My name is Alistair Park and I'm a professional carver who is based in Bristol, England. Wood carving has been a passion of mine for over twenty one years and I also enjoy teaching these skills to people of all ages.
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Sunday, 24 February 2013
Baddesley Clinton, a moated manor house in Warwickshire with decorative woodcarving from the 16th century to the 19th century
Baddesley Clinton manor probably dates back to the 13th century, when the Forest of Arden was being cleared for farmland.
In 1438, John Brome, who was the English Under-Treasurer, acquired the house and it later passed to his son Nicholas. Nicholas built the entrance way that you can see above, complete with gunports around the doorway for defence.
Nicholas' daughter married the High Sheriff of Warwickshire, Edward Ferrers, in 1500. When Nicholas died, the house went into the Ferrers family and remained with them until 1940, when it went to a relative. His son sold Baddesley Clinton to the National Trust in 1980 and they now look after it.
As you might expect from a house that has been occupied for so long many features, even whole parts of the building, have been moved about and altered over time right up until the 1940's. The impressive 16th century fireplace in the main hall was even moved at some point from the upstairs parlour - quite a feat!
The Main Hall
It has to be said that the continuous occupation means that the house does feel like it has been a real home, unlike some of the grand National Trust properties (such as Attingham Park in Shropshire) that were just displays of power and wealth. The way that the house now looks was heavily influenced by two particular owners:
Henry Ferrers lived there from 1549 until 1633 and a lot of decorative carvings and building layout still exist from this time (including the fireplace shown above). The second group of residents to leave a particular mark were 'The Quartet' in the 19th century. They were Rebecca Orpen and her husband Marmion Edward Ferrers, who lived at Baddesley Clinton with her aunt Lady Chatterton and her husband, Edward Dering. They were completely absorbed in art, history and their Roman Catholic faith.
Image copyright The National Trust
Long before the Quartet's occupation, the house was a refuge for Roman Catholic Jesuit priests during the reign of Elizabeth the First. Despite being raided in 1591, no priests were ever found there. Lucky for the Ferrers, as they would all have been executed for treason if they had been caught! There are at least three 'priest holes', designed by Nicholas Owen, still to be seen in the house. They were carefully-hidden hideaways for priests in the event of a raid.
It's interesting seeing how the styles of the furniture and carved decoration changes over the years and how individual pieces would be adapted by later owners to suit their needs or the latest fashion.
This oak 'court cupboard' dates to the reign of Charles the First in the 17th century. The carving at the top is original, but that below apparently dates to the 19th century and was presumably added to a plain base to make it look 'better'. The later carving is noticeably crisper and more defined, but a bit more lifeless in comparison to my eye. The older carving's slightly wonky designs and less refined
carving technique give it its own charm.
In the 17th century, most carving tools were made by the carvers themselves or by a blacksmith, whereas in the 19th century specialist companies offered diverse and sophisticated carving tool ranges. Many specialised carving tools made in the 19th century can still be found in carving tool sets in use today.
Some of the furniture in the house, which was made during the 17th century, has the date of its manufacture incorporated into its design:
This bed was apparently made from pieces of 16th and 17th century carved ornament, pieced together in the 19th century with a few other bits added to join it all together:
Opposite the bed stands a cupboard made during the reign of William and Mary in the late 17th century. The contrast to earlier furniture and decorative carving from the 16th and 17th century in the house is noticeable. It's much simpler and less ornate:
In the adjacent bedroom is a bed which is reputed to have been made from pieces of wrecked Spanish Armada ships. It is known as, funnily enough, the 'Armada Bed'.
The fireplaces in these bedrooms have carved wooden overmantles from the 16th century, which were given a lick of paint in the 19th century. No one knows if the later retouching followed the original colour scheme faithfully or not...
Near the 19th century extension for the servant's quarters, I noticed this waney-edged oak beam in a wall which was presumably built during 16th century if not before. I like the way that the builders didn't bother hewing it square all round - "that'll do, stick it in there!"
The constant remodelling of the house over the centuries throws up a lot of interesting questions about how it all came to its current layout. The little room shown below is a very good example. There are three small, asymmetrical windows at the far end. It is known to have had a partition wall running along the centre of it from the windows, which was removed relatively recently. A trapdoor below the windows leads into the room below.
The ceiling is continued in the larger room to its right, converted in the 19th century into a chapel, from which it is separated by an oak panelled partition wall.
The wall shown on the left of the photo has sturdy oak beams and looks to be an old exterior wall, but the door leads through into bedrooms that Henry Ferrers had built in the 16th century when he remodelled much of the first floor. The doorway in the wall has been cut into one of the biggest oak beams in the wall, so weakening it.
The little room may have been a sacristy (priest's robing room) for the chapel in the 19th century, but why and when was the doorway cut into the beam? Why are the windows laid out in the strange way that they are? Why was the removed partition wall originally put in, to make two very narrow rooms? What was the trapdoor for?
With the often-undocumented changes that the house has gone through over the centuries, I doubt that we will ever know the answers to all of the questions about Baddesley Clinton.