Pre­served to per­fec­tion

A res­i­dence of the Bishop of Lin­coln, con­verted into an almshouse, of­fers a unique in­sight into the re­al­i­ties of grand do­mes­tic life in Eng­land in about 1500, as John Goodall ex­plains

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Ly­d­ding­ton Palace, Rut­land In the care of English Her­itage Pho­to­graphs by Justin Paget

Ly­d­ding­ton Palace in Rut­land of­fers a unique in­sight into grand do­mes­tic life in 1500, as John Goodall ex­plains

By a deed dated Novem­ber 6, 1600, Sir Thomas Ce­cil, Lord Burgh­ley (and later 1st Earl of Ex­eter), founded an almshouse called the Je­sus Hospi­tal at Ly­d­ding­ton. The new in­sti­tu­tion, gov­erned by a war­den, was to sup­port a com­mu­nity of 12 poor men and two women in per­pe­tu­ity. Ac­cord­ing to its reg­u­la­tions or ‘Or­dy­naunces’, is­sued in March 1601, the com­mu­nity mem­bers were to be se­lected by their pa­tron from among those of good char­ac­ter.

The men and women had to be over the ages of 30 or 45 re­spec­tively and were to re­ceive small weekly al­lowances of money and fuel be­sides a liv­ery of blue gowns and black caps. They were to oc­cupy them­selves ap­pro­pri­ately dur­ing the day and ob­serve a reg­u­lar reg­i­men of prayer, in­clud­ing all bap­tisms and fu­ner­als in the par­ish church.

The English no­bil­ity had been found­ing almshouses con­sti­tuted in broadly the terms of the Je­sus Hospi­tal since the early 15th cen­tury. These in­sti­tu­tions char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally ac­com­mo­dated com­mu­ni­ties of sym­bolic size—in this case, 12 be­ing the num­ber of the Apos­tles—and were gov­erned by a mas­ter or war­den ac­cord­ing to writ­ten statutes. The Re­for­ma­tion had caused an al­most com­plete ces­sa­tion of such foun­da­tions, but, in the early 17th cen­tury, there is ap­par­ent a re­mark­able resur­gence of in­ter­est in in­sti­tu­tions of this kind. Where the Je­sus Hospi­tal strik­ingly dif­fers from its peers, how­ever, is the way in which it was ac­com­mo­dated.

Most hospi­tal foun­da­tions were pro­vided with pur­pose-built premises, usu­ally a court­yard of small houses with a hall and an at­tached chapel. These could be am­bi­tiously con­ceived, as in the case of the Hospi­tal of the Blessed Trin­ity, founded in 1619 by Ge­orge Ab­bot, Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury, at his birth­place of Guild­ford, Sur­rey (Coun­try

Life, May 20, 2015). How­ever, at Ly­d­ding­ton, the new foun­da­tion was given the re­mains of a former res­i­dence—pop­u­larly en­ti­tled a ‘palace’—of the Bish­ops of Lin­coln that had been sur­ren­dered to the Crown in 1547.

By 1600, it is likely that this once-prized, me­dieval res­i­dence was a shadow of its former self. There is no clear ev­i­dence of how it had been used since the Bish­ops had been forced to re­lin­quish it, but the like­li­hood is that the whole had al­ready been greatly re­duced in ar­chi­tec­tural terms. In par­tic­u­lar, the great hall, for­merly the en­trance and cen­tre­piece of the build­ing, had al­most cer­tainly been de­mol­ished.

What did sur­vive, how­ever, was a long, two­s­torey range that ac­com­mo­dated, on its first floor, the Bishop’s with­draw­ing cham­bers.

These were the rooms to which he re­tired ei­ther with se­lect com­pany or to be by him­self.

Ac­cord­ingly, this range was now adapted at a min­i­mum of cost to ac­com­mo­date the com­mu­nity of alms­folk. The prin­ci­pal rooms at first-floor level were lux­u­ri­ously ap­pointed and the largest—the great cham­ber, in­tended for the for­mal re­cep­tion of the Bishop’s vis­i­tors—be­came, with­out any ma­te­rial al­ter­ation, the hospi­tal hall. The ex­trav­a­gant dec­o­ra­tion must have seemed ex­tremely dated, but it was func­tional and the poor did not re­quire fash­ion­able rooms to live in. The tres­tles and ta­bles in­stalled for their use, not to men­tion a lectern for a copy of the Bi­ble and a com­mon chest, are all al­most in­con­gru­ously rugged by com­par­i­son.

To con­trive the nec­es­sary num­ber of cham­bers for the alms­men, the ground- floor rooms of the range were frag­mented to cre­ate a se­ries of tiny cells, each warmed by its own fire­place. The new fires re­quired the con­struc­tion of a small for­est of new chim­neys within the range.

These al­ter­ations aside, how­ever, the changes of 1600–2 ef­fec­tively pre­served the with­draw­ing cham­bers they can­ni­balised. They are to­day the most com­plete set of me­dieval do­mes­tic apart­ments to sur­vive in Eng­land. Nowhere can you come so close to an im­pres­sion of life on the grand scale of about 1500.

The Bish­ops of Lin­coln had in­ter­ests in Ly­d­ding­ton from the late 11th cen­tury, al­though it is not clear ex­actly when they came into pos­ses­sion of the manor (which was first con­firmed as be­ing in their own­er­ship in 1126). From the same pe­riod, they ex­er­cised au­thor­ity over a huge see that

ex­tended from the eastern seaboard of Lin­colnshire right down to Ox­ford­shire. Across this vast ter­ri­tory, there emerged a net­work of res­i­dences that they used for busi­ness or plea­sure.

Ly­d­ding­ton stood in an area cel­e­brated for its hunt­ing, close to the For­est of Rock­ing­ham, which might ex­plain why it quickly be­came a favoured rest­ing place. A lodge or res­i­dence, en­closed by a broad ditch, was cer­tainly in ex­is­tence from the early 13th cen­tury and, in 1227, the Bishop was given per­mis­sion to con­struct a deer leap here, clear ev­i­dence for a park on the site. This stood in the north-west cor­ner of the par­ish and was orig­i­nally hedged and fenced around. In 1262–3, an un­for­tu­nate man named Robert was hanged for the theft of ham from the Bishop’s larder at Ly­d­ding­ton.

The manor grew fur­ther in im­por­tance dur­ing the reign of Bishop Henry Burghersh. He re­ceived per­mis­sion to bring more land at Ly­d­ding­ton un­der cul­ti­va­tion in 1329 and en­larged the park by 60 acres, en­cir­cling the whole with a stone wall. Then, on Novem­ber 16, 1336, he re­ceived a li­cence to bat­tle­ment his res­i­dence at Ly­d­ding­ton (along with his dwellings at Stow St Mary and Net­tle­ham, Lin­colnshire). This li­cence in­di­cates that Ly­d­ding­ton was now a res­i­dence of suf­fi­cient ar­chi­tec­tural pre­ten­sion to be or­na­mented with the trap­pings of for­ti­fi­ca­tion like a cas­tle.

He also con­structed nearby fish­ponds, a valu­able source of fresh food, and pos­si­bly also con­structed the par­ish church on its present site im­me­di­ately be­side the palace (Fig 2).

Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tion of the site in 1976 and 1980 has pro­vided some ev­i­dence about the me­dieval de­vel­op­ment of the res­i­dence. Lat­terly, it was en­closed by walled gar­dens and a small gazebo from these still survives over­look­ing the main vil­lage street (Fig 1).

From the first, the prin­ci­pal build­ings in the com­plex were laid out on a T-shaped plan with a great hall set at right an­gles to the sur­viv­ing range of with­draw­ing apart­ments. The hall, first built in the 12th or 13th cen­tury, was re­con­structed on a greatly en­larged plan in the 14th cen­tury, prob­a­bly by Bishop Burghersh in the 1330s. Frag­ments of or­na­men­tal green-glazed crest­ing tiles from its roof have been dis­cov­ered as has an in­ter­nal area of green and yel­low tiles laid in a che­quer­board pat­tern.

The present with­draw­ing range is a vastly com­pli­cated ar­chi­tec­tural palimpsest built up in stages from the late 12th cen­tury. As it presently survives, the up­per floor is ap­proached up a flight of stairs that orig­i­nally con­nected the with­draw­ing apart­ments to the dais and high ta­ble of the hall. At the head of the stair is the prin­ci­pal room in the build­ing, al­most cer­tainly the Bishop’s great cham­ber, where he would have re­ceived priv­i­leged vis­i­tors.

Its huge win­dows pre­serve the ex­ten­sive re­mains of re-set stained glass (Fig 5), in­clud­ing win­dows in­laid with the arms,

in­scrip­tions and mot­toes of sev­eral Bish­ops, in­clud­ing Bishop Al­nwick’s ‘De­light in the Lord’ (reigned 1436–49) and Bishop Smith’s ‘Lord my ex­al­ta­tion’ (reigned 1496–1514).

The whole room is cov­ered by a low tim­ber ceil­ing sup­ported on a richly carved cor­nice. Clearly vis­i­ble on the carv­ing are traces of painted colour (Fig 6). This ceil­ing was prob­a­bly in­serted in the late 15th cen­tury— most au­thor­i­ties sug­gest it is the work of Bishop John Rus­sell (reigned 1480–94)—to close in an in­te­rior that had pre­vi­ously been open to the roof. Be­neath the cor­nice of the roof, there used to ex­ist iron spikes for hang­ing ta­pes­tries, the most valu­able form of in­ter­nal dec­o­ra­tion in Eng­land un­til the 17th cen­tury.

A win­dow at one end of the great cham­ber looked into what was prob­a­bly a chapel, now a much re­or­gan­ised in­te­rior. It was com­mon from the 13th cen­tury for there to be a squint that al­lowed those in the great cham­ber to see the chapel and hear its ser­vices. At the op­po­site end of the room was a door­way into another richly ap­pointed in­te­rior that was again cov­ered by a finely carved ceil­ing (Fig 3).

The en­trance it­self was cov­ered by an in­ter­nal porch, in­tended to keep draughts to a min­i­mum, and the stained glass in the win­dows in­cor­po­rates the im­age of a kneel­ing bishop (Fig 7).

This room has been var­i­ously in­ter­preted, but it is prob­a­bly the Bishop’s bed­cham­ber. Be­neath the win­dowsill are two me­dieval cup­boards, pos­si­bly for the stor­age of books (this ar­range­ment is oth­er­wise doc­u­mented in other 15th-cen­tury res­i­dences). Open­ing off it is a very in­ti­mate se­ries of three spa­ces, al­most cer­tainly a study for the Bishop, with a basin and a closet or stool cham­ber for his la­trine.

If these in­te­ri­ors seem rather rugged to­day, it is be­cause they un­in­ten­tion­ally il­lus­trate another as­pect of life in a great me­dieval house­hold. The Bishop trav­elled all the time, so his pos­ses­sions—from his bed and clothes to his writ­ing desk and per­sonal ef­fects— had to be por­ta­ble in or­der to travel with him from place to place. They were kept and car­ried in chests or stan­dards and then un­packed to dress the Bishop’s room wher­ever he set­tled for the night.

Thus, what we are see­ing at Ly­d­ding­ton is, in fact, a set of apart­ments as they might have ap­peared be­tween vis­its, with only the fixtures—such as the glass and ceil­ings— in place.

The hospi­tal at Ly­d­ding­ton un­der­went a few fur­ther mod­est changes in the 18th cen­tury. A lean-to walk was built along the north side of the build­ing in 1745 (Fig 4) and re­pairs were made to the range in 1767 (ac­cord­ing to a date stone). It was also de­scribed and en­graved in The Gen­tle­man’s

Mag­a­zine as an an­ti­quar­ian cu­rios­ity in June 1796. In 1860, ‘only two women and the war­den’ were re­ported to oc­cupy the build­ing, which was rapidly fall­ing into de­cay. It was like­wise de­scribed in The

Rut­land Mag­a­zine in 1912 as be­ing home to only two nurses, al­though it was ex­plained that the other mem­bers of the com­mu­nity lived in the vil­lage ‘as the old folks have an idea that the lower rooms are haunted’.

In the 1930s, the almshouse was fi­nally closed and its in­te­rior was slightly mod­ernised, with boards be­ing laid in the great cham­ber for ex­am­ple. The build­ing was ac­cepted into the guardian­ship of the State in 1954 and fur­ther re­pairs have con­tin­ued since that time. The floors, for ex­am­ple, are ei­ther re-cre­ated or re­paired ver­sions of the orig­i­nal reed-and-gyp­sum sur­faces.

To­day, the build­ing—like some Sleep­ing Beauty’s cas­tle—re­mains one of the most per­fect sur­vivals of a late-me­dieval res­i­den­tial in­te­rior on a grand scale in Eng­land. It de­serves to be much bet­ter known.

Fig 1 above left: The el­e­vated gar­den gazebo. Fig 2 fac­ing page: The im­pos­ing par­ish church and the palace range

Fig 3 above left: The Bishop’s in­ner cham­ber, prob­a­bly his bed­room. Fig 4

left: The lean-to cor­ri­dor added in 1745 to con­nect the alms­men’s rooms

Fig 5: The great cham­ber in­te­rior. The me­dieval glaz­ing scheme survives sub­stan­tially intact. The di­ag­o­nal yel­low bands are mot­toes

Fig 6 above: A de­tail of the richly carved cor­nice that survives in the two rooms. Note the re­main­ing traces of colour. Fig 7 fac­ing page: A de­tail of the bed­cham­ber glaz­ing show­ing the kneel­ing figure of a bishop, prob­a­bly Bishop Al­nwick, with his crozier

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.