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Towards the middle of the century where wall panelling and wainscot and benches and stools had been used, the chair, at once more comfortable and personal, became a more usual feature. The long trestle table was more or less ousted by the framed table. In lesser homes wooden bowls and spoons for eating began to be discarded in favour of the pewter dish and spoon of silver or base-metal.
On a grander scale Henry VIII's example of employing craftsmen from other countries in his building of Nonsuch Palace, introduced an enthusiasm for the ornate Oak Wall Panelling and wainscoting. Foreign craftsmen often found a better and more comfortable living in this country of England and Wales than in their own, though we know that many of the finer Italian artists refused all bribes to brave the perils of this uncivilized island.
It was this first influx of Italian, Flemish or German settlers with their books and tradition of design of wall panelling and wainscoting, that created the desire for decorating all possible available space, both inside and outside the house. At this date it is often impossible to separate the actual work executed in this country from that which was brought over in the extravagant enthusiasm for the strange and costly.
Whole rooms were often lined with panelling which had previously been made for a house the other side of the Channel, but we can also see copies of these `foreign' designs carried out so accurately by the craftsmen over here that unless some actual record exists as to their origin we cannot say they were `made in England'. From the point of view of English Interiors we are not concerned with these finer points, for the room was built to accommodate such Oak panelling and its very use has made it `English.'
The illustration shows a typical example of a living room in a moderately sized house probably built in the time of Henry VII.
This room is of particular interest both for its lovely timbered roof and for the fine example of studding on the far wall. Here we see the earliest type of Oak panelling and wainscot , which consisted of bevilled oak boards let into grooved uprights, which formed a partition-wall or screen between rooms. Its purpose was not, as was later the case with Oak Panelling, to cover rough timber and plaster or a stone wall. Examples of similar `panel and post' studding appear all over the country and there are probably a great many houses that have this type of wall beneath a later application of lath and plaster. Bedrooms were often separated in this manner. (One of these we found in our own home-under lath and plaster of very early date-when trying to cut a doorway into the next room.)
In this illustrated example, the Oak panelling is used as a hall screen, its purpose simply to keep the draught from the front door out of the living room. Such screens were in use both in cottage and in the larger house, the original version of the ornate and beautiful hall screens and wall panelling still to be found in many old Tudor mansions.
The Oak Beam timbered roof with its intriguing arrangement of crossbeaming is decorated with four very beautifully carved bosses, each design following the medieval forms reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts. Some of these bosses have recently been `restored' but care has been taken to make the restorations follow faithfully their originals, so that it is almost impossible to see any difference.
Both the fine moulding on the oak beams and the carved bosses are decorated in their original colours, gold, black, and brick-red. It would seem that these oak beams have never been covered, probably because of the odd slope of the ceiling. Unfortunately in many houses the fashion for plastered ceilings, at a later period, has meant many fine timbered ceilings have been ruined or defaced by nails driven in to hold the lathes for plaster, and the larger oak beams are marked by the adze used to roughen them enough also to hold plaster. When in the course of time the plaster ceiling has fallen and the old beams once again exposed, their condition is usually deplorable.