In recent years the house fell on evil days, one half being reserved to the owner of that time, the other (walled off) being let to a farmer. It was left in this state until the present proprietor restored it in 1912.
The panellings at Billesley are exceptionally fine both in wood-texture and moulding section. That these were put in by Sir Robert Lee is almost certain, but for which rooms they were made is not so clear, as the house had been altered a good deal, and was much neglected prior to 1912. There is evidence of both local and London work in these wainscottings. The London connections of the Lees (the father, Sir Robert, we must remember, was Alderman and Lord Mayor in 1602) would account, in some measure, for this duality. Thus the Hall mantel, Fig. 351, and possibly the panels with their pilasters, are of Warwickshire origin, and the same may be said of the Shakespeare Room, Fig. 354, where the mantel is made from oak with applied bosses and strap-work of pear and other fruit woods. The panelling in a Dressing-room on the first floor, a corner of which is shown here in Fig. 352, has the appearance of being East Anglian work. The moulding sections are extraordinarily delicate, and the oak is superb in quality and figure. In Fig. 356, details of the mouldings in the principal rooms are given, and the second from the top shows this room.
The panelling in the Dining-room, Fig. 355, bears a strong resemblance, both in panel-arrangement and section, to that of the Bromley Palace room, already illustrated in Fig. 328, enough to suggest a London origin for this woodwork.
There are four large, and very remarkable steel locks on the upper room doors at Billesley, which indicate a connection between Sir Robert Lee and the Armoury of the Tower of London. In Fig. 357 are two of the slab doors with their locks in situ. These locks are peculiar in possessing only one bolt, which acts as a latch if operated by the key outside. Another key on the inside of the door double-shoots this bolt and secures it so that the outside key is inoperative. In Figs. 358 to 362, these locks are shown, Fig. 362 only having a single, and an original key, which can be used from both sides of the door. Under the pierced outer rim of these locks is a backing of leather, originally red, but now black with age. Each lock, excepting Fig. 362, has two keyholes on the outside, one masked by a pivoted covering-piece of forged steel. In Fig. 359, which is the reverse of Fig. 358, the mechanism of the lock can be seen, together with the Tower armourer's mark at the end of the bolt. The projecting knob actuates the latch from the inside in the same way as the key does on the outside.
Fig. 377. Chatsworth, Derbyshire. - Landing on Second Floor, showing alabaster door case and iron staircase by Tijcu. - Date 1689-94. The Duke of Devonshire. J. Albert Bennett, Esq., Photo.
The fashion for these elaborate steel locks is a survival from the first years of the sixteenth, if not the later part of the fifteenth, century. The early examples are exceedingly rare, but at Beddington Manor House one still exists which dates from the reign of Henry VII. It is illustrated here in Fig. 363. These elaborate locks must have been very rare, however, at all periods, as, on this scale of elaboration, they could only have been made for the houses of the very wealthy. They must have been the product of the armourer's craft rather than that of the smith, and were highly esteemed at the time when they were made. On their present-day value it is idle to speculate.
Fig. 378. Woodcote Park, Epsom. - Ante-room (formerly Chapel) Doorway. - C.1690. J. Albert Bennett, Esq., Photo.
The woodwork of Western Sussex and Hampshire is characterised by a vigorous coarseness, quite different in type from that of Lancashire or Cheshire. Hampshire panellings almost achieve a refinement by their reticent use of ornament. Fig. 364 shows the type, with rebated door, flanked by pilasters which have little or no relation to the surrounding panelling. The pilaster-bases, with central facetted rectangle, surrounded by coarse and somewhat meaningless ornament, indicate a county without many artistic traditions. The same somewhat uncouth character is shown in the room, Figs. 365 and 366, where the panels are coarsely scratch-moulded, with little or no symmetry. The mantel is, unquestionably, the best part of the whole composition. It may be noted that towards the middle of the seventeenth century these oak panels tend to become larger. The full development in this direction will be illustrated later on.
Norfolk and Suffolk possess their own style in mantels, wall panellings and in furniture. The East Anglian characteristics are more easy to illustrate than to describe. The woodwork varies from very simple to the most ornate, yet it is the constructive details which are usually carved; ornament is rarely introduced, as in the case of the Devonshire and Somersetshire work, merely for its own sake. There is, in consequence, a quality of repose, which, allied with a clean-cut sense of proportion, gives an appearance of richness which is not entirely due to the amount of carving introduced. Thus the simple mantel and panelling from Swann Hall, in Suffolk, Fig. 367, of about the last years of the Commonwealth period, have a satisfying sense of ornament introduced in just the right degree and manner. The Dutch or Flemish element is never absent in this East Anglian work, but this is in no way remarkable, considering the close commercial associations which existed between Norfolk and Suffolk and the Low Countries from the first years of the sixteenth century, - or even before, - until the accession of George I in 1714.
Fig. 379. Woodcote Park, Epsom. - The Ante-room (formerly the Chapel). c. 1690. - J. Albert Bennett, Esq., Photo.