The term "manor house" can be loosely applied to
a whole range of buildings, but at its most basic refers to
the house of a local lord/landowner. In strict architectural
terms a manor house is a late medieval country house.
The medieval manor house has its architectural roots in the
Saxon hall, a simple rectangular building which acted as a
communal gathering place for eating, sleeping, and transacting
business. Servants and other retainers slept around an open
fire in the centre of the hall, while the lord and his family
occupied a raised dais at one end of the hall. This simple
Saxon design was incorporated into early Norman castles, with
the hall occupying the first floor of the castle keep.
the 13th century the fortified manor house emerged. Not quite
castle, yet more advanced than the Saxon hall, these early
fortified manors were built in brick or stone, with a timber
roof. The fire was still open and the hall was still the abode
of servants and retainers, but now a new room was added; the
solar. The solar was a private room for the lord and his family,
usually on the first floor, and reached from the raised dais
at one end of the hall. The space beneath the solar was often
given over to storage.
the other end of the hall from the solar was the kitchen area,
usually separated from the main hall by wooden screens. Over
time the kitchen became a totally separate room, often arranged
at right angles to the main hall. The main entrance to the
manor was at the kitchen end. A good example of this type
of manor design can be seen at Stokesay, Shropshire. Window
space was at a minimum in the fortified manor, and outer defenses
may have included a moat with a gatehouse reached by a drawbridge.
14th century manor
In the 14th century the manor house more elaborate room additions
appeared. The buttery, or food storage area, appeared between
the kitchens and the main hall. Above the buttery was a guest
room, a further evidence of a growing awareness of, and interest
in, personal privacy. The simple entrance of the earlier century
became a more elaborate porch, over which could appear a gallery
for musicians. The various rooms; solar, hall, buttery, kitchen,
had theiir own separate roofs, often at right angles to each
other. Though the most desireable building material was still
stone - for those who could afford it - bricks made an appearance,
particularly in East Anglia.
15th century manor arranged around a courtyard
By the early 15th century the fortified manor house had run
its course. The more settled conditions of the period meant
that defense was no longer the highest priority, and more
time and energy was spent creating structures with comfort
in mind. The drawbridge gave way to a fixed bridge over the
moat, and the gatehouse became more elaborately decorative;
a grand entry way rather than a forbidding barrier. The upper
floor of the gatehouse was often used as a chapel.
house itself was most often arranged around a central courtyard,
with domestic buildings of one to three stories in height.
With more space devoted to comfort, private bedrooms and reception
rooms became common, as well as family areas like the solar.
Materials varied with the locale; half-timber, stone, brick,
and flint were all used.
examples of 15th century manors include Great Chalfield (Wiltshire),
Lytes Carey (Somerset), Cotehele (Cornwall), and Great Dixter
To generalise about the post-Medieval manor, it is safe to
say that buildings became more spacious and elaborate, more
ostentatious and ornate. The basic pattern of country houses
evolved from the courtyard design to a more open E or H shape.
Windows occupied a large proportion of wall space; advances
in glazing techniques account for part of this approach, but
so did less need for defense. Another strain of influence
was a burgeoning interest in classical design. More Englishmen
were travelling abroad and they were influenced by Italian
classicism, and still more by Flemish and French interpretations
of that classical style. In this last ornate flowering of
the medieval manor we can see the origins of the neo-classical
country house estates of the next several centuries.