|Drawing Room, Berrington Hall (Author)|
It is some while since I last posted about The English Country House. Much water has passed beneath the bridge in the park since the last; many words have been written and much head bashing/ hair pulling has taken place. There has been difficulty in daily life, joys and tribulations, and now a global pandemic the like of which the world has never before seen.
However, the glorious stones of our English country houses remain as strong as ever and are sure to withstand the rigours of this crisis as they have the others in England’s illustrious past. Since these wonderful estates are closed at the moment due to the Coronavirus lock-down, I thought I would take time out to continue our virtual tour.
Also called The Withdrawing Room, the origins of this chamber lie within the medieval castle, when the lord and his lady would retire to an antechamber to seek privacy or their bed. Later, the bed was removed to a privy chamber beyond. Gradually, this great chamber was favoured over the great hall for meals and so a room into which to ‘withdraw’ after eating became desirable. On occasion, it was even used for dining privately. It would seem that the term ‘with draughts’ was used for any small room adjoining a larger one; in 1453, a gentleman called John Paston had, in his
drawte chamber’, a writing board and various coffers in addition to his bed.
The privy chamber seems to have evolved from royal households, as an antechamber between the great chamber wherein the king slept and his personal privy, its function being where His Majesty made ready to avail himself of his facilities. In the forerunner of the en suite, his bed then moved into the ante or privy chamber, and later, around the late sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, moved to another apartment altogether. Thus the privy chamber was reinvented as a private reception and dining room.
This system was adopted in the great houses and very often a select company was invited to join the host and hostess in the withdrawing or drawing chamber after dining in the great chamber. Not everyone was in receipt of this honour. While resident at Knowle in Kent, Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset, made an entry in her diary for 4 April 1617 that read: ‘This day we began to leave the little room and dine and sup in the great chamber.’ It seems likely that the ‘little room’ was the withdrawing chamber and the removal was due to the advent of warmer weather, yet she appears to have dined in the ‘little room’ when she required privacy. Lady Anne mentions, on 13 April, that her husband, ‘...dined abroad in the great chamber and supped privately with me in the drawing chamber and had much discourse of the humours of the folks at Court.’
This idea of retiring to the drawing chamber after dining began to take over from the original purpose of a room adjoining a private one. Such rooms, unconnected with sleeping arrangements, came into being in about the early seventeenth century. However, it was long into the eighteenth century before a visitor would not expect to find a bedchamber beyond a withdrawing chamber.
Those readers of Georgian historical fiction will be familiar with the custom of ladies retiring from the dining table to allow the gentlemen to smoke and converse in more convivial terms over a glass or two of port’. At Hagley Hall in Worcestershire, the Gallery lies between these two rooms. This is because, according to an article in Country Life magazine of 1915, Lady Lyttelton was unhappy with the interior architecture of the house, disliking ‘dark closets and back stairs’, as Sir George Lyttelton wrote to the architect, Sanderson Miller. He also requested the latter to ‘...try his skill in the Greek architecture...’ because Lady Lyttelton ‘...wishes too for a room of separation between the eating room and the drawing room, to hinder the ladies from the noise and talk of the men, when left to their bottle, which must sometimes happen, even at Hagley.’
The reason for this withdrawal may lie in the advent of tea-drinking. Having become all the vogue since the late seventeenth century, tea and coffee were both served following dinner and supper. These were brewed and served by the hostess herself. In her closet at Ham, the Duchess of Lauderdale had a South China teapot from the Fujian province, described in an inventory of 1679 as ‘One Indian furnace for tea garnish’d wt silver’. The cream ceramic teapot has silver chains from the lid to spout and handle, and silver trimming to the edges. In the seventeenth century, the practice was to boil the tea over a brazier or lamp. (Treasures of the National Trust, Edward Fitzmaurice) Perchance it all began as a practical way for the ladies to put the kettle on before the gentlemen joined them, yet gradually the practicality became an aristocratic custom. Over time, the separation stretched ever longer until such notables as Robert Adam paid tribute, in his book Works in Architecture, to the hours of debate thus accommodated.
“To understand thoroughly the art of living, it is necessary, perhaps, to have passed some time amongst the French, and to have studied the customs of that social and conversible people. In one particular, however, our manners prevent us from imitating them. Their eating rooms seldom or never constitute a piece in their great apartments, but lie out of the suite, and in fitting them up, little attention is paid to beauty or decoration. The reason of this is obvious; the French
meet there only at meals, when they trust to the display of the table for show and magnificence, not to the decoration of the apartment; and as soon as the entertainment is over, they immediately retire
to the rooms of company. It is not so with us. Accustomed by habit, or induced by the nature of our climate, we indulge more largely in the enjoyment of the bottle. Every person of rank here is either a member of the legislation, or entitled by his condition to take part in the political arrangements of his country, and to enter with ardour into those discussions to which they give rise; these circumstances lead men to live more with one another, and more detached from the society of
the ladies. The eating rooms are considered as the apartments of conversation, in which we are to pass a great part of our time. This renders it desirable to have them fitted up with elegance and splendour, but in a style different from that of other apartments. Instead of being hung with damask, tapestry, &c. they are always finished with stucco, and adorned with statues and paintings, that they may not retain the smell of the victuals.”
It is easy to see from this how the drawing room became fashioned with a feminine eye and the dining room a masculine one, the two becoming of comparative size during the eighteenth century whereas before the withdrawing chamber had been considerably smaller. No longer was the latter an adjunct to a bedroom, but an important room in the country house for entertaining and conversation. This is illustrated very well by the Reverend Stotherd Abdy, who, in 1770 travelled to Welford in Berkshire to officiate at the wedding of Miss Susanna Archer to Jacob Houblon. The good Reverend was, fortunately for twenty-first century authors, kind enough to record many details of his journey and the house party. Here he describes his first evening at Welford, giving us a clear picture of the use of the drawing room by that time.
“We were at Welford between six and seven, and were received with great kindness by the family. Within half an hour after we had seated ourselves in the drawing room, Tea and Coffee and many eatables of the Cake and Bread 81 Butter kind were brought. We chatted over them for some time, then Cards were called for, & we all sat down to Brag with the most eager desires of winning each others money. At Ten o'clock after I had got rid of some loose shillings (which had travelled with me only seven miles & yet seemed very ready to change their master), there came a summons to supper. Seven very elegant dishes appeared upon the table, and proper compliments were paid to several of them. We then talked over our Essex Friends, rejoiced that the Bush Fair folks had so fine a day, introduced a Pun or two, laughed not a little, and about twelve, retired to our apartments.”
Other amusements indulged in were reading, of books and newspapers (including reading a line from each column which produced ‘some laughable nonsense’), the composition of doggerel and Bouts rimés verses, buffoonery, impromptu dancing and fortune-telling. Indeed, through the remaining eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, the drawing room slowly lost its main purpose altogether and become ‘a room of all trades’.
Humphry Repton, landscape gardener and architect, had this to say in his notes about Stanage Park near Knighton, Powys, which he redesigned between 1803 and 1807:
“The drawing-room which, in a house of this date, was called the parlour, may be fitted up with books, musical instruments, and card-tables, to render it the general living room for the family, according to the modern habits of life, which explode the old absurd fashion of shutting up a large comfortless room, to starve the occasional visitors by damp sofas, and bright steel grates.”
|View from Saloon through Pedimented Doorway,|
Croome Court (Author)
Furnishings and hangings were often the guide to the varying uses of saloons (yes, saloon not salon) and drawing rooms. Very often the former are positioned on an axis with the hall, as part of the ‘circuit’ of public reception rooms, and have lofty ceilings, large ornamented door-cases and enormous paintings on the walls. This can be seen at Hagley Hall in Worcestershire, where the visitor advances straight ahead from the hall into the saloon and then follows a right-handed tour through the drawing room, a large gallery and thence to the dining room, where a second door returns to the hall (or vice versa). A similar arrangement can be seen at Croome Court, also in Worcestershire, although here the Long Gallery leads into the staircase hall and the dining room lies to the left of the entrance hall. Here, too, the saloon is larger and boasts two fireplaces.
|Saloon fireplace, Croome Court (Author)|
The rear entrance to the south lawns is also here, where a grand portico of unfluted Ionic columns gives a wonderful view over the park from a broad flight of steps. In contrast, the drawing room, in common with other houses of the era, is a good deal smaller. These latter are arranged on a less grand scale, with ceilings not so vaulted and pictures perhaps hung one above another, for greater comfort and intimacy. Nevertheless, when occasion demanded, the furniture could still be rearranged for a more formal effect.
Friend and companion of the Duchess of Portland, Mary Granville (Mrs. Delany) describes in some detail the flurry of activity in the drawing room when the Princess Amelia, daughter of George III, visited Bulstrode in Buckinghamshire. Her coming in the autumn of 1772 ‘...made some little disturbance even in this palace. All the comfortable sofas and great chairs, all the pyramids of books, all the tables, and even the spinning-wheel, were banished for the day, and the blew [sic] damask chairs set in prim order round the room, only one arm'd chair placed in the middle of the room for Her Royal Highness.’
Crimson silk damask was a favourite with the Georgians for the rich colour and warmth it transmitted to a drawing room. Hangings such as those at Holkham Hall were reflected in chair covers and curtains – and repeated in many other houses across England.
|Hans A. Rosbach Attribution ShareAlike 3.0|
At Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, a ‘Flower’d Red paper’ was originally used and replaced at a later date with silk damask. Perhaps this was done on economic grounds, for silk furnishings were expensive, even though there was a ready source in London via the Huguenot weavers of Spitalfields. Other cost-cutting measures were using cheaper fabrics on the backs of chairs to be set against the wall and leaving the wall behind large pictures uncovered. Flocked wallpapers were very popular in the 1770s and 1780s, and were exported to American and France as well as the complicated designs imported from the Continent. Meanwhile, at Carlton House, London home of the Prince Regent, the Crimson Drawing Room outdid all comers in the stakes of opulence and grandeur. Little surprise there! Never one to do anything by halves, the Prince also had a Golden Drawing Room, fitted out with a golden dais with crimson chairs, tables and bookcases.
|Golden Drawing Room, Carlton House (Public Domain)|
Silk velvet was also exceedingly fashionable, with merchants importing plain and patterned Genoese fabrics along with the de rigueur scagliola tops for tables, statuary and Italian paintings. The plain velvets tended to be destined for drawing rooms, while the rich cut-velvets were hung in the saloons. Remember, the Georgians were all about the show! Scrolled Rococo papier-maché, carved wood or gilded rope were used to ‘frame’ expensive wall-hangings, door-cases and chimney-pieces to rich effect.
The arrangement of paintings and portraits in relation to the furniture – particularly chairs – was all-important. They often came in sets of half a dozen with a couple of settees. These would be smaller and less elaborate than those designed for the saloon, being fully upholstered and sometimes having on the backs nails to match fittings used in the wall-hangings. At Croome Court, the Earl of Coventry ordered a set of tapestry covers from the Royal Gobelins Manufactory in Paris in 1764. These were designed for the sumptuous Tapestry Room, which is now on display in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but could as easily have been for a drawing room. In addition to luxurious and adjustable wall-hangings, there was a set of six chairs and a pair of settees, all in the warm crimson of high fashion.
|Top: The Tapestry Room, Croome Court|
Centre: Chair, one of a set of six
Bottom: Settee, one of a pair
The above are now on display at the Met. Museum (Public Domain)
This symmetry and pleasing disposition of moveable features could also be said to apply to mirrors and pier-glasses. At Berrington Hall in Herefordshire, two pie
with side-tables below are set in balanced harmony between the
|Pier-glass, Berrington Hall (Author)|
In the library, when this author visited, there was a beautiful crimson patterned settee set before the fireplace. At the time the house was built (1778-81) it was not the usual custom to hang mirrors on the mantelpiece, although one exception, it seems, was at Petworth House, West Sussex, where the White and Gold Room was redecorated in the 1750s. By the end of the eighteenth century, however, this French practice was becoming popular in Regency Britain and the beau monde vied with each other for the most elaborate gilt and rococo framing. This was also the case with furniture. Fantastic, Venetian-inspired mermaids, dolphins and Tritons; Cupid, Psyche and other classical figures; Florentine pietra dura panels (coloured inlays), Chinese lacquer work and other Oriental influences can be seen at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire and Uppark in West Sussex, where two drawing rooms flank a larger saloon.
At Berrington Hall, the drawing room ceiling is attributed to Italian Biagio Rebecca and was painted to commemorate the marriage of owner Thomas Harley’s daughter to George, eldest son of Admiral Rodney, celebrated naval commander of the time. The ceiling features plaster sea-horses and putti, surrounding gilt diamonds and semicircles about a decorative ‘frame’, within which is a circular depiction of Jupiter, Venus and Cupid. Other naval references can be found elsewhere in the house, including an inset marble panel of a figure with Britannia’s shield and trident on the dining room chimney-piece, and a frieze of entwined dolphins in the renowned Staircase Hall.
The drawing room at Croft Castle in Herefordshire is a light, airy apartment with pale cream walls and a white moulded ceiling. The chandelier is particularly pretty. Traditionally, the drawing room at Croft was used for musical events and has a grand piano. In the Regency era, this would have been a pianoforte, of course. The painted panelling in the room is early Georgian and portraits of the family date from the late Stuart period. Much of the furniture is from the Georgian and Regency eras.
By contrast, the drawing room (or Great Parlour) at Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire is often very dark, due to the blinds being pulled down most of the time. This is because the room is home to a beautiful eighteenth century Axminster carpet. The fireplace wall is a very Georgian colour of deep green and the wall facing the main windows has bookcases holding a collection of leather-bound tomes. The room is often cluttered with an oddment of tables and chairs in a homely, comfortable fashion and has big squashy sofas on which visitors are allowed to sit. There is also a heavy wooden cabinet, possibly walnut, which displays a delightful collection of porcelain. I am indebted to Mike Peel for sharing his photograph, since my camera was not equal to the task of taking a reasonable representation!
|Great Parlour (Drawing Room), Hanbury Hall|
Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)
|Axminster Carpet in Great Parlour, Hanbury Hall (Author)|
In a rare display of relaxation, partly inspired by Italian Renaissance art rather than classical Greek and Roman influences, at Syon House Robert Adam created the Red Drawing Room in direct contrast to the elegance of the white and gold dining room (deliberate warm feminine tones versus cool masculine ones?) The walls are covered in a crimson brocade woven in Spitalfields. Gilt-framed chairs and stools are covered to match and gilt side-tables flank the classical fireplace, above which hangs an enormous pier-glass. The carpet of 1769, by Moore of Moorfields, was once vibrant reds and blues, and these are reflected in the painted ceiling (by either Cipriani – Syon House web site – or Angelica Kauffmann – The English Country House, A Grand Tour, Country Life magazine). There was obviously some professional rivalry between Robert Adam and fellow architect William Chambers, since the latter decried the medallions as having the appearance of ‘...a myriad skied dinner plates.’ Ouch. I can imagine Adam’s reaction to that one.
Even more informal is the Blue Drawing Room at Chatsworth, which is a homely jumble of big, comfy armchairs, writing tables, books, table lamps and pictures. Nevertheless, the apparent informality is, if you look closer, accentuated by that careful balance of furniture and pictures, of flower arrangements and old-fashioned grandeur. The curtains – so essential in a drawing room – are of a type now rarely seen outside the theatre. ‘Reefed’ curtains are divided and have cords fitted diagonally, thus each half may be pulled to the side as well as upwards. The curtain then parts at the centre to leave hanging ‘tails’ which decoratively frame the window. The room was redesigned for the 5th Duke of Devonshire by Carr of York in 1775, and has false pelmets of ‘carved and gilt swags’ behind which, one presumes, the real curtains are drawn, ensuring a tidy arrangement of the ‘folds’ is always displayed.
Other types of curtain to be seen in country house drawing rooms are the simple, single length of damask hung from an iron (with or without gilding) or brass pole. In Palladian mansions, however, due to the lofty ceilings, the most generally selected style was the ‘festoon’ curtain. Fabricated with four or more draw-strings, this type of curtain gathers up to form ‘festoons’ or folds above the window. This allowed the architecture of the window to be admired and also filled the space above the window between the frame and the cornice. Another advantage with this style was that it did not restrict the daylight as thick ‘normal’, that is, draw-curtains, could not but do. Funnily enough, draw-curtains were new during the Regency and, as with so many other fashionable trends, came from France. Shh, don’t tell them!
It was all part of the relaxing of formality and an increased preference for comfort to be seen during this short but influential era of British history. Just as the soft, flowing fabrics of gowns and robes were increasing in popularity, so were the full swathes of material in permanent pelmets above drawn curtains which overlapped and pooled on the floor. A new vogue, fostered by the Prince Regent at Carlton House, was for simplicity of form, where paintings were hung well apart and large mirrors reflected the light as well as giving the effect of greater space. Nevertheless, in direct contrast, Grecian-styled chaise longues appeared; chairs were littered about the room instead of sitting rigidly along the wall as in the mid-eighteenth century, when they were brought into a circle in the centre for formal conversation following dinner; pianofortes and music stands made their way from the music room; flower arrangements filled empty fireplaces and decorated side-tables; and occasional tables, cluttered with books, sewing-boxes and cases of watercolours, served springy, long-seated bergères (armchairs). In other words, the everyday clutter of people was now spreading from the individual rooms of former times into what was, in the words of Humphry Repton, ‘...more properly denominated the living-room, since the useless drawing-room is no longer retained, except by those who venerate the cedar parlour of former days.’
In fact, we could choose no better gentleman to illustrate the transformation from grandeur to informality, since the following verse appears in Repton’s Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening of 1816.
A MODERN LIVING-ROOM.
No more the Cedar Parlour's formal gloom
With dulness chills, ’tis now the Living Room;
Where Guests, to whim, or taste, or fancy true,
Scatter’d in groups, their different plans pursue.
Here Politicians eagerly relate
The last day’s news, or the last night’s debate.
And there a Lover’s conquer’d by Check-mate.
Here books of poetry and books of prints
Furnish aspiring Artists with new hints;
Flow’rs, landscapes, figures, cram’d in one portfolio.
There blend discordant tints to form an olio.
While discords twanging from the half-tun’d harp,
Make dulness cheerful, changing flat to sharp.
Here, ’midst exotic plants, the curious maid
Of Greek and Latin seems no more afraid.
There lounging Beaux and Belles enjoy their folly.
Nor less enjoying learned melancholy.
Silent midst crowds the Doctor here looks big,
Wrap’d in his own importance and his wig.
This ideal of a living room we will all recognize today as a place for relaxing and lounging; for watching television, reading, listening to music and crafting; for gargantuan leather sofas, scatter cushions, throws and children’s (or dogs’) toys – a far cry, indeed, from those stately withdrawing rooms created by Adam, Chambers, Carr and their contemporaries for the formality of Georgian circular converse.
All photos, unless otherwise stated, are the property of the author and must not be copied or shared without the owner's expressed permission.
© Heather King