PLASTERWORK, PANELLING, WINE AND DESIGN
THE SUSANNA CEILING – DECORATED STRAPWORK PLASTER
The house was constructed ( or formed ) at a time when there was a movement to separate the family from visitors and The Great Chamber was constructed as a separate room, over the Dining Room and, as a consequence, there was no gallery. The original ceiling of The Great Chamber would have been boarded between the trusses, as would have been the norm of the time; this proving too drab, dull and draughty, consideration was given to improving the ceiling.
It is currently supposed that the Ceiling of The Susanna Room was formed by the Abbot family of Frithelstock, near Bideford, Devon. Trenearne farmhouse ( built c1580 ), near Prideaux Place, has "naive" plasterwork on the walls and on a barrel ceiling dated c1660, later destroyed by alterations to the house. The dating of the Susanna ceiling is somewhat difficult, though it is almost certain that the plaster was later than the accepted date of completion of the house in 1592 by Sir Nicholas Prideaux. These decorated ceilings were very often a wedding gift to a young couple. Another clue is to be found in the plaster ceiling of Lanhydrock House, dated in the late 1630's. The work and design are similar, leading me to suppose that the plaster ceiling was added to Prideaux Place during the time of Edmund Prideaux ( 1606-1683, Father of Humphry Prideaux, The Dean of Norwich ), placing the work around 1650, which would fit in with the work at Lanhydrock and Trenearne. It is also worth considering that if the work is dated at 1592 or so, it is very advanced in both design and technique. The ceiling pictorial was a little "risqué" for some later tastes and it can be supposed that the division of the Great Chamber into two rooms for use as bedrooms was a vehicle for it's screening. It is currently considered that Edmond Prideaux adapted The Great Chamber around the time when Stowe was being demolished, having used some of the panelling here, [ I have measured and inspected each individual panel ] there being obvious evidence of adaptation of panels and frames to fit rooms for which it was not intended, together with the extra quantity involved, above what would have been required for the original room.
The appearance of the Dining Room and The Great Chamber would have been simply panelled ( wainscoting ), possibly painted with ornament such as coats of arms or trompe 1'oeil, etc.,. It cannot be ruled out that the rooms were hung with tapestries of verdue or Biblical subjects. There is no evidence ( noted when the Great Chamber was restored ) to show that there was ever plaster on the walls or even the early forms of wallpaper. It is possible that the floors were covered with carpets, in part, in lieu of the rushes commonly employed. These would have been brought into England from the East ( Turkey ). Often a carpet would be used to cover beds or tables.
TECHNIQUES USED IN MAKING PLASTER / CEILING
The original word "ceiling" was used to denote any skin which closed off walls and under surfaces of roof and floor, as a draught-proofing or insulation and later came to denote plaster. It was formed usually of three layers, lathing ( or scratch coat ) float and setting C finish) all of lime-based materials, using lime, common sand and animal hair ( often horse or, possibly in the case of Prideaux, deer ). Lath was used to set the scratch base, in earlier times it was of reed, but in our case it is of timber, riven ( not sawn ), spaced at 6mm or so to give a key to the plaster. The flat bed of plaster then received the decorative work, being a combination of modelling in-situ with applied "pre-cast" strapwork. These were set in moulds of possibly boxwood or wax, the straps were pushed home on the plaster base with nails on a layer of wet plaster. This wide band strapwork, forming geometric decorative panel separation, is indicative of the date being 1630 or more, as are the large panels with their allegorical treatment and personification of the story of Susanna and the Elders. The work of the Abbots of Frithelstock can be seen in Barnstaple, Bideford, North Molton, Weare Giffard and Lanhydrock, dates ranging from 1590 to 1660. Forde Abbey ( Dorset ) has a decorated "frett" work ceiling in the dining room, small drawing room and saloon, being dated 1655 to 1658, this mentioned in view of the family connection with Edmund Prideaux who bought Forde in 1649.
ALTERATIONS BY REV CHARLES PRIDEAUX-BRUNE
As yet no information has been obtained in discovering the designer or builder of the extensions ordered by The Rev Charles Prideaux-Brune, but the style is not totally dissimilar to that found in the work of William Wilkins ( though not with his work on The National Gallery or The University College, London ) at Tregothnan, being modelled on the ideas of Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill at Twickenham. There is also similarity to the designs at Trelowarren, particularly of the staircase. Strawberry Hill was "completed" in 1776, Tregothnan was erected for Edward Boscawen during 1816-1818.
Whilst restoration of the plasterwork in the main staircase was being undertaken ( as a result of a major attack of dry-rot ), the walls were exposed and measurements were taken by myself of the stonework and any evidence of older construction which could be seen. These revealed that there was a roof sloping down over the present staircase, towards the present inner courtyard. It is thought that this area was an entrance lobby and staircase for the period prior to Rev Charles' alterations. Originally the present staircase would have been a yard/court space, as it was external to the original house. It is considered that the usual entrance for coaches would have been to the rear of the building, offering an entrance for visitors. Whilst further work to the lantern lobby ( outside the Great Chamber / Susanna Room ), following another outbreak of dry-rot, the now exposed granite window was discovered behind the plasterwork. The setting and detailing are such that this indicates that this wall was once an external wall ( proving that it is correct to surmise the original coach entrance was at the rear of the building ), whilst damage to the adjoining walls indicated that there was once a vertical tower on the rear of the building, directly opposite to that on the East elevation. As to the precise arrangement of rooms and staircase, I refer elsewhere.
There is no evidence of any other wine cellar than that which exists ( and not now in use as such ) at the moment, under the Library and Staircase to the Library. It was extended when The Smoking Room was constructed, to it's present form. As far as alcoholic consumption is concerned, my Analysis of Edmond's Cash Book reveals that Edmond was not averse to the use of "maullt" and wine, paying £25 15s to Lindsey the maullster on 17th April 1728, £4 10s being received of cousin Pole for a quarter hogshead of port wine 12th February 1730, paying £50 5s to cousin Joseph Hoyle for wine on 23rd December 1736 and £12 3s to King of Brumpton for wine on 7th January 1738, selling a hogshead of wine to Mr Leach on 13th March 1738 for £16 12s, Mr Cabot of Southampton received £19 17s for a hogshead of port wine on November 21st 1743 and on March 13th 1745 paying £2 2s for 2 hogshead of Cyder. It is also noted that Edmond rented Hopp gardens out to Richard George ( of Bath ).
DINING ROOM PANELLING
The Dining Room panelling appears to have been "imported", as it certainly has been adapted for installation in it's present position. The details need a great deal of measurement and assessment as to what was original and what is adapted or "new" to match: there have been more recent repairs and additions. The ceiling is lower than the original, which was on the underside of the floor of The Great Chamber. The screen, which now separates the Entrance Hall from The Dining Room, has been cut down to size with little regard for the original, to allow it to fit with a central door, and to the "new" height of ceiling. Detailing is close to that found at St.Eval Church, which Edmond Prideaux was familiar with as he "oversaw" the work to the restoration of the tower in 1727. The panelling of the Dining Room is perhaps "Spanish", dated perhaps c1570, and there are certain references in the details to a Carribbean influence; it may be a significant fact significant that one branch of the Prideaux family lived in Barbados, or perhaps the story that the screen came from a ship of the Armada has some truth. However, the reverse side of this screen, facing on to the Entrance Lobby, is original, but cut to suit the “new” panelling – this original did not reach the ceiling, a true screen, rather than a “partition”. The panelling surrounding a fireplace at Powderham Castle is almost identical to that in the Prideaux Place Dining Room.
One of the more interesting "finds" was that of a drawing of the windows of the South, East and North elevations, dimensioned. The paper is watermarked "B.E. & S. BATH 1824". It thus indicates that the windows on these faces were re-newed after that date; it also clearly shows two windows on the South elevation that were blanks. I now have a reasonably true picture of the development of the House, from the site of the original Grange Manor House, with tithe barns and a "monastery" Tower, through various additions and alterations by Edmond, Humphrey, The Reverend Charles and Charles Robert to what we can now see [ I hope to place these on a separate page ]. The staircase arrangement is difficult to appreciate fully, due to the extent of these alterations, but it is reasonably certain that the staircase which now leads up from the kitchen area to the Susanna Room, via the Lantern Lobby, was part of the Grange Manor. It is also considered that the main staircase, for the family, was in the area now occupied by the North end of the Drawing Room. It is possible that the staircase, which is purportedly from Stowe was in this latter position. One clue as to the architect for the Rev Charles' work is to be found at Trelowarren ( where Sir Richard Vyvyan had alterations made in a “Gothick” style cl750 ) and the work at Tregothnan.
To date, no record of any architect's connection with the building or subsequent alteration has been found, except for that of the 1907 work, being B.C.Andrews of St.Austell. As to the Grange manor and Place House ( as constructed for Nicholas Prideaux ), these were such "rule-of-thumb" buildings as to render an architect unnecessary, being under the direction of the estate "manager", following the instructions of the owner. Various artisans added their embellishments to the requirements of the owner, according to the accepted taste of the period. This appears to be born out by the entries in the Cash Book, as well as in a copy of an estimate for building work.
Despite the knowledge that a leading architect from Greenwich, Thomas Edwards, did much work in Cornwall, around the mid 18th Century, there is no record of Thomas Edwards having any connection with Prideaux Place, and, most importantly, there is no reference to him in Edmond Prideaux’s Cash Book. It is almost certain that Edmond Prideaux was his own architect for his alterations to the House and the work to the Grounds, being well to the lead in the West of England with taste and design.
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