Tall newel finials were the usual finish to these early-seventeenth-century staircases. At Charlton, Fig. 244, they have been replaced, with a considerable loss of dignity, by small carved pinnacles. The newels are nearly always square, with flat ornament of strapwork, sometimes interlaced and cut by the carver, and decorated with applied bosses or split balusters, as at Aston, or left in imitation of applied fretwork, as at Charlton. A feature of these early-seventeenth-century staircases is that they are nearly always contrived in a series of short flights, which implies a small staircase hall, as the flights reach from landing to wall. Even at Wolseley Hall, Fig. 253, the post-Restoration staircase has this feature of not more than about twelve treads divided by square landings. The long flight does not appear, in authentic work, until the eighteenth century. At Hemsted, Fig. 245, where the staircase dates from about 1850, and the balustrades only from the last few years, the long flights look wrong, compared with the detail of the newel, handrail and pierced panel. In a staircase hall of this size, no other arrangement is possible, but in a house of the seventeenth century, this hall would have been smaller and the long flights avoided. The stair at Hemsted from first to second floors, Fig. 246, illustrates this method of breaking up by frequent landings much better than the great staircase. With the seventeenth-century stairs, landings do not always imply turnings; it is not unusual to find a long flight broken up by landings and newels in the one line, but, as a rule, the newel-posts are continued to the floor, and the spaces between, below the string, filled with a panelled spandrel.
Were it possible to illustrate staircases in great numbers, it might be discovered that particular localities possessed their peculiar types. Unfortunately, although we can say, that in nearly every house of importance, the staircase is contemporary with and original to the structure, or if the contrary be the case, such fact is known, we are not always certain that these staircases are local, either in design or make. It was customary, in the erection of many of the important houses during the seventeenth century, for wealthy owners to instruct London architects, who employed labour from parts of England often far removed from the house itself. We know this to be the fact equally with Inigo Jones in the first half, and with Thorpe, Kent, Ware, Gibbs, Wren and others, at the other end of the seventeenth, and the early years of the eighteenth centuries. Panelling was much more frequently of local make than was the case with staircases and interior woodwork of similar character.
Fig. 242. Beachampton Farm. - The Staircase. Date about 1603. 217
Fig. 243. Beachampton Farm. - Enlarged View of the Staircase Newel
It is unsafe, therefore, to state, positively, that a staircase in a Lancashire house, for example, is either of the design or workmanship of the neighbourhood. Styles, in this instance, vary far more at different periods than in distinct localities, although there are, in a general way, great differences between Midland and East Anglian staircases, and many of the later styles, when stairs become lighter in construction and more delicate in proportion, originate in the Home Counties at a date much earlier than the influence of this new manner is manifested in other districts of England.
The following examples may be taken as representative of the great house manner of their period, but, as before pointed out, it is unwise to postulate a locality of origin.
Fig. 247 is a fragment of one of the staircases formerly in the early-seventeenth-century house of Lyme, before it was rebuilt by Leoni some hundred years later. It shows the richly carved and pierced panels of this date, framed between vertical moulded mullions. The newels are coarse, but vigorous, bearing signs, however, of finial replacement. The balustrade is now fitted to a short stair from the central hall to the mezzanine floor above, containing the present drawing-room. Its date is about 1603, and it may be given as an example of Cheshire woodwork.
At Thorpe Hall, Northamptonshire, the staircase, which dates from the middle of the seventeenth century, is interesting as showing how soon constructional problems were solved. From the second to the third floors, Fig. 248, the stairs are massive, with heavy strings and handrails strongly tenoned into large newels, in short flights to minimise any tendency to sag away from the side walls. Above, to the top landing, Fig. 24c), the construction is much more daring in conception, although based on the old form of a central newel-post with risers tenoned into it. The outer verge of the stair, however, is in the air, contrived with shaped strings, in a spiral form, instead of risers housed, at their other ends, into a wall. This spiral staircase is, of course, thoroughly •constructional and rigid, but such departures from established precedent show that great strides had been made in the science of staircase construction at this date. Such examples as this are rare, but they show, nevertheless, the degree of skill which had been acquired at this period.
Fig. 244. Charlton House, Kent. - Detail of Staircase on First Landing. Date 1612-15.
Fig. 245. The Great Staircase.
Hemsted, Kent, - Fig. 246. - The Secondary Staircase.
Fig. 247. Lyme Park, Cheshire. - Portion of Staircase from the Early-Seventeenth-Century House. - Capt. the Hon. Richard Legh.