Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Canons Ashby House, Daventry - Posting 1-Masonic symbols, and marmalade cutters

The outside views of Canons Ashby House (National Trust, maps etc here)

Canons Ashby has been the family home of the Drydens since Elizabethan times. The story of Canons Ashby, which has been little altered since the 19th century, is presented as if it were being seen through the eyes of Sir Henry Dryden, an eminent Victorian.

The Winter Parlour
(Early history and the Masons)

(Since writing this posting, information has been expanded on and can be viewed here)

Its history goes a lot further back though, and in the early 14th century, stone masons organized themselves into site lodges (lodges, from the Latin meaning lean-to storage area) which they used for meetings, rest periods, and for tool storage.

By 1350 the population had been decimated by the black death and there was  a shortage of masons and other trades people, and wage demands rocketed, and resulted in a Guild, so that in order to be a professional or trades person, you had to be a member of a Guild which held a Royal Charter. 

During the 16th century, the population grew, but Henry VII started to demolish castles,  Because there was not much work for the masons, their lodges expanded to include other trades and professions, providing they were "freemen". This was the start of the freemasons.

The Brotherhood was and still is a male club. Edward Dryden was associated with early freemasonry and John Dryden provided the lodge facilities in his house, and the Winter Parlour was probably decorated with lodge symbols during that time. You can see them painted onto the wood panelling above.

Some of the masonic symbols: 
Crowned head on a platter - the motto probably indicates authority.
Head with slipped crown - probably depicts weakness/dishonour/loss of authority
Column surmounted by a lion - symbol for strength
Five arrows - depicts balance and harmony
Inverted crescent above a dagger - masonic clouds associated with the apron and depicted in the Temple of Solomon
Boars head on a cushion - symbolises courage, authority, antagonism.

 The Kitchen

There was no running water in the house, and no electricity until 1947. This space would have had an open fire for cooking, prior to the range.

Love this one on the right. Its a casserole oven.

There is nowhere to make a fire and no chimney.  Hot coals were taken from the fire (see above) and put into a shallow depression in the top of the stone. The pans were then put on top and the stew cooked slowly for several hours.  There was a space underneath to rake out the spent coals.
 Bread oven.
The dairy.  There is light in this room, and it is cold (as well as damp)  It was thought that butter was made here.
 Can you guess what this is?  Its a Victorian  marmalade slicer.  You put the quartered oranges in the tube at the back and press home with the wooden bung.  The handle at the front moves from left the right and slices the orange as it's pushed through.


  1. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing this. Do you have a reference from where you got the meaning of the masonic symbols?

  2. The information is freely available at the house. It's on a printed sheet, which I photographed, and I only included a few of those listed. Sorry but I can't remember who wrote it/researched it for the trust, but I do remember that it was an historian/academic. I took a photo of the page but it's gone into the recycling, so I can't get it back. The images on the walls are very interesting and many of them date to the very early days of the house, and include family crests and sigils. If you follow the link from this page to the National Trusts page, you will be able to contact them and ask for more details, and I'm sure they'll try hard to oblige.

  3. Since writing the above response, my DH has kindly sorted through the recycling and found the page from the NT handbook. I will copy it out and do a separate posting for you.

  4. Thank you so much! You are very kind. :-)