In the early medieval period, if a house had an upper floor, it was likely to be used more for storage than living, and access was by ladder in many cases. some may have had rough wooden, or stone stairs depending on what was available locally, and what a person could afford.
|spiral stone steps from a church tower|
As the separation between the house owner's family and his servants grew, and more private rooms were created, particularly the solar, on the first floor, stairs became more important and improvements were made in construction and materials used. A separate tower or projection from the original building may have been constructed to house these new staircases.
From the Elizabethan period onwards the newel post staircase, with its framed banisters, was becoming increasingly popular in the grand houses of the wealthy, and many of these newel posts had fine carved details on them too. they became yet another symbol of status and wealth.
|Blickling Hall (made symmetrical in the 18th century!)|
One particularly beautiful and outstanding staircase built in the early part of the 17th century was the circular Tulip Staircase designed by Inigo Jones in the Queen's House at Greenwich. This building was one of the first classical houses built in Britain and would have looked truly remarkable to people at the time.
|Tulip Staircase, Queen's House Greenwich, designed by Inigo Jones|
As I mentioned in my previous blog, the staircase was often kept separate from the entrance hall in larger houses, as depicted here in a photo of Ham House in London, where you can just see the staircase through an archway beyond the hall.
|The hall at Ham House|
By the end of the 17th century staircases had become a very important feature in the wealthy households, and had become highly decorated, not only with carvings but often with walls and ceilings painted in the theatrical Baroque style of the period.
|The hall and staircase at Hanbury Hall|
|another view of the stairs at Hanbury Hall|
|Detail of the painting on the stairs at Hanbury Hall|
|Rich carving and decoration at Ham House|
The staircase progressed through out the 18th century, with the heavy newel posts and banisters disappearing to be replaced by delicate banisters, this was possible due both to improvements in construction techniques and new materials like iron.
|Sudbury Hall. Keen eyed bloggers may notice that this hall and staircase is the inspiration for the Sudbury Yellow colour that is available from Farrow and Ball, which I used in the hall and landing of my Georgian house!|
|Sudbury Hall in use for TV adaptation of Austin's Pride and Prejudice|
|Not sure where this one comes from!|
|Uppark House, the red door was used by servants to access 'below stairs'|
The cantilevered staircase developed during the 18th century. Delicate staircases with little or no visible support, matched by decorative wrought iron balusters were perfect for the Age of Elegance!
|The beautiful marquetry staircase at Claydon House|
|Another view of the staircase at Claydon House, showing the skylight above.|
By the Regency the cantilevered staircase was being bent and twisted into beautiful sweeping curves, and fine materials like marble were also much in evidence too.
But not everyone followed the fashions of the 18th century, some tried to set their own trends, with some success too! Horace Walpole and William Beckford both used Gothick influences in their homes. Walpole at his home Strawberry Hill and Beckford at Fonthill Abbey. When Beckford was forced to sell his huge Gothick creation (part of which fell down shortly after due to bad construction techniques, and is now almost completely gone!) he moved to Bath, and at Lansdowne built a new, far smaller tower, in the Italianate style, a style, along the Gothic Revival, that would prove popular in the Victorian age.
|The circular staircase at Beckford's Tower in Bath.|
|Walpole's Strawberry Hill|
|Detail of the staircase at Strawberry Hill|
|Strawberry Hill again|
The Victorians plundered almost all the historical styles of history in their buildings. Gothic revival linked Britain's heritage with Pugin's notions of 'true' religious building styles (in a nut shell; Gothic good, classical bad and to blame for all the evils and vice in society!! a slightly polemical viewpoint I think!!)
|Gothic Revival at Midland Grand Hotel, St Pancras|
|Victorian Gothic at Tyntesfield|
For the 20th century I am going to show you examples of two staircases. One designed by Charles Rennie MacKintosh, in an early example of art deco style (care should be taken when using the term art deco, it was coined not in the 1920's or 30's, but in the 1970's. The styles we associate with art deco were often referred to at the time as being 'in the modern style' or simply as modern(e)). The other staircase is from the De Le Warr Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea, in the truly streamlined modern style of the 1930's.
|MacKintosh's design for the staircase at Derngate in Northampton|
|The staircase as it appears now.|
|Looking down. The staircase at the De La Warr Pavilion|
|A side view|
|The light fitting that runs down the length of the spiral staircase.|
But what about the humble dwelling? what sort of staircase would they have had? Well, many cottages would have a staircase installed to the side of a fireplace, often hidden behind a door, giving it the appearance of a cupboard. Other houses would have simple wooden stairs built along a wall, much like what most houses have today.