Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Period Style: Tudor and Elizabethan Architecture

Tudor House, Thanet, Kent

Early Tudor building didn’t really look much different from those of the late medieval period. Most houses were constructed from timber frames, using tried and tested building techniques. Local resources played a big part in what was used to build a house, if there was a lot of stone easily available in the local area, houses were more likely to be constructed from stone, if there was plenty of clay in the soil, bricks and tiles were more likely to be used in that area, but in general, timber framed houses, in-filled with wattle and daub were the most common type. Roofs would be thatched with reeds or straw. Clay tiles might have been more common in clay rich parts of the country. Lead was used only on the grandest houses and on religious buildings.

Timber framed house with clay tile roof

The use of local materials, and the fact that few people travelled very far from the places they lived meant that there were many regional variations in the style and construction of buildings in England. 

Wealden house, a type of building seen across the Kent and Sussex Weald

The timber used in buildings was usually left untreated, so appeared brown rather than the black beams we often think of, which have been coated in tar a practise more common in Victorian Britain. Some timber beams were whitewashed with lime to match the wattle and daub filling. But buildings weren’t always left white, sometimes colours were added to the mixture. 

Cottage with untreated timbers and thatched roof
Glass was very expensive and difficult to produce in great quantities. When it was used it was in small pieces, held in place with lead. 

Tudor window with leaded lights in the window
The majority of the people lived in small thatched longhouses of just one or two rooms. Except for a few stone examples, these have been swept away by time, as they were not built to last. Any surviving Tudor buildings we see today were most likely built for wealthier people, and even these have usually been adapted and altered over the centuries. However, there are still some great examples of Tudor building in England, and I will show some of these now.

Lavenham, Suffolk
Lavenham in Suffolk was a town that grew wealthy from the wool trade in the 14th and 15th centuries, but high taxes on wool (set by Henry VIII to pay for his wars in France) and Flemish weavers settling in England, producing cheaper cloth, meant that the wealth didn’t last, and Lavenham settled into quiet obscurity. Luckily it means that most of the Medieval and Tudor buildings have survived intact, including the Guildhall, built C1529. 

Lavenham Guildhall

More buildings in Lavenham
Some of the buildings have settled over time and now lean at odd angles!

Which one does the Crooked Man live in again?
This house is Near Margate in Kent, another view of this can be seen at the top of this posting. Clay was freely available in Kent so many houses had clay tile roofs like this one, and red brick chimneys.

If you are a regular follower of this blog, you've probably seen this building before. The House That Moved in Exeter. a three story Tudor building.

And this is probably the largest and most famous timber-framed Tudor house in England. Little Morton Hall, Cheshire, was begun about 1504 and largely added to between 1540 and 1560 for the Moreton Family. It is a fine example of Tudor and Elizabethan architecture and design.

The long row of glass windows on the third storey are part of the Long Gallery, a feature of many great houses during the Tudor/Elizabethan period, used for exercise and playing games. Over the years many were split up into smaller rooms, but the one at Little Moreton Hall has survived.

But not all houses were timber framed, wealthy people could afford to have materials like stone transported, they could also afford red brick, which was expensive to produce, and as buildings moved away from being defencive structures to family homes, more and more glass windows were added. 

Hever Castle in Kent
 A good example of a defencive building becoming a comfortable home is Hever Castle in Kent. This was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, so has close links to Henry VIII. The castle itself was begun C1300, but was transformed into a family home C1500. (another reason to visit Hever Castle is to see the fine doll's houses built and furnished by John J Hodgson in the Guthrie Miniature Model House Collection!)

The timber framed courtyard at Hever Castle
Another house with a defencive moat around it, also in Kent, is Ightham Mote. Begun in the 14th century, with additions over the next 600 years. the biggest changes were in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Ightham Mote, Kent

Gate Tower added in the 16th century

The courtyard at Ightham Mote, can you see the matching dog kennel on the right of the picture?

Other houses built or added to in the early Tudor period include;

Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, built between the 12th and 17th centuries

Chenies Manor in Buckinghamshire, built C1460

 Cotehele House in Cornwall, Built C1485-1539

Hengrave Hall in Suffolk, built 1525-78

Laycock Abbey in Wiltshire, built 1540-1553

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace
Henry also built a great palace to celebrate the birth of his son and heir Edward in 1538. It was also built to rival the palaces belonging to the king of France. Nonsuch Palace represented the finest in Tudor art and architecture. Sadly it was dismantled and the materials sold off in 1690 by Charles II's mistress to pay off debts run up through gambling. It was covered with stucco panels and statues depicting Greek and Roman gods. It must have been quite something!

Fortunately there is this model, made by Ben Taggart!

Part 2, Elizabethan architecture up next!


  1. Oh Abdy!! Es fantástico todo lo que sabes sobre historia!! Tu blog es una auténtica enciclopedia de la historia del arte!! Un abrazo enorme y muchas gracias por compartir tus conocimientos!!

    1. Gracias de nuevo Pedrete, me complace que están disfrutando de estos mensajes!

      Abrazos de nuevo!

      Andy x

  2. Andy,

    I love this Post, so much of it brings back lovely memories if England, so full of history and so pretty. Lots of kent up there, I remember a similar crooked house in Rochester which is where Paul's family is from, we have a few photos in front of the Castle there.

    Hever is a wonderful place, we have been a few times and the grounds are just beautiful. I have some lovely photos of the Mia and Jay there, they had such a wonderful time. The timber court yard is so beautiful I remember being quite taken with it. Its not a a large castle by usual standards but the detail is lovely. I remember being quite taken with the internal wood panelling and carving.

    Fi x

    1. Hi Fi, yes plenty of Kentish buildings here, must be a little bias on my part!! Did you see teh dolls houses at Hever? I loved the gardens there too, especially by the lake. Did you go to Leeds Castle as well? if not do next time you go, it's beautiful, and Ightham Mote too, which has a similar courtyard to that at Hever, and is in a delightful spot!

      I missed out so many buildings as those post was getting huge already!

      If you're a fan, check out Compton Wynyates in Warwickshire, Sutton Place in Surrey, Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk, East Barsham Manor also in Norfolk and Layer Marney Hall in Essex!

    2. Andy,

      I'm ashamed to say I don't remember the Doll House, I did a double take when you mentioned it. I must have seen it but all I can remember, I feel silly now.

      The lake at Hever is breath taking I'm sure it must have been painted many times as it's so inspirational. We did go to Leeds, its so beautiful, I wish I could transport my self back there right now.......I suppose it would be a tad chilly though. The weather was perfect when we were there and I recall the rolling green lawns and the willows. We stayed with Paul's family who live nearby so we have very happy memories of Leeds.

      The thing is Andy you are all so spoilt with this kind of historical architecture, so much beauty.We have seen Blenheim, Warrick and a few others but I will check out the ones you have mentioned and keep them in mind for next time. My father always wanted to do a tour of England and all the stately homes. He had them all mapped out but sadly his health hasn't allowed any more travel.

      Fi xx

  3. How could I have not ever heard of Nonsuch Palace? What a bummer it's gone...drat those cursed gambling debts!

    You are so lucky to have such wonderful, historical architecture --all we have is the Renaissance Festival! Huzzah!

    Looking very forward to Elizabethan...

    1. Hi John, It's a great name isn't it, I think it is called that because there was literally no other palace like it! And I know, you think she'd have something else she could sell to make money!

  4. What a Wonderful post, Andy! I LOVE the architecture... if it can be called that at this point.... of the Tudor era. My Castle dollhouse is TRYING to be strictly pre-Tudor....High Medieval style... but the lure of the Tudor buildings is strong. You have shown some Wonderful examples... this is better than a sight seeing Tour! I wish I could just pop on over to see some of these... especially if there is a dollhouse collection. I am enjoying your research Very Much! Thank you!

    1. Whoa! That whole what is architecture question takes me back to my History of Architecture course! LOL! I think it applies to any structure built for use by humans, particularly places of domestic, religious, political, sporting or comercial use. And there are many Architectural historians who specialise in vernacular architecture in Britain. But you are right , the term 'architect' only really starts to appear in the late Tudor period, and even then only rarely.

      I love your castle, I think there is always a cross over between periods, so some Tudor could seep in and blend with High Medieval, and Gothic was commonly used in both priods (up to the Reformation at any rate!) Your castle looks great!!

  5. Aaaah!!! Now you've gone and done it, taking me on a trip down memory lane of my one and only trip to the UK in 2006. On the way out of London to Bristol (where my husband had to go for work reasons) our first stop was at Hampton Court Palace, I am sure I didn't see everything there, it was just wonderful.

    After a day in beautiful Bath we spend the night at a B&B in Lacock and walked the streets early on a winters morning in February and recognized so many scenes from the BBC series Pride & Prejudice, what a lovely little town.

    From there we went to Hever Castle on our way to Gatwick to fly home, I loved Hever Castle and the minature work of John Guthrie.

    There is still so much to see in England, one day I will go again!!!! Lucky you, that was born there, I wish!!!!

  6. Hi Elga, It's nice to hear that you enjoyed the parts of England that you saw, you picked some good places to start! Laycock is a lovely village, and is used for many shows, it was used in BBCs Cranford too. It gets very busy in Summer, so February was a good time to go.

    Strangely, I was actually born in Malta, in the Mediterranean, but both my parents are British, and we moved here when I was still very young. Don't remember anything of Malta at all.

  7. What a brilliant post Andy. I've seen some of the buildings in real life but not the ones further south. Haddon Hall is just marvellous and I'm another one who's disappointed that Nonsuch no longer exists. Imagine wandering round there!

  8. Hi Irene, pleased you liked this, sorry it's so England focussed, but I don't know much about what was happening north of the border at the time! I haven't been to Haddon Hall yet, its on the list to visit! so many though!! ;)