OME attempt at the history of a house as a building may be regarded as a reasonable preliminary to treatment of interior decoration. It will be of interest to trace briefly the continuous changes and developments which, during the course of a few centuries, have transformed the rude stronghold, the gaunt castle and the desolate keep of our earlier ancestors into the princely mansion and the comfortable home of later times.
In the first days of our history man was nomadic to a certain extent, but, in such a climate as ours, he could not have survived if he had not obtained some shelter from the weather such as he may have received from natural caves or hollow trees. Consequently, there is the probability that wooden huts or buildings were erected. Of course, this is purely conjectural, as no trace of any such perishable building remains.
It was not until the 12th century that stone or permanent buildings of any description were built, and the few existing remnants of antiquity that remain of this period go to show that their purpose was that of military strongholds and defensive.
Shelters and Domestic Dwellings
Shelters rather than of domestic dwellings or comfortable homes. Huge earthworks were the “castles” which the Conqueror and his followers found scattered over the land.
Strengthening for Defence
These works were strengthened by stone walls for the purposes of more effective defence, with projecting towers, so far as these might prove an advantage, and it was in the midst of these earthworks that many of the stone keeps of that time were built, for the domestic use of the owner, his family and immediate attendants.
Temporary Wooden Structures
Whilst, for the accommodation of the vassals and retainers who overflowed from the towers and the keep, temporary wooden structures were regarded as forming an adequate shelter.
The keep is the earliest form of English house built in permanent fashion. It was a massive rectangular structure usually several stories in height, varying in size from 30 to 80 feet square. The walls were of great strength and seldom less than 8 feet and often as much as 16 or 20 feet in thickness.
With but one room on each floor, these walls were honeycombed with mural chambers and contained many recesses which were used as sleeping and retiring places by the family and principal guests, whilst in most instances a circular stair connected one floor with the other.
The rooms were indifferently lighted by means.
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Of narrow slits in the walls and in cases provision was made for a fire. In such cases the fireplace was a mere recess in the wall, with no ornamental feature and no flue as we know it, but a funnel was provided which led to a small vertical opening in the face of the wall through which part of the smoke, or even the whole of it, could find its way out.
This might not have been so objectionable as one would imagine, for there are more unpleasant odors than those of the smoke of a pine or oak log.
These fireplaces, however, were of generous size, as they might well be, considering that the windows were unglazed and large enough to make the room cold whilst they were not large enough to light the room well.
There was no attempt at decoration in the whole structure. The floors were of wood, rough, stout and substantial, whilst the doorways were small and of the simplest description.
Castles of the Conqueror
There are but few remains of these “Castles of the Conqueror,” but of the “keep” we still have some fine examples. First and foremost, both for size and historical interest, we have the White Tower of the Tower of London.
Which was begun by order of William the Conqueror near the end of the 11th century and which measures 118 feet by 107 feet. The keep of Rochester Castle was built about the.