Sunday, 3 April 2011

Chirk Castle. Pugin, etiquette, and dungeons.

This is the second posting on Chirk Castle. The art of the fletcher (arrow maker) is here

Chirk Castle was built in 1295 by Roger Mortimer, who was a warlord to Edward 1. The outsides haven't changed much but the insides are much less stark and show many different styles because the castle has been lived in for over 700 years.

It was built as a fortress to subdue the Welsh.  It's in a place called Wrexham just over the border into north wales, and is now owned by the National Trust. Directions here.

The entrance is above and on the right is the internal courtyard, which leads to things such as the laundry, chapel and dungeons.

There is not much information in the rooms, just the bare minimum, so if you're planning a visit and want to know about what you're looking at, you'd better cough up the £5 for a guide. This is unusual for the NT and was a bit disappointing.
 The Cromwell Hall

Redesigned by Pugin in the 1840's in a neo-Gothic style. He put in the stained glass windows and some of the heavily carved furniture.
 The fireplace dates to 1845 and bears the arms of Col Robert Myddelton Biddulph (cracking name!) who commissioned Pugin to design the hall.

The display of arms and armour dates from the Civil War.
And up the Grand Staircase. They call this style "Neo-classical" and it replaced the old tudor stairs.

The open door leads into the State Dining Room.

 The table is laid with 18thC glassware, with a huge French ormolu and crystal chandelier. The clock above the Adams fireplace is a bracket clock in the Boulle manner made by Charles Balthazar of Paris in the 18th century.

18th Century Dining.

Having your dinner wasn't a simple thing. There were lots of rules. 

The host entered first escorting the most socially senior lady followed by the hostess and the highest ranking man.Once they were seated the remaining guests were free to choose their seats. This gave heaps of opportunity for flirting and knee groping.

Each meal had two courses and a dessert. But each course could consist of up to 25 different dishes. All the dishes were placed on the table together but in a balanced and attractive way. Guests sampled only those placed near their seat. Only the soup, which would have been eaten first was hot; the remaining dishes would have been eaten cold.

The second course had as many dishes as the first but they were all lighter, All the plates, cutlery and cloths were replaced. Dessert was served with the cloths removed. It consisted of foods that could be eaten with fingers like cheese, confesctionary, cakes, nuts and fruit. Dinner like this would take around 2 hours. After which the hostess would rise and lead the women guest out, leaving the men to drink.

Ice creams and sorbets were made in only the most wealthy of households. The castle has its own Ice House, sunk deep underground in which ice was stored. Specially built shallow ponds were built and allowed to flood the ground in winter so the resulting ice could be cut up and layered between straw inside the ice house, to preserve it all year round.

Before dinner, both men and women changed into elaborate dining clothes which were often heavily embroidered and jewelled.

The Saloon

 This ceiling was repainted in the mid 19th century in colours chosen by Pugin.
 17th century tapesty from the Flemish tapestry workshop at Mortlake established by James 1. Depicts scenes from the story of Cadmus, King of Thebes.
 Delightful box.  I asked what was inside but no one knew.

I liked this little chest, but was also amused to know that these chairs, marked GR and ER were the chairs the family sat on at the last 2 coronations. Apparently you can buy your chair as a souvenir. Fancy that.

 The Long Gallery (aptly named I thought)

31 metres long by 7 metres wide. It was completed in 1678.

 These two painted panels are the same age as the hall and are firescreens.
 A wonderful box made out of ebony inlaid with ivory and tortoiseshall. Inside it's silver and oil paintings on copper panels depcting the life of Christ.

It was given to Sir Thomas Myddleton by Charles 2, who helped restore the King to his throne, after England got a bit fed up with puritanism.
 The King's bedchamber.

Charles 1st (the one that was beheaded) stayed at Chrik, reputedly here although a lot of what you see wasn't there at the time.
This bed dates from 1700.

The ribbed ceiling of the bedroom, stone fireplace, and grained paintwork are Pugin's work again. The flock wallpaper was hand printed in 1991 from a large fragment found in the room.
 This chair was in a room leading to the Document Room.
 More photos of libraries.
 A cosy corner. Information from here becomes a bit thin. There wasn't much to be had unfortunately and the free short guide doesn't tell you anything about these next areas of the castle.
 Random piece of embroidery/stump work.

 The Servants Hall. 

This room was converted from a plumbers workshop in 1762. The tables were arranged so that the higher servants sat nearest the fire, and the lesser ones by the door.

 Adams Tower.

This part of the castle is unaltered since 1310. The walls are 5m thick (yes, 5 metres!)

Inside the tower is a spiral staircase that leads down to the dungeon, which is partly hollowed out of the rock. 15 French prisoners were kept here by Henry V after Agincourt.

It was here that we met the Fletcher (link above) who told us all about making arrows and chain mail.

 The dungeon steps leading down into the bed rock. Very steep and worn. nb you NEED the rope to balance.

 At the bottom of the stairs you enter this small room. The floor is uneven and worn. It was very dark, with just a little light coming in from the slits high up in the walls, leading to the outside.

This is the amount of light they let in. Also it has to be said, the fresh air would have been welcome. But it must have been bitterly cold.

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