The Palace of Westminster, Public Domain
If you are reading this blog, then I expect you are familiar with the scene in Pride and Prejudice when Lizzie has gone to Netherfield in support of Jane, and is taking a turn about the room with Miss Bingley. Much of the Georgian way of life was geared towards display, whether that be of wealth, the fashionable cut of a gown, a neatly turned ankle, the fine lines of a prized hunter or the spacious dimensions of a room (and often the treasures therein).
The sixty-eight foot Long Gallery at Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire dates from the 1570s and is a feast of Elizabethan carpentry, combining practical construction with ingenious architecture and attractive decoration, even if, as one visitor puts it, it is decidedly wonky! After four hundred plus years, it is entitled to be a bit wonky. Its purpose, as with most such rooms, was to provide somewhere for the house’s occupants to exercise in inclement weather.
Early though it is, the gallery at Little Moreton Hall does not have the kudos of being the earliest such chamber in England. Derived from the cloisters of the former abbeys and monasteries dissolved by Henry VIII, themselves places of exercise, many were incorporated into the design of such houses as Woburn Abbey and Lacock Abbey and adapted in houses such as Burghley in Northamptonshire, home of the Cecil family and the famous Horse Trials. This is a ‘courtyard’ house, where the gallery actually resembles its forebear, the cloister walk, by adjoining the house. At Thornbury Castle, one walk is attached to the building and three more surround an enclosed garden. There was also an upper gallery here.
Originally, it is likely that covered galleries were intended to connect one part of a house with another, whereas many later ones led nowhere and were evidently purely for exercise. Those at Thornbury led to the church. The earliest of such galleries in a country house is said to be at The Vyne in Hampshire, built between 1515 – 1528 for William, Lord Sandys, Lord Chamberlain to Henry VIII. Measuring seventy-four feet by sixteen feet wide, the gallery was not merely a wide corridor, for it leads nowhere and is lined with beautifully carved linenfold panelling, decorated with crests, arms and devices of Lord Sandys’ allies and relations. It was clearly built for the purpose of walking – and the display of powerful connections! Doctors in the sixteenth century were keen to promote the value to good health of such activity.
In contrast with the panelling at The Vyne, Hardwick Hall was hung with tapestries, and as with most rooms in the house, was of vast proportions (166 feet in length). The costly Flemish hangings – bought from Sir Christopher Hatton’s heirs for over £300, which was a fortune – were used as little more than wallpaper on which Bess hung portraits of family and kings and queens of times past. In 1601, furniture in the gallery included tables covered with ‘magnificent Ushak and Shah Abbas table-carpets’ in the large bay windows, a state chair or couch and a few other stools/chairs. Embroidered cushion covers adorn the window seats.
Of course, those of us who enjoy historical dramas will be familiar with the custom of walking the raised paths in the formal gardens rather than the gallery, for many a dramatic scene has been enacted in such surroundings. It is not, perhaps a formal garden, yet one of my favourite P&P scenes is when Lizzie stands up to Lady Catherine: ‘You have insulted me in every possible way, and can have nothing further to say.’ This was, however, only possible in good weather. Lizzie tramping three miles through the mud was hardly typical in fashionable Society.
Galleries evolved into places not only for perambulation but also for communication – discussion, socializing and display. Hangings and paintings were added to give those walking something with which to occupy themselves, and as the fashion for collecting portraits grew apace, so the gallery became the favoured room in which to hang them. Not only members of the family were acquired – making some difficulties for later generations attempting to curate them. Portraits of friends, as well as men of stature and influence, royalty and even the Emperors of Rome were added to the mix, the idea being that those perambulating could consider the virtuous characteristics of such personalities and be inspired by them. Hmm, I wonder how many did...
In the sixteenth century, many galleries had little or no furniture and little or no adornment in the way of paintings or hangings, for their owners rarely had the means. Thus, ornately carved panelling is more often to be seen. At Haddon Hall about the turn of the century, Sir John Manners, Bess’ neighbour in Derbyshire, commissioned oak panelling for his Long Gallery to be carved with peacocks in the frieze, the bird a feature of his family coat of arms. The boar’s head emblem of his wife’s family, the Vernons, plus the rose and thistle to symbolize a union of England and Scotland, are also included.
The Long Gallery, Haddon Hall, Public Domain
On the right of the above photograph, deep bay windows overlook the terraced garden to the south, which must have been a pleasant place to sit and read, sew or gossip. With mullioned windows on three sides as well, the room – as can be seen – is both light and airy. The silvery grey hue of the panelling and the lime-washed plaster ceiling only accentuate this. Smaller than Hardwick at 110 feet long and fifteen feet high, with sunlight dappling the oak floorboards it is a perfect setting for a little fencing or, heaven forbid, the shooting of playing cards for penny points!
Although I jest, long galleries were used for such activities and the inventories of some include such items as early billiard tables, exercise chairs, weighted ropes (similar to a church bell-rope but with a soundless, seventeenth century type of ‘dumb-bell’), skipping ropes, battledores and shuttlecocks, tops and spinning wheels. Some even had enormous shovel (‘shuffle’) boards – tables of immense size, perhaps fourteen feet in length and often hefted from a single length of oak – for a form of ‘shove-halfpenny’ played with solid brass counters rather than coins.
Gentleman’s Exerciser, Croome Court, Worcestershire (Author)
The style of long gallery lit from both sides was ideally suited to narrow-ranged courtyard houses or tall Jacobean manors, yet did not fit so well with more compact architecture of the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century. To adhere to the love of symmetry in Baroque architecture, some houses placed the long gallery so that it stretched from the front of the house to the back on the main axial circuit on the first floor, thus providing fine views along avenues of trees and over the rolling parkland of the picturesque landscape. At Croome Court in Worcestershire, the Long Gallery, designed by Robert Adam from 1761 – 6, is similarly positioned but on the ground floor. This apartment has the most beautiful plaster ceiling, and unlike earlier galleries, a central fireplace.
As the function of galleries gradually changed to rooms for gathering and socializing, so chairs and sofas began to appear along the walls. In addition, tables were introduced and then pedestals, on which busts and statuary were set. Thus the entitled could display their acquisitions and wealth for the edification (or not) of their guests. Fireplaces were a part of adding comfort to these rooms. The white marble chimney-piece at Croome was carved by Joseph Wilton and boasts life-sized nymph caryatids. Midway along the opposite wall is a large bay window affording views of the river and park.
The Long Gallery, Croome Court (Author)
The arched niches were created to hold examples of classical statuary and there are marble benches, similar to those one would find in a garden temple of the period, to add to the Neoclassical theme. It is a great shame that, due to the Court’s chequered history, many of the original treasures have been lost. It is a wonderful spacious room where one can imagine the Coventry family gathering and holding balls, recitals or grand dinners. As far back as the early seventeenth century, galleries had been used for music, dancing and entertaining on a large scale.
Long Gallery, Croome Court (Author)
Long Gallery, Croome Court: Ceiling (Author)
A few years later, Robert Adam created what is considered to be one of his finest designs, at Syon House in Middlesex. Completed in 1769, the Neoclassical gallery is a former Jacobean long gallery of massive proportions (136 feet long by fourteen feet wide and high). Relishing the task of managing the long, narrow room, Adam used geometric shapes on the ceiling to give the impression of width, placed motifs shaped like triumphal arches on either side of the chimney-pieces and flanked the bookcases with clusters of pilasters to aid the perspective. Full length windows line the opposite wall, and on both sides of the green-grey marble floor, soft pink, green and gilt chairs and sofas alternate with tables. This was always intended ‘for the reception of company before dinner,’ and as a retiring room for the ladies, to read, sew, play cards and games, ‘to afford great variety and amusement.’ Sewing boxes and other requisites for such pastimes could be found here.
The Gallery at Hagley Hall in Worcestershire (built 1754 – 60 by Sanderson Miller) occupies the same position as at Croome. It was intended as part of a circuit of public rooms which could be fully opened on grand occasions or partly so (drawing and dining rooms) when the family entertained company. When the family dined alone, they could simply cross the hall from the private circuit to enter the dining room. The saloon, set centrally behind the hall at Hagley, as it is at Croome, links the two circuits of the house. Gradually this position for the saloon became less important and the nomenclature of saloon was removed to a grander room, often in a similar position to that of the galleries of Croome and Hagley. One such is at Saltram House in Devon. In the Gallery at Hagley, fluted Corinthian columns screen either end, beneath two of the pavilions which mark the corners of the house. It boasts a remarkable wooden chimney-piece with a central pagoda, and a pretty rococo ceiling with an elegant chandelier surrounded by a floral wreath. Windows line the outside walls and, as at Croome, the fireplace is central with two doors, one at each end, facilitating the circuit of public rooms. Chairs and tables are placed along the walls and rugs cover the floor rather than a single length of carpet.
By contrast, the long corridor adjoining the Great Hall in the west wing at Castle Howard in Yorkshire is little more than a vaulted passage, lined with busts on carved pedestals. Designed by Vanbrugh, the gallery leads to the chapel; the statues, busts and sarcophagi were collected by the 4th and 5th Earls of Carlisle in the mid-eighteenth century – on their Grand Tours, one supposes!
Sir John Vanbrugh was also responsible for the design of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, in the first years of the eighteenth century. Blenheim is particularly opulent and awe-inspiring, yet also functional if one disregards the fancy skyline. Here, again, the Gallery stretches the length of the west wing, from the front to the back of the house, and in keeping with the rest of the building, is on an enormous scale. The room provided space for the Duke of Marlborough’s vast collection of paintings and also a state promenade to the chapel.
One of the last galleries to be built in English Country houses was the one at Chatsworth House for the 6th Duke of Devonshire, who had a fine interest in modern sculpture. He turned the original long gallery into an enormous, comfortable library and had a Sculpture Gallery added in a new wing, constructed by architect Sir Jeffry Wyattville, on an axis with it. This meant, if the Bachelor Duke chanced to glance up from his reading, he could see through five sets of double doors, through the ante library, Dome Room and State Dining Room into the Sculpture Gallery and thence to the far end of the Orangery. This provided a considerable promenade in bad weather, so the original provision of exercise came to be melded with the more cultural requirements of later ages. Lit by skylights, the Sculpture Gallery contains many pieces, including the seated figures of Napoleon’s mother, Madame Mère, and his sister, Pauline Borghese, facing each other on either side of a large clock. The clock is made of malachite; the Duke had a passion for all types of stone, and various table tops, columns, plinths and pedestals are made of such coloured stuffs as blue-john, alabaster, rosewood and moss-agate.
Nonetheless, as the billiard room took over the role as a place for exercise within the house (and a typically male preserve to boot) and children were increasingly filed away in the nursery, the gallery lost its place as a centre of gathering and household activity. Estate business was conducted in the study or Steward’s Room; the ladies now retired to their feminine amusements in the boudoir and thus the daily life of a country house became segmented... perhaps the beginning, indeed, of the kind of life we live today.
All photographs are the property of the author unless otherwise stated and may not be copied or shared without the owner’s expressed permission.
© Heather King