisible.
In the late seventeenth century Celia Fiennes had noted many inlaid floors on her travels and there are several early-eighteenth-century houses in which the practice was continued. On one of the landings of the main staircase at Beningbrough Hall, Yorkshire, the initials and coat of arms of John and Mary Bourchier and the date '1716' are inlaid, and a design survives for the parquet, 1719, on the staircase of King's Weston, the Vanbrugh house on the edge of Bristol." Pride of achievement must, however, go to the craftsmen working in the 1720s and 1730s under Francis Smith's direction at two Shropshire houses, Davenport House and Mawley Hall.
Davenport House is dated '1726' on the rainwater heads, and its saloon is a masterpiece of applied wall panelling and oak panelling wall panelling and oak panelling cabinet-work in mahogany. This is at its most lavish on the walls but the floor has a diamond trellis pattern in a lighter wood to the ground. The same elaborate inlaid wainscoting is found at Mawley Hall (dated '1730' on the rainwater heads), again with a trellis pattern on the floor. It has been suggested that a decline in the popularity of inlaid furniture in the Palladian period induced 'some unemployment expert to develop this fresh field'." Whatever the truth, the inlaid rooms at Davenport and Mawley are of a very high standard of technical accomplishment and aesthetic refinement.
I shall conclude this section with a brief account of painted and stencilled floors. Controversy over date has surrounded the best surviving example of an early painted floor, in the Tyrconnel Room at Belton House, Lincolnshire. Whilst no bill survives for its painting and no reference is made to it in the early literature relating to the house, it is reasonable to assume that it is of the late eighteenth century because of its neo-Classical motifs, although nineteenth-century dates have also been advanced. Anthony Wells-Cole, who has made a special study of the role Continental engravings played in English decoration, has also noted a similarity between the Belton floor and the earlier stylized acanthus, dot and line compartments and anthemionlike motifs in a suite of designs for garden parterres by Jean Le Blond (c. 1635-1709) issued towards the end of the seventeenth century."
One other good painted mid-eighteenth-century floor to survive is in the diningroom at Crowcombe Court, Somerset (c. 1760), which has simplified foliate motifs painted on the oak boards. The painted wall panelling and oak panelling designs gave refinement to a structural feature, and this was further enhanced on many occasions by laying painted floorcloths, a type of hard-wearing painted canvas, introduced into English country houses during the early eighteenth century. They were available in plain colours or various decorative patterns.