( Originally Published Early 1900's )
PRACTICALLY the only type of staircase built from the Norman period to the end of the Tudor Gothic period was the spiral newel form. Such staircases were built in out-of-the-way places, as described in Chapters I and II, and offered but little scope for decorative purposes. Stone was the material chiefly used for their construction, although in some cases they were of wood, in which case solid wooden blocks were built one above the other, until towards the middle of the 16th century. After that separate boards were sometimes used to form the treads and risers. Early forms of staircases with straight flights were also used about this period, and were built between two walls, so that both sides were directly supported by them. These were usually built with solid blocks to form the steps, as illustrated in Fig. 27.
Such heavy structures, however, were soon superseded by fine well staircases, in which one side only was supported by the wall, the outer side being framed into a carriage piece or "string." The introduction of this comparatively light form was the turning-point in the evolution of the staircase, which was now elaborated from being a hidden-away necessity, to becoming one of the most important features in the house. The increased use of long corridors embellished with panelling and carving made such an innovation necessary in order to continue a harmonious treatment from one floor to another. The general temperament of the Elizabethan period, too, accounts for the feeling of elaboration and self-importance which pervades the staircases of this period.
A characteristic feature of the hand-rails is that they were mortised into the newels, which were usually square, and made sufficiently long to project well above the level of the former, being usually capped at the top by finials carved in various fantastic shapes. These in turn were sometimes surmounted by carved figures of animals, human beings, or grotesques. In some cases the newel was made to continue from one floor to another. The hand-rail was of heavy proportions, and was moulded along its length, the top member being comparatively thin to form a comfortable grip to the hand.
Jacobean staircases were similarly treated to those of the previous reign, although the growing tendency after the first few years of the 17th century was to build them on a lighter scale. Arcading, solid panels pierced through to form scrolled patterns, and turned balusters formed the usual treatments of the balustrading.