You may remember that Margaret and Henry had been granted the royal manor of Woking; Woking as you may know is known locally as the Eternal City, or Seven Gated Woking. Well maybe not actually, but the manor was located on the River Wey, a tributary to the River Thames, and therefore a handy way to London. Arf, and if you will, arf, I’ll be here all week. If only Margaret had lived a couple of hundred years, she would have seen the Wey made navigable to Guildford, and then, would you believe to Godalming. Now that is a prize for which it is worth hanging around a couple of hundred years.
OK, time to stop being rude about Surrey. Sorry Surrey.
Nice though it undoubtedly was, with its own Deer Park, and with a moat and all, the Staffords clearly felt it wasn’t up to snuff, and they put in place a whole load of improvements before they moved in. The Counting house was re-roofed, stables repaired, and a new larder built. Only then, in March 1467, did the Staffords move in, with a large household of 40-50. Those people would have been of a very wide range – from the quite grand figures whose name and some of their history survives the ages, and household servants of various roles. The size of the household is not on the three figure numbers of an earl; but is quite large, and reflects the Stafford status under Edward IV – the policy of accommodation with Edward IV’s regime was delivering tangible fruit.
Woking was a very grand house, and Margaret was launched into the good life when she made her life there with Henry Stafford. The house had a large gatehouse, with chapel, kitchen, hall, and laundry, all surrounded by a moat and the River; while they stayed there, they invested in the wharfs on the river, as they used it to import the goods they could not supply locally, help them get to London easily, and import luxuries. There’s not much of Woking Manor left above ground, but a lot of excavations have taken place there. One of the recent finds are some very delicate blue tiles bought probably by Margaret and Henry Stafford, bought all the way from Valencia.
The excavations have built a map of the Palace complex itself, complete with the King’s garden as it was called, and fish ponds. The house was set with a deer park. Deer parks were super popular in medieval England, mainly laid out between 1200 and 1350; at one stage there were 5,000 or more across Britain, most now lost. The deer park was the ultimate expression of power; they required licence from the king to be laid out, and economically they were almost completely wasted space; certainly they employed rangers and labourers, but substantial land was taken out of productive agriculture and rental income; though of course often the land they occupied was not the finest of agricultural land. We happened to have one near us in my youth called Bradgate Park, home of course of the rightful Queen of England before ripped from her by the usurper Blood Mary I. I have posted a picture of lovely Braggy Park on t’internet for you, it’s in Charnwood Forest where David Attenborough’s imagination was fired by the discovery of fossils in granite, I think is the story. A Deer Park was usually enclosed by an earth mound topped with an empalement, a wall of split oak stakes basically. When landscape archaeologists go looking for lost parks they look for an enclosed usually curved embankment – we know not why they were normally curved, possibly to save on work and materials. To a degree they were an expression of social climbing, an attempt by the nobility to copy the practice of royal forests – a Norman import which, incidentally, the nobility and common people had many times kicked furiously against. They begin to be broken up after the civil war, destroyed and ploughed up for agriculture. Jolly old Cromwell eh?
Working Palace itself is a development of the medieval courtyard arrangement, with components of the house arranged around a large courtyard accessed from the Gatehouse. The history of the English country house, into which I am going to now launch, is one of retreat and growing complexity, and Woking bears the imprint of that process with two halls, a separate complex of lodgings for the privacy of the lordly family and visitors away from the eyes of their labourers and tenants. There are substantial outbuildings beyond the great Hall, which would have contained the business end of the house – kitchen, buttery and so on; but of course we don’t know how high the building went, how many levels and so on, and we have little specific information about how the household operated, but we can describe what was happening generally in England at the time, so let us try, so you can visualise Margaret’s life of luxury. If you want a hand in visualising what I am about to skim through by the way, you might go to the post on the website, where I have put a ground plan of my favourite of English country houses bar none, Haddon Hall. It helps of course that it is in the Queen of English counties, Derbyshire, and if you get a chance to visit do so immediately. That’s an order.
So, I mentioned a process of retreat; by this I mean that as time went by, the lordly families that built and developed grand houses moved further and further away from their households, gaining greater separation as they did so. In early medieval days, the basic model of a great house was keep at the centre of a curtain wall. Within the Keep, the heart was the Great Hall. There the lord would hold the daily meal among his household, with his knights and great table on a dais at one end of the hall furthest from the kitchens, and his household and tenants around him in the hall in order or precedence.
By the time we arrive at the 15th century and the kind of buildings the Staffords would be comparing theirs against, much had changed. The Keep had often died for multiple reasons; military architecture had moved on and made the keep obsolete. They were cramped and dark and uncomfortable, with little private space for anyone. The placing of the business end of the complex were often inconvenient – the kitchen for example, was a fire hazard, and it produced vast quantities of smoke and smell. The people who worked there had to deal with stifling heat – one of the rules that survives is one banning nakedness in the kitchen, as the workers sweated away. All this meant that it was placed outside the keep, well away from the Great Hall which created its own problems. In the search for convenience, comfort and in response to changing mores of the lives of grand households, those houses changed – there’s no one model, and various houses are at varying stages of development, but there’s a discernible pattern. To help, there is some survival also of documents describing household mores in the 15th century; descriptions of the household of the Earl of Oxford, Edward IV’s Black Book of the organisation of the royal household, and a book of manners, the Book of Courtesy. Of the course, the first two describe very grand houses indeed; the less grand nobility, did their best to emulate them in miniature.
It is worth noting that the salient feature of the keep the large tower does not entirely disappear; but it survives for a different reason, that of height, grandness and display. The super grand Duke of Buckingham’s Thornbury Castle was festooned with Towers, impressing with their exceptional height and with large windows offering a light airy environment and magnificent views. Another expression of power, wealth and luxury. You don’t get that in a labourer’s house!
Back to the Great Hall then. In days Medieval, these were the living beating heart of the great household, the lord in all his glory. The ritual of the household and splendour of the fabric of the great hall were bent towards the celebration of the ultimate expression of the Lord’s status – the feast for the lord, his household and his guests, the expression of the strength, unity and size of the lord’s household, the wealth and generosity of the lord. The kitchens and service rooms shared to an extent in the growing splendour of the Great Hall – both in their often very grand structure, high ceilinged and magnificent roofs, partly of course to help carry away the smoke and smells.
Serving the Kitchen were pantry and buttery, with beer often brought up from the cellar direct to the buttery. From Pantry the Yeomen distributed bread, and from Buttery beer and candles. Beer was distributed to all at the feast; wine just to the high table, placed on a cupboard by the dais – a cupboard still being a trestle table at this point. Although the trend was resisted, the Pantry and Buttery, lying between the Kitchen and Great Hall, became a place where the servants had meals like breakfast.
So, the focal point of the feast was the bringing in of the food from the kitchens, connected now more often than not by a passage, with all great ceremony. At the end of the hall furthest from the Dais would be 3 arches, and through the arches would appear the food carried by the servants into the hall. Over time, wooden screens began to be placed in front of the arches, originally to exclude drafts from the kitchen – but equally serving, when flung back, to emphasise the grand entrance of the feast carried first to the dais in a great procession.
On rare occasion, the lord might take his ease in the Great Chamber, originally a sort of sitting room for the lord and his guests. The Great Chamber was beyond the end of the Great Hall, at least a floor up often above a room called the Parlour on the ground floor. From the 14th century, to the disgust of William Langland, it became increasingly common for the lord and his immediate household to seek the privacy of the great chamber. In 1362, Langland spat
Wretched is the Hall…each day in the week
There the lord and lady liketh not to sit
Now have the rich a rule to eat by themselves
In a privy parlour for poor man’s sake
Or in a chamber with a chimney, and leave the chief hall
That was made for meals for men to eat in
The comfort of the Great Chamber was helped in the 15th century with the arrival of brick as a cheap, common and fashionable building material. One of the earliest houses in brick was Kirby Muxloe built by William Hastings before his fall at the hands of Richard III; but more commonly the cheapness of Brick allowed many more chimneys in houses both grand and more modest, and transformed the atmosphere of the smaller rooms. Some chimneys were massive, giving places for guests to draw appart and have a chat; the Great Chambers also began to have very grand windows, bay or oriel windows often, again creating space and privacy.
Anyway, By Margaret’s days it is more than likely that Margaret and hub would have had their main meal away from their household, in the Great Chamber on an upper floor. The ceremony of the event very much remained – eating was very formal indeed. The food was still brought through the hall in a procession. In the chamber a strict hierarchy applied – and if you were invited to eat there you were either a guest or an important member of the household – it was a signal honour. The main meal was therefore not particularly sociable – they were designed instead to be impressive.
Originally the Great chamber would have contained the lord’s bed, for here was often where he slept, and slept with his immediate servants, and the boards and trestle table arranged and set up for the feast and taken down when all was done. But the grander you were, the earlier the Great Chamber became purely for eating and entertainment, and as part of the process of retreat, a suite of room began to develop around the chamber for the use of the lord and his immediate family. At the same time separate suites of rooms might be provided for the guests, lodgings. These might also include their own smaller hall – Woking for example shows two halls. There are several reasons why there might be two halls. In some places the smaller hall was used in winter – designed to be snugger, with a lower ceiling; and the Great used in Summer. Or the smaller hall might be reserved for guests, as part of their own lodging complex; or in some cases the immediate servants would all sleep in the smaller Hall. If the estate was a large one, worked by directly by the lord, he would have a large number of farm labourers, those permanent staff known as the famuli, a term that survived from the Anglo Saxon estate. The famuli spent their days wading through muck and working with animals of course, so the lord’s family wanted to keep them safely separate – so they might be given their own hall in which to eat and sleep, away from the rest of the household.
This sparks a memory of you will forgive me. My Grandmother’s family were farmers; not poor honest hill farmers working marginal land on the hills or anything like that, no indeed these were farmers in the champion land of the Vale of York, farmers who in the glory days of the EU Common Agricultural Policy spent many happy hours flicking through catalogues to chose next years new tractor. I exaggerate for effect. Well my grandmother escaped the back breaking world of the farm by marrying a city slicker from the big smoke of York, but in her youth my mother and uncle would be sent to spend summers at Tanfield and help on the farm. Nearby Masham by the way, where my grandmother went to school, is still a lovely place, and produces still I believe a fine beer called Black Sheep. At lunchtime, a massive lunch for the labourers would be prepared – a massive great dead roast animal and vast Yorkshire puddings filled with gravy and I believe onions, a vision that makes me faint with envy. A green baize door separated the labours eating close to the kitchen, and a more genteel world where my mother sat with the farmers family in glorious isolation. To get more of a flavour of a life that survived well into the 20th century, I suggest you read a book called Corduroy by Adrian Bell.
Anyway, I seriously digress. Back to the 15th century, the lords and guests’ lodgings developed around some specific rooms. There would very probably be a family chapel. The closet was an important room, not the cupboard where the cleaner kept the mops but designed as the lord’s study, or the place where he met his great servants. In a way it’s like a mini version of the royal court. If you are lucky enough to get to Houghton Hall, where Robert Walpole exercised his oligarchical power, the whole house is oriented to lead to his lovely wood panelled closet – Great entrance, Hall, chamber, then the holy of holies which only the most favoured ever reached, his closet. That’s all much later of course 18th century, but the closet is where the real business of power operated. Next might be the Privy chamber – a room between great chamber where he slept and the Guarderobe, the loo. It gradually developed though as the lord and lady’s private bedrooms, as they further retreated and the Great Chamber became devoted to eating and a sleeping place for closet servants and household. The guarderobe would be managed by a groom of the stool, and probably developed its name from the wardrobe.
There’s one more room to develop which will become very important in years to come, which is the Parlour, often on the ground floor – in the case of Haddon Hall, it’s below the Great chamber, behind the dais end of the Great Hall. The origin of the parlour is monastic – this was the room where visitors from outside could meet and talk with the members of the monastic community, hence the name from parler of course. Later in the 15th century and beyond, to get further away from ceremony and formality and gain once more in privacy, to retreat further from the public eye, the lord and his family might eat here. Its a role that will grow and lead to a level of informality that will attract the admiration of the more formal practices of the big continental houses.
I think I have outstayed by welcome here which is sad because there’s so much more we could say. I heartily recommend Life in the English Country House by Mark Girouard; it’s not a book in the first flush of youth, but its seriously easy to read, well illustrated and admirably clear. Just to give an overall summary of the time then, in later medieval times, families like Margaret and Henry Stafford were changing their lifestyles; and the environment they built around them reflected that change in priorities and lifestyle. Display was becoming more important; Aristocratic families were demanding greater privacy, and slowly separating from their household and tenants, while still retaining many traditions of the medieval lord, and the obligation for grandeur, generosity and entertainment – it’s a process, and will centime into the next century. One of the features at Haddon Hall I have not mentioned is the Long Gallery, which will come in the next century – a long airy and spacious hall where the grand can walk in comfort and privacy, and talk and entertain their guest. A major driver of these changes also is the influence of the royal family – the king and his household drives many of these changes, his barons and Peerage seek to emulate him, the knights and gentry seek to emulate the baronage and peers as so it goes on. Keeping up with the Jones’s.
Margaret’s palace at Woking shows many marks of this in the layout that survives; a suite of rooms called the Queen’s lodgings, used probably for grand guests like Edward IV who will indeed come to visit and including a Great Hall and smaller hall, for example.