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Anglo-Saxon work



Of the furniture of our own country previous to the eleventh or twelfth centuries we know but little. The habits of the Anglo-Saxons were rude and simple, and they advanced but slowly in civilisation until after the Norman invasion. To convey, however, to our minds some idea of the interior of a Saxon thane's castle, we may avail ourselves of Sir Walter Scott's antiquarian research, and borrow his description of the chief apartment in Rotherwood, the hospitable hall of Cedric the Saxon, the classical example of the Anglo-Saxon work. Though the time treated of in " Ivanhoe" is quite at the end of the twelfth century, yet we have in Cedric a type of man who would have gloried in retaining the customs of his ancestors, who detested and despised the new-fashioned manners of his conquerors, and who came of a race that had probably done very little in the way of "refurnishing" for some generations. If, therefore, we have the reader's pardon for relying upon the mise en scene of a novel for an authority, we shall imagine the more easily what kind of furniture our Anglo-Saxon forefathers indulged in.

"In a hall, the height of which was greatly disproportioned to its extreme length and width, a long oaken table - formed of planks rough hewn from the forest, and which had scarcely received any polish -

stood ready prepared for the evening meal. On the sides of the apartment hung implements of war and of the chase, and there were at each corner folding doors which gave access to the other parts of the extensive building:.

"The other appointments of the mansion partook of the rude simplicity of the Saxon period, which Cedric piqued himself upon maintaining. The floor was composed of earth mixed with lime, trodden into a hard substance, such as is often employed in flooring our modern barns. For about one quarter of the length of the apartment, the floor was raised by a step, and this space, which was called the dais, was occupied only by the principal members of the family and visitors of distinction. For this purpose a table richly covered with scarlet cloth was placed transversely across the platform, from the middle of which ran the longer and lower board, at which the domestic and inferior persons fed, down towards the bottom of the hall. The whole resembled the form of the letter T, or some of those ancient dinner tables which, arranged on the same principles, may still be seen in the ancient colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. Massive chairs and settles of carved oak were placed upon the dais, and over these seats and the elevated tables was fastened a canopy of cloth, which served in some degree to protect the dignitaries who occupied that distinguished station from the weather, and especially from the rain, which in some places found its way through the ill-constructed roof. The walls of this upper end of the hall, as far as the dais extended, were covered with hangings or curtains, and upon the floor there was a carpet, both of which were adorned with some attempts at tapestry or embroidery, executed with brilliant or rather gaudy colouring. Over the lower range of table the roof had no covering, the rough plastered walls were left bare, the rude earthen floor was uncarpeted, the board was uncovered by a cloth, and rude massive benches supplied the place of chairs. In the centre of the upper table were placed two chairs more elevated than the rest, for the master and mistress of the family. To each of these was added a footstool curiously carved and inlaid with ivory, which mark of distinction was peculiar to them." - this is a good description of the Anglo-Saxon work.

A drawing in the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum is shewn here, illustrating a Saxon mansion in the ninth or tenth century. There is the hall in the centre, with "chamber" and "bower" on either side; there being only a ground floor, as in the earlier Roman houses. According to Mr. Wright, F.S.A., who has written on the subject of Anglo-Saxon manners and customs, there was only one instance recorded of an upper floor at this period, and that was in an account of an accident which happened to the house in which the Witan or Council of St. Dunstan met, when, according to the ancient chronicle which he quotes, the Council fell from an upper floor, and St. Dunstan saved himself from a similar fate by supporting his weight on a beam.

The illustration here given shews the Anglo-Saxon chieftain standing at the door of his hall, with his lady, distributing food to the needy poor. Other woodcuts represent Anglo-Saxon bedsteads, which were little better than raised wooden boxes, with sacks of straw placed therein, and these were generally in recesses. There are old inventories and wills in existence which shew that some value and importance was attached to these primitive contrivances, which at this early period in our history were the luxuries of only a few persons of high rank. A certain will recites that the "bedclothes (bed-reafs) with a curtain (hyrfte) and sheet (hepp-scrytan), and all that thereto belongs," should be given to his son.

In the account of the murder of King Athelbert by the Queen of King Offa, as told by Roger of Wendover, we read of the Queen ordering a chamber to be made ready for the Royal guest, which was adorned for the occasion with what was then considered sumptuous furniture. "Near the King's bed she caused a seat to be prepared, magnificently decked and surrounded with curtains, and underneath it the wicked woman caused a deep pit to be dug." The author from whom the above translation is quoted adds with grim humour, "It is clear that this room was on the ground floor."

There are in the British Museum other old manuscripts whose illustrations have been laid under contribution, representing more innocent occupations of our Anglo-Saxon forefathers. "The seat on the dais," "an Anglo-Saxon drinking party," and other illustrations which are in existence, prove generally that, when the meal had finished, the table was removed and drinking vessels were handed round from guest to guest; the storytellers, the minstrels, and the gleemen (conjurers) or jesters, beguiling the festive hour with their different performances.

Some of these Anglo-Saxon houses had formerly been the villas of the Romans during their occupation, which were altered and modified to suit the habits and tastes of their later possessors. Lord Lytton has given us, in the first chapter of his novel " Harold," the description of one of such Saxonized Roman houses, in his reference to Hilda's abode.





















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