Aston Hall was built just after Elizabeth I died. But it is like a house for a rich Tudor nobleman. Aston Hall and the Tudors Line drawings by Brian Byron
Sir Thomas Holte was the rich man who had Aston Hall built. The Holte family were big landowners. Sir Thomas’ grandfather added monastery land to his estate after Henry VIII did away with them.
The main door opened into a magnificent Entrance Hall Sir Thomas Holte’s 40 servants ate in this room at trestle tables and enjoyed celebrating Christmas and other festivals here. Grand visitors could admire the lovely plaster mouldings on the ceiling and the carvings on the oak panelling.
Sir Thomas, his wife and his 16 children ate in the Great Parlour when they did not have visitors. The tables in the Great Parlour are placed in a T shape (top table and lower table) as Sir Thomas would have had them. Rush matting covers the floor. Rushes were picked from near three big pools not far away. Aston Hall stood in countryside 400 years ago. The rushes were dried and plaited to make matting.
These two boys in the picture on the wallcould be sons of Sir Thomas. We know they are rich little boys because of the lovely embroidered (patterns sewn on) collars on their jackets. The embroidery on the collars is called blackwork. Rich ladies had to learn to sew beautifully from when they were very young. The cushion is a copy showing some of the patterns sewn. It is called blackwork.
Lion’s heads and monsters like Leviathan (monster of the deep) are amongst the carvings. The Great Stairs is wide and beautifully carved. The Tudors were very interested in monsters. Voyagers and adventurers were travelling to far off lands and telling stories of strange creatures they had seen. People thought that perhaps the beasts from their myths and legends could be found in far off lands. Grand visitors were swept up the stairs to the first floor.
The house was heated by log or coal fires. There are some lovely carved stone fireplaces from 400 years ago in the best rooms at Aston Hall. Fires were usually laid with straw then twigs and finally logs(and later coal) on top. A tinderbox was used to light the fire. The steel struck against the flint to create sparks which dropped on the straw tinder. This was then scraped out into the straw at the base of the fire. This straw caught alight and the Sandstone has been used and, in the best rooms, some marble too. fire would draw up through the fire lighting the twigs and logs or coal.
Tallow candles were burnt to give light on ordinary days The wick (string) was dipped in melted tallow about 20 times(the tallow was allowed to dry between each dip). Tallow candles hissed and spat more than the best beeswax candles. And they were very smelly! Tallow is a mixture of mutton fat (from sheep) and beef fat.
The best candles were made from beeswax. Bees make wax honeycombs to store their honey. The honeycombs were flattened and wrapped around wicks(strings) to make candles. Candle sticks like this pricket one were placed along tables to make it easier to see what was on your plate. Brass candle holders hang from the ceiling in the best rooms at Aston Hall.
Grand visitors were feasted in the Great Chamber Plaster mouldings of the heads of ancient Roman gods decorate the ceiling. This special room was on the south side of the house and the windows looked out on to lovely gardens. Statues of Nine Worthies (heroes like Julius Caesar, King Arthur and Alexander the Great) decorate the tops of the walls. Large carved stone overmantels were fashionable around fireplaces. The feast included game meats like this haunch of venison (deer meat).
The sandstone and marble fireplace is from Sir Thomas’ time. A chimney board – there were usually two of these to pull in front of the fireplace in the summertime. A ‘withdrawing room’ or sitting room Sir Thomas brought his guests to this room for sweetmeats, or the ‘banquet’ after the main part of the meal. There are some amazing patterns on this ceiling including a sun. The plaster mouldings on the ceiling are 400 years old. The Tudors loved things meaning something – symbolism. The sun symbolises the life force – nothing will grow without the sun.
The best lodging chamber(best bedroom) was next to the Great Chamber. One room just led into the other. A rich Tudor visitor would have slept propped up in a four-poster or tester bed(tester means the roof part). Tudor men and women wore long white nighties and a night cap. It was thought unhealthy to go to bed with your head uncovered. The wyvern symbolised war and pestilence! The camel symbolised humbleness – kneeling under its burden. A bowl was used for washing and a pot for a toilet. This bedroom has changed a great deal since the house was first built. But the plaster mouldings on the ceiling and on the frieze on the tops of the walls are from 400 years ago. The animals all had meaning or symbolism.
It was very fashionable to have a Long Gallery to exercise in when it was raining by walking up and down (promenading). The Long Gallery is one of the state rooms where guests were taken. It is fine plaster mouldings on the ceiling, beautiful, carved panelling, tapestries and a magnificent stone and marble fireplace. Guests may have been entertained in the Great Chamber or in this Long Gallery. Sir Thomas Holte’s coat of arms is above the fireplace with his symbol -the squirrel. Travelling players were sometimes called in. They may have performed perhaps some plays by Shakespeare. Musicians could have played and the guests may have danced.
Dick’s Garret where the servants slept. Sir Thomas Holte had 40 servants. The most important was the steward and the lowliest was the turn spit who turned the meat in front of the roaring fire in the kitchen. It is said that two ghosts from 400 years ago appear sometimes. The ghost of Sir Thomas’ daughter and the ghost of Dick the kitchen scullion. Ten to fifteen servants slept on straw mattresses in this attic room. The more important servants had smaller rooms and maybe truckle beds to put their mattresses on. Large Tudor houses would have a whipping post in the back yard. If a servant misbehaved they were tied to this post and beaten.
The kitchen has changed since Sir Thomas Holte’s day but some things are the same as Tudor times. The stone sink – the water came from a well Leather jugs – black jacks The meat safe Herbs used for flavouring and medicine Meat chopping block
Eggs from hens scratching around the back door Vegetables from Sir Thomas’ garden A coffin or pie Fish caught in the River Tame A ham from one of Sir Thomas’ farms Bread was baked in the bakehouse Gingerbread men The cook, scullions and kitchen maids prepared food at a round table