Forde Abbey, Fig. 250, has the heavy staircase of its period, with broad handrail intersecting with the cappings of large newels, heavy strings, and massive carved and pierced balustrade panels. Numbers of these fine staircases can be found in many of the large houses of England of this period. At Tredegar, Figs. 251 and 252, - which is a few years later in date, but hardly in style, - the piercing of the panels is more open in character and the flights are unbroken, whereas at Forde they are divided by landings. This may have been due to exigencies of planning, however, where a greater forward distance had to be traversed to reach the same height, or, in the familiar parlance, where the stair had to be " less steep in its going." Fig. 252 shows the landing detail of this fine Tredegar staircase with its vigorous carving of the free scrolling in the panels.
Fig. 248. Thorpe Hall, Northants. - Staircase from second to third floors. Date about 1650.
At Wolseley Hall, in Staffordshire, Fig. 253, these pierced panels are replaced by twisted balusters and the ramps of the handrail are steeper in pitch. It may be taken as a good example of the post-Restoration period.
Fig. 249. Thorpe Hall, Northants. - Central Newel Staircase at Top Landing. Date about 1650.
Fig. 250. Forde Abbey, Dorsetshire. - The Great Staircase. Date 1658.
Fig. 251 Tredegar Park, Monmouth. - The Staircase. Date about 1665. - The Viscount Tredegar.
Fig. 252. The Tredegar Park Staircase. - Detail of Landing Newels and Panels.
One detail, that of panelling the walls with a dado capped with a semi-handrail, following the lines of that of the staircase itself, persists for many years, and will be found in many of the wooden staircases of the next century. Large allowances must be made, in all cases, for planning exigencies. Had the staircase hall been designed first and the house planned round it, some degree of uniformity might have occurred, but in many of the great houses the chief aim was an agreeable, imposing or symmetrical elevation; the interior planning had to take care of itself. It is impossible, otherwise, to account for many defects, such as at Nostell Priory, where the distance from the kitchens to the State dining-room is so great as to render a hot dish on the table an impossibility without an interim warming up in transit. It is small wonder, therefore, that many of these great staircases have had to be awkwardly or ingeniously contrived, with the result that it is surprising they do not vary to an even greater degree than is, actually, the case.
Fig. 253 Wolseley Hall, Staffs. - The Staircase. Date about 1670. 227
Fig. 254. Castlenau House, Mortlake (Now Destroyed). - A Portion of the Staircase. - Date about 1680. - Victoria and Albert Museum.
There is little purpose to be served by illustrating a number of examples, which would only prove this point, and no other. Fig. 254 shows the graceful staircase which became fashionable, especially in London houses, towards the end of the seventeenth century. The handrail is delicate, and the newel slight and graceful. The moulding of the former is mitred to form a capping, but this is no longer a part of the newel itself. Both treads and risers are taken through above the string, in moulded returns, each with a carved spandrel underneath. The string also is slight, with a classical frieze-moulding section worked on it. The balusters are slender, turned with fine reeded twists, in this example fixed three to a stair, but all of the same pattern. Fig. 255, which closes this series, is the staircase from 31, Old Burlington Street, which dates from the early eighteenth century. There is scarcely any variation in type observable during a space of upwards of half a century. The handrail no longer finishes as a capping to a newel, but sweeps round in a bold volute, and is supported on a cluster of balusters. In the latter a great variety is obtained by placing three to a stair-tread, as before, but here each of a different pattern. The last two stairs have the bull-nosed finish of the time, more usually found on the last stair only instead of the two, as in this example. Staircases of very similar pattern to this, perhaps not so rich or important, can be found in many of the houses in this locality and in many of the older streets radiating from Holborn and Oxford Street. It is possible that the making of staircases of this type may have become a specialised industry in the first years of the eighteenth century. This is suggested by the use of the same patterns in the turning, fluting or twisting of balusters, the mouldings of handrails and strings, and in the carving of the foliated spandrels fixed under the exposed return of the stair-treads immediately above the outside string.
Fig. 255. 31 Old Burlington Street, London, W. - The Staircase. - Date about 1730. - Messrs. Lenygon and Morant.
To illustrate examples of staircases, beyond this point, would be useless, especially as for the balustrades, wood was frequently replaced by wrought iron and for the stairs, by stone, especially in houses of importance. To show these would carry us beyond the scope of our material as well as of the period to which this book is confined.