|West Front||Unicorn Topiary, East Front|
|West Front showing knot garden||Temple of the Four Winds|
Doddington Hall lies a few miles west of Lincoln. It is in the hands of the Birch family rather than being a National Trust property and as a result is perhaps less well-known than it deserves.
Prior to the Elizabethan period, the profession of architect for domestic premises scarcely existed. There were master builders and designers who constructed cathedrals and abbeys in the medieval period. After the Dissolution and the abolition of chantry chapels, ecclesiastical building came to a halt and the wealthy started to put their money into new houses rather than into church building projects. Robert Smythson (1535-1614) was among the first of a new breed of domestic architects. He started his career as a stonemason working on Longleat. He tried to put the newly fashionable symmetry onto the traditional English house template. The Medieval house commonly had a front door leading into a passage straight to the rear door. This was known as the screens passage. To the left of this passage were three entrances leading to the pantry, buttery and kitchen. The pantry took its name from the French for bread - pain - and the buttery from the storage of butts of wine. The passage to the kitchen sometimes led down a corridor to a more remote area, the idea being to protect the main house from fire. To the right of the screens passage was a wooden screen which formed one end of a large dining hall which at its end would have a dais on which the family ate.
On approaching the hall from the east side, not shown in my picture as it was in deep shade, the door is centrally placed but leads not into a hallway and staircase as in later houses but into the end of the dining room. The house has a symmetrical facade in front of the old style of room layout. A similar pattern is seen at Burton Agnes, built between 1601 and 1604. There the front door is not visible when facing the house. It is at the side of a projecting bay and gives access to the screens passage of a great hall which runs behind the frontage.
One of the interesting aspects of Doddington Hall is that it has passed down through the generations from the time of its construction and has never been sold. It has passed through the female line on five occasions and at one stage was the subject of a bequest. This gives the house a continuity which some houses have lost through having furniture and pictures sold. The house was built for Thomas Tailor, registrar to the Bishop of Lincoln and from the long gallery one can see the cathedral in the distance. Tailor was one of a new breed of Elizabethan entrepreneurs. The interior decoration has been altered to suit later styles with Georgian predominating. You can see a panoramic view of the Long Gallery and Tapestry bedroom on the Doddington Hall website. The house has wonderful walled vegetable gardens to the west and also ornamental gardens with the Temple of the Four Winds. A visit in July was particularly rewarding. The current owners have been very active in promoting local produce in their farm shop and café which is on a site adjacent to the hall. Don't miss the plum cake.
There is no documentary evidence that Robert Smythson was the architect of Doddington but experts agree that it has the hallmarks of his work. Robert Smythson was first mentioned as a stonemason in the building accounts of Longleat, Wiltshire, in 1568. Robert Smythson's other works include Thorpe Salvin, Hardwick Old Hall, Wollaton Hall, Barlborough Hall, Chatsworth Hunting Tower, Worksop Manor Lodge, Hardwick New Hall and North Lees Hall. He may also have been responsible for Chastleton in Oxfordshire, now a National Trust property. Chastleton has a medieval great hall with a dais at one end, a screen and cross passage. Fountains Hall near Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire may also be a Smythson work.
John Smythson, Robert's son, lived until 1634. He was reponsible for Bolsover Castle and made alterations to Theobalds. He is designed the monument to Bess of Hardwick in Derby Cathedral, Shireoaks Hall in Nottinghamshire and Swarkestone Hall in Derbyshire. John's son, Huntingdon Smythson, who lived until 1648 is believed to be responsible for the Riding School at Bolsover Castle.
Doddington Hall and Gardens, a 40 page colour brochure available at the site.
James I to Queen Anne, history course given over six weekends at Wedgwood Memorial College, Barlaston, Staffordshire. Part 3, 26 November 2005:- Architecture of Country Houses by James Bond.
Details of opening times and visitor facilities are on the hall's website
Symmetry & Light, a guide to the Architecture of the Smythson Family, a pamphlet by Bolsover Leisure & Tourism, has a map showing Smythson Buildings in the East Midlands.