There is another point in connection with panellings which must not be forgotten, as it had, no doubt, a great effect in retarding their evolution. The oak timber of the fifteenth century was rarely seasoned, as we understand the term at the present day. Oak was often used, as in roof timbers, in such large scantling, that to dry each baulk thoroughly would have taken many years, even if it had been possible at all. We can see, from an examination of the sag and warp in many of these large timbers, that the wood was by no means dry when it was used. It was often quartered, and carefully selected, but it was left to season in situ. Thin panels must have presented some difficulties in this respect; it was impossible to have used " green " panel-stuff, as it would have warped and split after a few months. It is also probable that the makers of panellings were not on the same plane as the carpenters who were responsible for Church woodwork, and seasoned oak, in thin boards, may not have been at their service until late in the fifteenth century, especially if intended for secular use. Thin panels of oak are to be found in the bases of chancel screens, and these must have been carefully seasoned, or the figures of Saints, which were frequently painted on them, would have perished long since. In fact, for nearly a century before wall-panellings appear, they exist, potentially, in dry oak of panel-thickness and in a knowledge of framing with tenoned and mortised joints, coupled with a real purpose to be served in relieving the bareness of walls of stone or timber and plaster. As will be remarked later on, in the instance of the development of the chest or coffer, there is' every reason to believe that a new and lesser class of woodworkers, - the huchers, or box-makers, - arose at the close of the fifteenth century, and they were, probably, the makers of the first wainscotting in secular houses. The carpenter was still responsible for the structural timber work, and was employed for the high-class interior joinery in wealthy houses.
Fig. 261. Suggested Reconstruction Of The Great Hall Screen, Fig. 260.
Fig. 262. Oak Linenfold Panelling From Cogworthy Farm, Yarnscombe, Near Barnstaple.
Fig. 263. True Linenfold.
Fig. 264. Fig. 265. Vertically Moulded With Carved Ends. - Early sixteenth-century doors from Lavenliam, Suffolk.
Fig. 267. Lavenham Guild Hall, The Porch. - Oak moulded wainscotting. Late fifteenth century.
Fig. 268. Sectional Detail Of The Oak Wainscotting Above.
The late fifteenth-century Great Hall screen, a fragment of which is shown in Fig. 260, is a typical example of high-grade carpentry of its period. This photograph was taken before it was restored, beyond recognition as a Great Hall screen, by a former West-country joiner of greater vigour than knowledge. As it is illustrated here, it is not difficult to reconstruct it, in imagination, and in Fig. 261 it is shown in its hypo-thetically original state.
Fig. 269. Oak-Panelled Room From Paycockes, Coggeshall, Essex. - Late fifteenth or early sixteenth century. - Noel Buxton. Esq.
The design is typical of its period, and the work is of high quality. Originally from the Old Manor House of Brightleigh, N. Devon, the shields in the central portion are painted with the arms of Gifford. The three stages of the linenfold pattern, from the simple to the elaborate, are shown in each panel. Even in the state as illustrated here, the screen shows evidences of restoration. Thus the left-hand panel of the right-hand section is reversed, with the simple form at the top, instead of the bottom, as in every other instance. That the central fragment is only one-half of the original (as suggested in the drawing) is shown by the fact that the right-hand muntin is, really, a complete central mullion, in which case three panels are missing. The left-hand portion shows the commencement of the springing of the door-arch. The reverse side of the screen is nearly as elaborate as the one shown here, and this, in conjunction with the small spy-holes in the upper portion of the last two panels, show, conclusively, that it was a Great Hall screen in its original state. The panels and mullions have rotted at their bases, and the threshold has perished.
Many theories have been advanced as to the origin of the linenfold in the decoration of panels. It has been suggested, with some plausibility, that the device may have been copied from the curling of the parchment, which was frequently glued to the backs of painted panels to stiffen them, and as some security against cracking. Parchment, being somewhat of a greasy nature, would not adhere readily to an oak panel, and would have a tendency to curl up from its outside edges, and thus present the form of a simple linenfold. Decorative devices of this kind, however, have nearly always a useful basis, and it is more reasonable to suppose that the first panels were made with a central stiffening ridge (as in Fig. 223) which developed, gradually, into the vertical moulded panel, and from thence, by carving at each end, the folding and curling of linen was imitated as a form of ornament. There is no doubt that, by its use, especially as the sawing of panel stuff was not performed with any great degree of accuracy at this period, a thin panel acquired a stability which it would not, otherwise, have possessed. The sawing of thin wood must have been a task of some difficulty, even in the early seventeenth century. It is by no means unusual to find panels, as late as 1640, riven instead of sawn, and rubbed smooth on their external faces only.
Fig. 270. Oak Moulded Panelling. - Late fifteenth century. 2 I 241
Fig. 271. Oak Panelling From A Farmhouse At Kingstone, Near Taunton (Now Destroyed). - 3 ft. 2 5/8 ins. high by 4 ft. 7 5/8 ins. wide. - Late fifteenth century. - Victoria and Albert Museum.