The Great Hall

The Great Hall is virtually in the state it was left at the completion of the restoration in 1911.

Despite major alterations made about 1595, since removed, the principal medieval features of the hall have remained relatively intact. It is one of the largest surviving timber framed halls in the country (measuring 40 feet by 25 feet and 31 feet high – 12.2m by 7.6m and 9.5m high) and the fine roof has hammer beams strengthened by a tie beam.

This is supported by two tie braces cut from a single oak tree branch containing a woodpecker’s nest, which was thus cut in two, (visible on the western or dais side). The fine armorial shields on the hammer depict the arms of the Etchinghams, the Dalyngrigges, and the Gaynesfords and suggest an approximate building date of 1440 and 1454. 

The house was built for Richard Wakehurst (died 1454), his wife (through whom he acquired the estate) was Elizabeth Etchingham and his brother-in-law was John Gaynesford. The Dalyngrigges of nearby Bodiam Castle intermarried with the Etchinghams in the 14th and 15th century.

Originally the hall was heated by an open fire in the centre of the floor, like the surviving example at Penshurst Place, Kent. The smoke found its way out through windows, not glazed then but closed with wooden shutters, or through a hole in the roof capped by a long-vanished louvre. The roof beams are still blackened as a result. The floor would have been beaten earth, strewn with rushes.

At the upper end was a dais, about 15 inches high (0.4m), and the mortice holes for its supports can still be seen in the posts at the end of the wall. Here the lord of the manor, his family and favoured guests would have eaten their meals. Behind them is the door to the parlour and on the left is the door to the stairs leading up to the solar, parlour and solar being the private rooms of the family.

At the other end of the hall was a screen, perhaps with a gallery over it, with what was called a screens passage behind it, into which the front door opened. The screen’s position is marked by the change from moulded to unmoulded beam in the south wall. The doorways in the east or end wall of the hall led to the buttery and kitchens, long since vanished.

About 1595 the hall was subdivided into two floors, the ground floor becoming two rooms with a great brick chimney built between them. By the late 16th century, great halls were going out of fashion in lesser houses and many were divided up to create smaller, more comfortable, and more easily heated rooms. The bay windows were destroyed and further rooms on two floors were added against the south wall.

Probably in the late 17th century, the porch was sealed up and made into a room (by 1910 it was a larder), and a new front door was inserted beside it. The remaining windows not already blocked up were converted into casements at the same time.

This division of the interior lasted until 1910, when the house was bought by Nathaniel Lloyd and his architect Edwin Lutyens opened it all up again. The central chimney stack was carefully dismantled and moved to the east end, where Lutyens made no attempt to recreate the lost screen and instead constructed a wind porch to protect the hall from the draughts of the front door.

Beneath late 16th-century plasterwork, several of the original windows survived intact and the rest were reinstated. The Lloyds used the hall daily as their dining and living room until the Second World War. Although they were keen to preserve all the old structures, the Lloyds were not prepared to be uncomfortable, and modern amenities were installed from the first, including central heating and electricity, which ran off a generator. The hanging lights are those originally installed in 1911 and the radiators are concealed beneath old oak chests adapted for the purpose, as in many of the other rooms.

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