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More About Staircases

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



From the Elizabethan period the staircase had been endowed with a degree of importance, and was the subject of the most elaborate treatment. As the 17th century progressed the arcaded balustrades were replaced by solid panels pierced through in the form of interlacing arabesque scrolls, and these in turn retired in favour of the type of treatment shown in Fig. 5o. In this the carving consists of various martial motifs. The heavy hand-rails and carriage pieces are continued from the earlier period, and are mortised into the heavy newels. The latter, although still heavy, differ chiefly in the replacement of the square-cut finial by the basket of fruit and the character of the carving in the sunk panels.

Inigo Jones, with his Italian ideals, preferred stone or marble, as in the staircase at Coleshill House, which takes the form of broad double flights with turned balusters. Webb, on the other hand, usually employed wood, as in the large staircase at Thorpe Hall. This shows a typical feature in the use of pierced panels carved with acanthus scrolls in place of the type shown in Fig. 50. A lighter specimen is that at Thorney Abbey House, in Fig. 58, in which turned balusters are used. An interesting point in the structure is the use of the scrolled support to the lower newel, and the hand-rail which projects over the newel in the form of a capping. This is shown in Fig. 59, at A. The example at B is of about the same date, but contains characteristics of the Jacobean type in the jointure of the hand-rail to the newel and the termination of the latter with a finial without any capping.

During the Wren period the scrolled acanthus balustrades were continued and gave great scope to the Grinling Gibbons School of carving. That at Tythrop (Fig. 70) is a fine example of the period. It will be seen that the broad capping above the newel has no superimposed finial. Wren also made considerable use of stone and marble staircases, the use of which considerably influenced the design of the later wooden structures. In those of stone the balustrade was usually of wrought-iron, and was chiefly inspired by the work of Jean Tijou. They were similar to the wooden balustrades in that they took the form of a series of panels filled with scrolls, etc. These later developed into a series of single balusters.

In the next example, in Fig. 78, the straight carriage pieces are replaced by scrolled brackets evolved from the stone staircase. The heavy newels, too, are replaced by light composite columns, and the delicate hand-rail is fixed above and runs continuously from one flight to another. The ends are curved or ramped to bring it to the required level.

Stone or marble staircases gained in popularity during the 18th century, and the light hand-rail, supported by single-scrolled balusters of wrought-iron, often ran unbroken from one floor to another without the use of newels. D and E, Fig. 94, are examples of the balustrades used. The brackets on the same plate show the various types used. Three turned balusters of wood are also shown, dating from the late 17th century, the early 18th, and later 18th century respectively. A small staircase is shown in Fig. 84, and illustrates the general tendency to lightness towards the end of the century.



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