Would you like to join me on a guided tour? Please follow me as we enter Old Ruffold Hall, a timber framed manor house in Lancashire. The Hesketh family had been lords of the manor since 1520 and Sir William needed money, so he and his son managed through marriage to acquire sufficient money to build the first house and subsequent Heskeths continued to add and substract to the building.
Let’s start in the Great Hall with its bay window and lantern in the roof. Once upon a time it was situated between two wings. One wing contained the solar, the family rooms of the owner, and the other wing on the ground floor housed the buttery, kitchen and pantry, while upstairs the servants lived. There was no bell pull or buzzer to summon the servants, so they peeped through a spy hole near the roof to see if they were needed in the great hall.
The family wing is gone, demolished in the 18th century. The great hall remains incredibly intact. Take a look at the roof with its hammer beams and wingless angels (barring one). These angel adornments were added later and the angels were probably removed from a local priory during the reformation. The floor is paved with flag stones. Back in the days of the lord of the manor, the floor would have been dirt and likely to be damp, so threshes were put down to create a ‘carpet’. Every six months, as it rotted away, it would be thrown out, or another added on top. The smell …..
When the lord dined, he sat at one end on a bench raised on a dais with his family around him. They added a bay window to bring in more light and because just like a spot light, it made them the centre of attention. You can imagine the musicians performing there too, because the hall has no gallery.
Picture too, two long trestle tables (boards mounted on legs) used by the other diners, guests and lesser mortals. Those closer to the dais would have a higher status and a better view of the bay window. Prestige is everything. Edge a little closer and you can eavesdrop.
Now while the nobles ate out of pewter and used knives, the ones on the trestle tables used bread bowls and spoons. The slops must have slipped everywhere. At the end of the meal, the boards would be flipped over and the dogs summoned to lick up the leftovers. The boards would then be put to the side (sideboards) and the pewter left out on display (cupboards). If there was entertainment, a board would be put down to dance upon (treading the boards?).
What’s that huge thing standing there? As in churches there is a screen for privacy. Unlike church screens, which are fixed, the one in Ruffold is ‘movable’, well, if you can shift 3 tons it is. Made from oak, it was carved while the wood was young and soft. However to prevent the charge of heresy, there were deliberate perfections in the carvings (perfection is a heresy). Spot the ‘mistake’.Fire for warmth is critical for a such a large room. Look up again and you’ll see an opening. The lantern in the roof could have flushed out the smoke, like the early great halls of the Medieval times. However, this lantern was actually added much later as a light source for a billiards table. The great hall benefitted from the new fangled convenience of a chimney and fire. The fireplace would have been quite a spectacle in its time and drew in visitors to see it. Unfortunately, it was badly designed and smoked, blackening the stonework.
The old servants wing, and additional red brick building adjoined to it, became the family house. ‘Modernised’ so that there was a dining room with a splendid full height window. A small study and schoolroom, a long drawing room with stained glass heraldry and bedrooms. The rooms seem so much smaller after the hall, the walls covered in paintings, rather than wattle and daub, and there are heavy tapestries.
By the 19th Century, Ruffold Old Hall was no longer the principal home. A newer hall had been built nearby, a Georgian style house, and eventually the family chose Easton Neston in Northamptonshire to be their home. In 1936 the Old Hall, after 14 generations of Heskeths, was given to the National Trust.
Hope you enjoyed this little tour.
“Beautifully written mystery weaves a spell around the house and the people connected to it.” Goodreads reviewer
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