Wednesday, 5 August 2009
Magnificent Moreton Hall
Hi All - I've not been long back from my short break ( 2 weeks to the next one in Bath ; Yipee !) but I thought I'd post up these pictures of fascinating Little Moreton Hall , which I visited the day before going away .
This beautiful National Trust building is not many miles from where I live and it was high time we re-visited . The de Moreton family , who have been traced back as land owners on this site as far as 1216 , were responsible for this slightly haphazard architecture gracing the landscape . The oldest part of the building is a Great Hall built in the 14 hundreds , which was added to and expanded as fashions came and went , and the family fortunes reached their peak in Elizabethan times . Having recently visited Hardwick Hall , and finished a brilliant biography of Bess of Hardwick I was longing to stand in the sort of building which would have been absolutely familiar to any of her contemporaries . The Moretons would have been a wealthy and high standing provincial family rather than perhaps aristocrats - but that only makes the Hall all the more rare for having survived so intact to this day .
Not everybody knows that the Elizabethans would be surprised to see "Tudor" buildings painted in the "typical" black and white - in fact oak framework was left to fade to that much nicer silver grey , natural colour , and the in-filling wattle and daub was never white ; but stained a light ochre shade . Inside the Hall is a wonderful ground floor room which had been panelled over in Georgian times concealing intricate wall and beam paintings , with a top frieze depicting a moral tale (Suzanne and her Elders ) I just find it staggering that such amazing pieces of "by hand" craft are co-existing with us in our whizzy , high speed world - how lucky we are to take a peep down the telescope of time !
A Long Gallery was added in 1570 - 1580 ; probably as an after thought as they were becoming quite the fashionable place to take an evening stroll rather than the "leads" on the roof .
The roof was tiled with Millstone Grit slabs which shortly began to sink the building and slide off ! Quite a few generations of Moretons continued to wrestle with the sagging structure , until the National Trust finally bought the property and made millions of pounds worth of renovations . Apparently visitors interested in the Long Gallery used to shuffle their way around the extreme edge of the room for fear it might cave in . Now you can walk around safely at will ; the floors slope in unexpected places and many lintels and fireplaces appear to be lurching side ways . One of the guest bedrooms had a horrific camber to it ; sloping away down toward the window , and was in full use in that state for hundreds of years ! I think you would need to build the bed legs up on one side otherwise you'd have recurring nightmares of being on a sinking ship ! Definitely not for the faint hearted house guest !
(Knot Garden re-created in the 1980s)
During the English Civil War the Moreton family began to lose their fortune ; not helped by being Royalists and having to billet 80 of Cromwell's soldiers for months at their own expense . Maybe some buildings have their own angel watching over them though ; preserving them for us all to enjoy ; it was incredible that the hall was not torched and razed to the ground when the soldiers left .
We took a tour with a really excellent guide during which I gleaned these interesting snippets ;
*The straw/grass which was deeply strewn over the floors in the 15th and 16th century was referred to as "thresh" - a plank was needed at the door to hold it all in , which gave rise to the expression stepping over "the threshold".
* Tudor dining halls were laid out with 3 very long tables in a "U" shape where the whole household ate , taking positions at the tables in ranked seniority right down to pot boys and skivvies . An original trestle table can be seen at Little Moreton Hall , constructed from 3 long oak boards joined side by side . This is where we get the expression to "tread the boards" - from when the "boards" were grouped together along one wall to make a stage for travelling performers . Also the words "cupboard" and "sideboard". After meals were finished the boards were turned over to the clean side so that any number of games could be played : "boardgames". I wonder if we refer to working for "bed and board" as it originally implied bed and then meals with the household at the "boards" ??
Well , I hope you enjoyed a glimpse of the past - there'll be more to come soon I promise .