Tudor Architecture Essay


Tudor streets were very dark places, because of the way timbered houses were built. Each storey jutted out a little further than the one below – sometimes by more than a metre. The overhangs were called jetties. Sometimes the houses were so close together at the top, it was said that you could shake hands with your neighbour across the street. The houses were probably built with jetties either to make more room or to protect the lower floors from bad weather

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The Tudors used newly cut wood – usually oak, elm or ash – to build a timbered house, because this was easier to saw. Tree trunks were laid across a saw-pit, and cut with an enormous two man saw. One sawyer stood in the pit and the other on the edge of it. A special tool called an ‘adze’ was then used to smooth the wood. Carpenters often cut all the joints for a new house in their own back yard, numbering all of them so that they could be put together on the site. You can see the marks on the beams in the picture these were to make sure each piece of wood was put in the right place.

Primary Evidence

An Italian visitor described how the English built their homes:

‘First they construct a frame of wood joined together with wooden pegs and then between one layer of wood and another they put bricks. The houses have many windows in which they put glass that’s almost as clear as crystal. Inside, the houses are… decorated with wood carving… On the floors they put straw… For wall coverings they use many tapestries woven with leaves, flowers and beautiful… designs.’

Alessandro Magno, 1562

This tells us how they constructed a house in1562, it also tells us a little bit about glass. He tells us how the insides are decorated; with carved wood and tapestries, and on the floor they put straw.

This does not tell us what type of wood it would have been made out of.

Little Moreton hall

Little Moreton hall has fantastic patterns made from wooden beams. Blackening the beams with paint or tar was a later fashion. In its younger days, the beams would be left as natural ‘silvery’ wood, or covered with plaster

Wattle and Daub

In early Tudor houses, especially in the countryside, the small spaces between the wooden frames were filled with sticks called ‘wattle’. These were then covered with ‘daub’ consisting of mud, clay and cow-dung, mixed with straw or cow hair. It was a disgusting job but it worked. Later flat pieces of wood called ‘laths’ were used across the gaps instead, and woven like a basket-weave. Walls were then covered with plaster. In later houses, bricks were used to fill the gaps between the beams.

Glass and Windows

Glass was too expensive for many Tudors in that time. The word window means ‘wind-eye’ – an eye for the wind to blow through. In the days before glass, this is just what the wind did. Other window coverings were used: wooden shutters which slid up and down in grooves; flattened cows’ horn; oiled cloth; and parchment dipped in gum, honey and egg-white. Sometimes windows were covered with reeds of even pieces of very thin stone. Unfortunately, when these windows were closed, the rooms were dark – and when they were open, the rooms were often cold. The Tudors could make whole sheets of glass, but the soft lead fittings that held the panes together could not be relied on to secure large panes in strong winds. Instead, windows were made up of smaller panes of glass held together with strips of soft lead these were called lattice windows.

Primary Evidence

‘Of old time, our country houses, instead of glass did use much lattice, and that made either of wicker or fine rifts of oak in checkerwise… But… our lattices are also grown into less use, because glass is come to be so plentiful.’

William Harrison, A description of England (1577-87)

This tells us what they may have used instead of windows, during 1577-87. It also says that glass became more plentiful which means it probably became more popular in Tudor mansions.

This does not tell us exactly when glass came to be so plentiful.

Examples of Mansions with windows

As late as 1567, the owner of Alnwick castle in Northumberland removed and stored his windows when he was not at home. Windows were still very valuable, and had to be protected. Tudor house builders such as Elizabeth of Shrewsbury made most of their windows. There was so many of them in her Tudor mansion that it was said: ‘Hardwick hall, more than a glass wall’.

Hardwick hall, built between 1591 and 1597, was a great Tudor mansion. –>

How did the architecture change and develop

and why?

How and when did the styles

change at different points between 1500 -1750?

To answer these questions it is necessary to give a brief history of the development of architecture up to the 1500’s

Pre 1500’s

Rome had an enormous impact on Britain and we still feel its impact today. We travel on roads first surveyed and built by its engineers and their style of building had a powerful influence on some architects. Architecture was either masonry (stone) or frame (wood).


Stone is best suited to and used in buildings of great grandeur, such as Cathedrals and Churches, monasteries and royal houses. It was a high status- material

At first Romans used only stone, which was easily quarried and plentiful. Later they developed styles using stone and concrete. Concrete is made using lime as a bonding agent and an aggregate such as sand, and mixed with water to make a plastic substance that would set hard. Concrete allowed architects to develop a range of different room shapes such as octagons, circles, domes semi circles, and the circular apse.

This Romanesque or Norman style is characterised by thick walls, round headed arches, and tunnel-like barrel vaults. These are supported by massive pillars or piers, which often look like enormous elongated drums. The windows and doors also have round headed openings and are often beautifully carved. Rib vaults were developed to give a lighter, stronger and more skeletal structure. Then the flying buttress was created to support the vaults. These are great arched supports that lean against the vault and transfer the main outward thrust of the vault to a downward one. Now walls could be much thinner and windows could be made larger.

The Gothic era perfected this technique, and developed increasingly ornate styles, such as window tracery. The Gothic Style bought more light into buildings with clusters of fanned ribs moving out from a central pillar. These then meet further clusters of ribs. The final stage of medieval Gothic was ‘The Perpendicular Style’. This is where the emphasis is on vertical lines that cover the interior walls and move up to become vertical stone bars over the windows.

Styles before 1500 and up to 1750


This is a cheaper alternative than stone and is used in houses and ordinary buildings, as compared to the great Cathedrals and churches using masonry. The framework of uprights and horizontals takes the weight and then its walls could be thin outer ‘skins’. The spaces between the frame’s uprights and horizontals can be filled to produce a wall. The techniques remained the same from the Middle Ages through to the 17th century. Carpenters are highly skilled and would make timber frames for the walls and roofs. These could be simple and rectangular, or have extra diagonals added. When the carpenter’s work was finished, other craftsmen filled in the spaces between the timbers to make a solid wall. The most common filling was wattle and daub, as described in the materials section.

The upper classes had grander buildings called Halls. These used a hammer -beam design with great arched braces. Some nobles also incorporated stone into their Halls.

Stone Built Manors.

Due to the high status symbol of stone, ambitious nobles wanted it for their halls. Stone-built halls usually had similar layouts to the wooden style. Stone was fireproof so masons were often allowed to make a highlight of the kitchen area e.g. the tower like kitchen at Stanton Harcourt in Oxfordshire with its corners arched to take an 8-sided wooden roof.

Nobles also could afford lavish accommodation for themselves and guests. Wings would be added on at right angles to extend both the private and service areas, and then in a later century another wing was added so that the entire courtyard was enclosed, often being the 16th century before such country houses were remodelled,

In the late 15th century and early 16th century, members of the gentry were growing in power and building up rural estates, wanting bigger and showier houses. They chose timber, although they could have afforded stone. They would get more for their money and in a new generation of master carpenters, the patterns produced by master carpenters became more dazzling than ever before. If someone wanted to be noticed and envied, this was the way to do it .This ‘virtuoso’ carpentry can be seen in Old Rufford Hall, Lancashire. The framework and interior is a mass of quatrefoils and other ornate patterns which makes the building very elaborate. There is a heavy carved oak screen standing in the hall which may actually have been used as a movable backstop for plays.

Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire (picture in the first question) began in the late 15th Century and finished being modified 100 years later to make it the most spectacular of timber framed houses. The first development in 1559 was the alteration to give bigger more elaborate windows. Glass was only for the richest families.

Each bay had dozens of tiny pieces of glass leaded together in wild patterns. They are striking from the outside and flood the hall with light from within. The final alteration to show off their wealth, after a new south wing for guests, was to add an extra storey with a long fashionable gallery. Galleries were intended for exercise, spaces in which Elizabethan men and women could walk and talk without getting their elaborate clothes muddy. This gallery had rows of expensive windows and patterned timber in quatrefoils and diagonals and quarter circles to make it even more ostentatious.

Prodigy Houses

A further architectural change was amongst the super rich and aristocracy of Elizabethan England between 1560 and 1620. Their huge windows, fine stonework, intricate decoration, and magical skylines covered with turrets, finials and obelisks had never been seen before in British Building. They probably came to be built because of the Queen herself. Elizabeth 1 was not a great builder, but loved princely magnificence and would take her court on tour visiting her most prominent courtiers. So they built country houses which provided a worthy setting for their monarch. In many ways the greatest of these houses was Hardwick Hall, built for Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury who was the most formidable woman in the land; also named Bess of Hardwick. (Picture in the first question)

Outside the windows are aligned in the most perfect symmetry. There is little ornament on the outside, but her initials carved in stone, surrounded by ornate strap-work. Inside it is splendour. The interior has a large Gallery along its length, and then a stone staircase winds its way up the house to landings that open up views of rooms with tapestries, friezes and vistas. The top floor is the great Chamber and has Brussels tapestries and a detailed plaster frieze. Hardwick Hall marks the development away from the hall, to a multi-room house.

The Classical Style

In this period the architects and not the craftsmen were to take over. Inigo Jones had been to Italy to study the monuments of ancient Rome. In 1619 he began work on a new Royal Banqueting House in London’s Whitehall. Here he adapted the style of the Romans, but with a very British look. This classical style had columns, a symmetrical fa�ade and rectangular windows. He used three stones of different colours to pick out the details. The history of architecture has styles which it calls ‘orders’. There are five orders: Doric with its plain capitals; Ionic with its scroll shapes; Corinthian with its capitals smothered in acanthus leaves; Tuscan which is plain and similar to Doric and Composite which is a mixture of Ionic and Corinthian. The orders are used in this sequence if two or more are used in the same building. This is seen in the Banqueting house with Corinthian columns above Ionic columns. Classical buildings are based on these orders and rules that give the architect standard ways of designing detail e.g. on the entablature which is the masonry above the columns.

English Baroque Style

When Jones was developing the Classical Style, Christopher Wren and his pupil Nicholas Hawksmoor, started to build in a different style, which was also influenced by the Italians.

They still used the orders, and square headed windows and classical vaults, but had a more extravagant Baroque Style with curves as described in the question on Wren.

English Palladianism

The Baroque trend started to change by the 1720’s and Chiswick House on the outskirts of London shows this. It keeps to the order and has a pale purity which Lord Burlington created as he was very interested in classical culture. Chiswick House was built as an elaborate gallery to house the treasures he brought home with him. He based his work on Inigo Jones and the Italian, Palladio. The rooms are arranged around a central octagonal hall. Each has its own perfect geometric shape and style. The invention of different shaped rooms was influential. The lower story was given a rough appearance, and indicates the service area of the house. The state rooms above are given a more elegant look. The facades are symmetrical and the walls of brick which are rendered to be pale in colour. There is a triple Venetian window with a central arched heading.

This style was widely copied, mainly because Burlington had a strong personality and led an influential group of architects and designers around him. Also, Colin Campbell who designed many of the buildings published his drawings in a lavish series of volumes aimed at rich patrons and architects.

Holkham Hall

In Norfolk is the grandest Palladian architecture finishing after 25 years of construction in 1762. This has magnificence and simplicity.

It has an elegant exterior, influenced by Burlington’s House. The interior is intended to show off all the paintings, sculptures, books and other items acquired by Thomas Coke when in Italy. There are strong colours, rich materials and dramatic forms e.g. the hall has curving rows of Ionic columns, a gilded frieze and extraordinary ceiling.

This Palladian style was to be copied to smaller city dwellings. The brickwork, sash windows and elegant details were soon appearing in small terraced town houses, creating the Georgian Town House. Most of the houses were laid out in a similar way and the structure was controlled by law to control the quality of the building.

The Circus in Bath respects the traditions of classical design, with simple Doric on the bottom, then Ionic and the elaborate Corinthian on the top. This was started in 1754 and is the most famous neo-classical fa�ade in the world.


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