The Late Jacobean period
The first architect in England to appreciate the true significance of classic design was Inigo Jones, whose first important work was the rebuilding of Whitehall Palace in 1619. His work, although owing its origin to the same source as that of the contemporary craftsmen in England, was of a definitely different character from theirs. He eliminated all that remained of the Gothic tradition, and designed with a thorough knowledge of the correct principles of the Palladian style. Although his productions were thus considerably advanced, his influence did not become general for many years; perhaps, because of it. The somewhat vague and inconsistent work of the Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods was still continued contemporaneously.
It should be remembered that facilities for intercommunication, although considerably improved from the Gothic times, were still very limited when compared with our present-day services. The trade guilds, too, were still very powerful, and were actuated by the traditional customs. The majority of the population was not sufficiently advanced to realise the principles whereby the educated work of Inigo Jones was produced, and as a consequence, new ideas were slow to obtain a footing.
The Jacobean work at the year 1620 was of a quaint and extremely picturesque character, but still rather meaningless, and more inclined to rely for effect upon its exuberance of ornament than upon any carefully thought out ideas of proportion or balance. The work was the natural result of the influences prevalent at this period. The Renaissance, which reached England in the first half of the 16th century, brought with it a vast stock of new ideas. The English craftsmen seized upon these rather as a child will draw the shapes of letters that please it, without understanding their true significance. The general methods of house construction remained fundamentally unchanged from those practised during the long Gothic period. In this way the houses were rather in the form of a Gothic shell with a surface of applied Renaissance details.
The Renaissance style during the Elizabethan period reached its zenith, and the rooms were filled with an exuberance of ingenious, if eccentric, ornamentation. This became somewhat modified during the early years of the 17th century, when a few designers were at work producing schemes for building on a more ordered plan. The system of house planning, although in many ways reminiscent of the traditional Gothic, had undergone a considerable change. The hall, which had been the all-important room in medieval times, although still approached through a screen at one end, was considerably modified in size. In many cases it was only one storey in height, a great chamber being built above it for the private use of the family. Certain exceptions do occur, as in the Jacobean mansion at Hatfield, shown in The Hall at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, but this is rather an exception than the rule. In any case, that hall is comparatively small considering the large size of the mansion.
Another salient feature of these Renaissance buildings was the more general use of the long corridor which made access possible to various rooms without the necessity of first passing through others. They were also probably used for the purpose of exercise and as picture galleries. Perhaps the most striking feature was the elaboration of the staircase. This was of great size, even in comparatively small manor houses, and tremendous labour was expended to render it as ornate and imposing as possible. The number of private withdrawing rooms and bedrooms was considerably increased, and the country mansion had become in every sense a home.
Such was the type of mansion still being built when Inigo Jones began his career. Similar houses were built contemporaneously with his and his pupils' work, until the restoration of Charles II., when the last remnants of the medieval spirit died out. The general details of such houses were similar to those of the early Jacobean period with occasional attempts to imitate the more purely classical style. The walls were still panelled and broken at intervals by pilasters carved in the form of free renderings of the classical orders. A favourite form of decoration for the panels was the use of arcading carved with studs and leaf work. The elaborate plaster ceilings too were continued, and were fashioned with a wonderful intricacy of design. Huge stone or wooden mantelpieces still formed the centre of attraction in the rooms, and were often elaborated to such a degree as to be out of keeping with the remainder of the rooms.
The general treatment for the balustrading of the staircase was a series of panels pierced through to form various designs. The staircase at Aston Hall, Warwickshire, dating from the middle of Charles I.'s reign, has huge newels surmounted by vases with a balustrading carved in the form of arabesque scrollwork. At Alder-maston, Berkshire, the balustrading has a series of heraldic devices, carved figures of children and mythical beasts, while the newels are surmounted by figures. It is of about the same date as that at Aston Hall.
The staircase at Ham House, Surrey, illustrated in A Jacobean Staircase at Ham House, Surrey, is extremely interesting, and shows many typical features of the first half of the 17th century. It will be noticed that the handrail is still tenoned into the newels which rise above it. This is an essential feature of Elizabethan and Jacobean staircases. The vases of fruit surmounting the newels, however, are of a quite different character from those of the earlier specimens. The recessed panels and the balustrading are carved with martial motifs in place of the more general use of strap-work in the earlier types. This staircase should be compared with that at Hatfield illustrated in "English Rooms and their Details," Staircase at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire.
The two staircases exhibit many common features, particularly in the use of the heavy newel, handrail, and carriage-piece. The arcading with which the balustrading of the Hatfield staircase is treated is replaced by pierced and carved panels at Ham. Close views of the details of the staircase are shown in Details from the Staircase at Ham House, Surrey.