Great Halls to Great Rooms – Barrow Court
“The focus of daily life for an Anglo-Saxon household, the great hall developed as the principal domestic interior of the high Middle Ages. In this period great halls may be identified within every kind of residence, from palaces and castles to merchant’s houses and farmsteads. And the great hall continued to be an important element of grand domestic architecture far into the 17th century. Even to day an old manor house is still often called “The Hall” in reference to the chamber which formerly served as its focus.”
By mid 18th century, entertaining in town or country was still very much based on a single large room in any house with the means to have one, which makes it very confusing for historians to find mentions of immense sums of money spent on a single room.
William Gore Esq was a wealthy Somerset gent, lord of the manor of Barrow Gurney, and with handwriting that would shame a gravedigger. But his scrawled accounting notes on the building of his new room at Barrow Court provide rare sightings of Bristol craftsmen such as the Paty family at work in Somerset. Between 1753-56 Thomas Paty, plasterer Thomas Stocking, and carpenter Samuel Glascodine were involved on the work which cost a massive £590/13/7, out enough to build and fit several town houses. A year later John Simmons painted the staircase and “ye Room”.
There is nothing to indicate what Thomas Paty’s work involved, so it was probably the usual bit of getting and organising things, and in the absence of any other suitable names, he must have designed it and probably added a bit of ornamental carving for his £82.
The room is discussed in a letter from Thomas Prowse in Bath to Gore of Feb 1755 in which he makes some very useful and sensible suggestions. But as a seriously classical architect, involved with others at Hatch Court, and on his own on the Temple of Harmony at Halswell House, his comments must be seen as a little biased.
“I think that the sketch of the Ceiling will do very well, and hope your operator will be sure to make it very light, because I have observed that there is hardly one thing of this kind in an hundred that is not made too heavy and projecting.”
As it too often is the case, he knows the work, but not who did it.
“I wish that the Frieze and Architrave were omitted, and that your Finishing were nothing but the Corinthian cornice you mention. Without something of Pillars or Pillasters I never wish to see the whole Entablature introduced in a room.”
He talks of obtaining pictures for the walls, and suggests panels as decoration in the meantime. His comments on fancy plasterwork are eminently sensible but bad news for master plasterers, advising against “any Festoons falling down on those Pannels or between them, which always have a bad effect in Plaster work, are subject to Accidents and harbour the dust.” Despite what appears to have been a complete conflict in styles, Prowse must have been impressed with Stocking’s work, as the two later worked together in 1758 on ‘the Cedars,’ now part of Wells Cathedral School.
Thankfully for the brilliant Mr Stocking, it seems Mr Gore ignored the advice, because a total of £86 was spent on plasterwork, again an extraordinary amount for a single room.
This room was not Thomas Paty’s first contact with Gore. In the adjoining parish church is a monument by Thomas to Edward Gore who died in 1748. this pattern of employing Thomas to work on monuments and in the nearby manor house provides a useful clue to the family business, especially as is often the case, the architect of a nearby building is unknown.
Monuments by the Patys can be found in almost every parish church across South Gloucestershire, the exceptions often being where the Victorians have been doing some rebuilding, so the monuments may have been lost.
Their monuments are also found in many North Somerset churches, but usually for families with strong links to Bristol, which makes Barrow unusual.
In May 1750 Thomas submitted an invoice for £5/10 9 ½ for supplying and fitting a marble slab, hearth and tiles for the house. The note receipted by Abraham Mills “for my master” and John Jones is the only named worker, so it is possible Thomas never actually visited the site. The Paty family did very little work south of the river Avon, so a letter from Thomas King of Bath, Paty’s future son in law, is interesting. Dated May 1760 King discusses the sale of a horse and the maladies such as Small Pox and stomach pains suffered by mutual acquaintances, so the contract may have come via this contact.
Sadly, there is no sign of Gore’s wonderfully ornate room today. In 1882 the house was largely remodelled and rebuilt by its owner Henry Martin Gibbs. The present house is a mixture of Tudor and Victorian with traces of the original priory. But it seems we at least know where it was:
“Victorian alterations provided for the library at the north end, where there had been a Georgian drawing room supported on pillars. The floor of this room was used as the floor of the new library.”
Of all the work Paty carried out, his interiors were far more subject to changing fashions, so least likely to survive. Once the rooms were changed, there was no reason to retain the records. Given his work on rooms at Badminton, Stoke Park and St Mary Redcliffe, we can only guess at how many others he was commissioned to design and build.