Great Chalfield Manor

It has been quite a while since I updated here due to a busy few weeks filled with exciting conferences and things, so a number of blogs will appear in quick succession.

The first is going to concern itself with a visit I paid to Great Chalfield Manor, a National Trust property in Wiltshire. The property has aspects dating from before 14th century, however, the main façade was built between 1467-80 by Thomas Tropnell.

Great Chalfield Manor

I felt the need to blog about my visit as unlike most of the properties I have visited from this period and earlier (including Knole and Penshurst) the building did not fit with my “spatial grammar of expectation”. The building is laid out with a central great hall and flanking wings to left and right, when entering the Great Hall it appears like any other, entering through the screens passage at the lower end of the hall. At the upper end there is a small vaulted/ groined room as at Bodiam, Penshurst and Ightham and above the solar or Great Chamber.

It is the other wing at the lower end of the hall which confuses me. I had assumed that the two doorways would take you through to the servants quarters but in this case no. Instead you are brought through to a dining room/ parlour with another set of private chambers apparently for the family. This has been explained through the changing fashion for eating privately instead of communally, I just find the idea of the rooms for this to occur being placed at that end of the hall bizarre. The whole experience of visiting has opened my eyes to the changes in building fashions that occurred not long after Bodiam was built and how my expectations may bias my views of visiting contemporary buildings as a whole.

This was my first intrigue for visiting the building, the next returns to my thoughts on ornamentation that I have discussed in reference to Ightham and Bodiam. Like at Ightham the family heraldry features prominently both in the buildings architecture but also in the adjoining parish church.

Parish Church Heraldry

Heraldry from the main building

The building also had a series of other interesting engravings. First on the outside of the building not only are there faces in some of the stonework as at Ightham but there are also complete figures balanced on the rooftop.

Knight in Armour

Internally there are more interesting engravings. The Great Hall features some beautiful squints which face the head of the room. These are engraved to resemble faces, one which hides above the modern minstrels gallery laughs at the high end of the Great Hall, the other two, also mocking, feature a Bishop with his mitre facing the wrong way and a king with asses’ ears. These bring back memories of the faces at Ightham Mote and mocking the high end of the table.

All together the trip was interesting, I think I will need to visit again and hopefully collect some photos of the interior, but it brought into question my understanding of the spatial grammar of the building as well as offering likely comparisons for my thoughts on architectural ornamentation.

First renders and thoughts on beams

I had a supervision yesterday with my supervisors Prof. Matthew Johnson and Dr. Graeme Earl where we discussed the first renders I had produced of my model so far. These images just detail the internal space: windows, fireplaces and doorways, and my first attempts at putting a roof and floors on the building.

I had been reading a lot around the subject of timber building construction to try to understand the appearance or these types of building. My first port of call was Richard Harris’s Discovering Timber-Framed Buildings this excellent little book explains the construction of these buildings in great detail with lots of helpful, clear diagrams. Based on his writings I started to plan the distances and shapes of my beams and how they would slot together. The following image is the results. I have just added some basic textures and materials to the renders to give an idea about the space that is not bright pink. I also realise that my smoothing groups need playing around with a bit.

Shape of beam bays

Internal beams upper floor

Ground floor showing beamed roof

A window and fireplace from the upper floor

The space the beams need to cross is quite short (about 5m) so there was no need to think about having to bridge the gap using a tie beam or similar approach. The distance the bays are placed apart does not seem to be set. I choose to space them evenly across the entire span about 5m apart as this “looked right” based on photos of other Medieval Roofs I had been using for reference (see below). Before spacing them apart I had to also consider the shape of this part of the frame. I had been looking at the above images of roof beams and decided to not go with a Crown Post and instead use 2 slanting Queen posts.

Wilmington Priory timber roof

Portchester Castle

Brockhampton Estate: The Great Hall

Presenting these images to Graeme and Matthew highlighted a few errors. Matthew suggested that the angle I had used for the Queen Posts was much too slanted, which is indicative of later buildings. Instead he suggested that it would be much more interesting to include a Crown Post or make the Queen Posts vertical.

As there are a number of options instead of just making one decision about how the roof is structured Graeme suggested that instead I create a number of different models with different roofing options, including a crown post and not, moving the number and position of bays around a bit to see if there are any obvious options for lining them up. We also discussed whether there would have been a ceiling concealing these beams. I had always assumed that the rooms would be open to the roof as this is common in halls. I had not really considered putting a ceiling in place on this upper floor.

What I had not considered was how much this changed the appearance of the upper apartment. Until now I had been thinking about them as looking fairly similar situated one above the other. However. when the roof is in place it will transform the upper apartment making it feel much larger and more open. Whereas the lower apartment will feel much more contained.

The second discussion point coming from the meeting was in reference to the beams and how decorated they were or not. We had been discussing them in terms of ornamentation of the type found at Ightham Mote (see previous blog). I asked whether, considering the lack of architectural ornamentation found at Bodiam, the beams, which would be cheaper to carve, would also be devoid of decoration. I had been thinking about it a lot as I need to decide whether I am going to shape them sooner rather than later. Matthew suggested that the question was even more complex as unlike a lot of slightly earlier buildings the household was not a peripatetic one, it was solely based at Bodiam. Which we would have assumed that more of the building would be decorated as it would not have had to have been moved around. So wondering whether the more decayed areas of the building are as plain as the rest of it is a very hard question, which I have yet to find an answer for.

3/10 things you didn’t know about Bodiam Castle: Ornamentation

Unlike at Ightham Mote ornamentation on the architecture at Bodiam is virtually none existent. Despite the scale of the building and its presence in the landscape there is just one piece of decorated stonework remaining: a leafy boss.

Leafy Bpss

Again unlike at Ightham it is not on display in an obvious entrance or public room, it is concealed in the on the right side of the gatehouse on the second floor. It is not in a room, but more of a passageway which only remarkable feature (other than the boss) is one of the new style gun loops. It is so concealed that few visitors notice it (and even so called experts *myself* spent a good morning wandering around looking at ceilings before I found it!).

Size of Room

It is curious that it is found in this location. As I have already stated at Ightham the majority of the ornamentation is on the public areas of the building. This area of Bodiam is so concealed it is not a display of ostentation as it is in other buildings. It is so concealed and so small we have to question why it is there. The room is tiny it could even be considered a corridor, its only feature is that the gun loop lighting it overlooks the gatehouse: which have been suggested as some kind of porters lodge use. The room itself is very dark even during the day, there is no space to sit in the room, or anything to do there except look out the gun loop. It required such a trained eye to find it it seems wasted here in this part of the building.