671. Go to a 13th Century Knight’s Manor house.
My aunt had a bit of ‘a go’ at me for not keeping this updated. If I recall correctly, she quoted the date of my last post. Hopefully, this will appease her somewhat. Hehehe…
Today, 21 August, dawned muggy and overcast – not the best day to go to the beach, which had been Plan A. Piers, gallantly, allowed me to determine Plan B.
According to my mother, I’m ‘a history nut.’ The National Trust membership card in my purse doesn’t allow me to disagree. One of the sites I’ve been wanting to see is Old Soar Manor – advertised as a rare 13th Century knights dwelling.
One of the websites said that the route was ‘narrow and circuitous’ and along narrow lanes, but it was well worth the effort. The house was built by the wealthy Culpeper family in 1290 out of Kentish ragstone and mortar. This was during the reign of Edward I which was not a peaceful time. In fact, another website said
The house speaks of a devout yet violent society. Edward I was a cunning and ruthless monarch who kept order amongst his potentially rebellious barons through intimidation and fear. He set the tone for an age of aggressive expansion of English royal power, first over England’s own nobles, and then over Scotland and Wales. The house reflects its time, and is clearly designed to be defended. The only way into the building is through the undercroft and up a tight, easily defended spiral staircase. The house is showing off wealth, and yet it does not do this with the exuberant architecture that we see in later and more peaceful periods, in the turrets and spires of Tudor Longleat for example. Old Soar Manor has the solidity of a bunker. Artistic embellishment was a thing of the future.
The stone undercroft reminded me of the original tower at Glamis Castle in Scotland. A quick Google search has determined the castle was built about 80 years after Old Soar. However, the march of technological advances was truly slower back then! Anyway, this would have been used to store goods such as cloth and spices. There were no nearby stores and goods would have been bought on arduous trips to larger centers or during local fairs. No matter where they procured, the goods had to be stored somewhere safe as the Kentish countryside at this tiem was full of robbers and thieves.
This staircase is very clever – the direction allows a defender to have his right hand aka sword hand free! From the crossloops (arrow slits) in the undercroft, to the staircase, to the 15th Century addition of a perfectly fitted door, the whole house was built with defense in mind. The exhibition outlined each of these defenses, however the concluding sentence said that all of this could and would be done by a modern-day alarm system. See above statement about the advance of technology!
So we’ve gone through the undercroft, up the stairs, and are now making our way into the Solar Chamber. The name comes from the two large windows at both the east and west ends of the family’s private quarters. Originally, there would have been a branch off the top of the stairs into the Great Hall. However, sometime in the 18th Century a new house was built for the lords of the manor. You can see on the right hand side of the photo the remains of a window that the family would have used to check up on the servants and guests in the hall.
The Culpepers seemed to be quite intent on showing their modernity and wealth with this house. Firstly, during this time, it was unusual to build a home out of stone. Also, having a private chamber to escape the noises, smells, and crowds of the great hall was a new idea. The ceiling is made in the style known as ‘crown-post collar-purlin’ and is apparently as useful as it is beautiful. It’s also been said that this is one of the best examples in all of England.
The nearest church was four miles away. I think considering the times, that could be four dangerous miles. That danger could equally come from robbers or terrible roads! To overcome those dangers, the Culpepers had a chapel built. This niche would have held the sacred vessels used during Mass. Old Soar Manor is incredibly well preserved despite being used for many years (which means many more here than in Kelwood!) as granary! While being used as a dwelling the chapel was accessed from a outside staircase. During the granary phase, a hole was knocked into chapel which is how visitors now enter the chapel.
Have you been keeping track? Vaulted undercroft, spiral staircase, solar chamber/private quarters, family chapel, and wait for it…a garderobe chamber also known as latrines. According to sources it was likely a three-seater. This stone arch gives access to a clean-out area. Don’t think I’d like that job! They also think that due to the very large size of said garderobe chamber it was used to store furs and other precious clothing. Medieval people thought that the smell (stench?) kept the moths away! I think it would keep me away!
So how does the National Trust say this is a knights dwelling? I thought that Old Soar Manor was going to be a bit more mystical and more of a dwelling of several knights concurrently rather than consecutive lords of the manor. I think I was expecting more of Knights Templar (damn Dan Brown!) setting. However, Edward I gave lands to the archbishop of Canterbury in exchange for 3 knights. The archbishop then parceled out the lands to knights; of which Culpeper was one. Culpeper then had tenant farmers who farmed small amounts of the arable land. In exchange for the land they gave him rent in the form of money or goods. In a nutshell, feudalism! Go, go grade 8 Social Studies. Mr Scott would be so proud!