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About Wollaton Hall
From the outside, Wollaton Hall could easily be mistaken for a grand Victorian mansion - even though it was built when Sir Francis Drake was defeating the Spanish Armada.
Its extravagant architecture and elegant lines readily deny the ravages of over 400 years' weathering.
Unlike most lavish Elizabethan houses it was not built on the usual E or H shaped plan.
The great hall is its main feature: over 50 feet high with windows set 35 feet above ground level so they surmount two floors of rooms which surround the hall.
Above a stone screen on the west side is a minstrel's gallery. The woodwork of the beautiful hammer-beam roof is designed, coloured and carved to look like stone and is decorated with many coats of arms. Two large staircases with painted ceilings lead to the upper floor. One of them also boasts spectacular wall paintings. They are the work of Sir James Thornhill an English baroque painter of the early 18th century, and Laguerre his contemporary, whose work can be found in many country houses.
A narrow spiral staircase of 68 steps leads to the Prospect Room, directly above the great hall. Its windows dominate the surrounding countryside as it falls away in all directions. At one time it was called Bedlam, being a dormitory for visitors' servants and is also said to have been used as a ballroom - though access must have been hazardous for women in full skirts and layer upon layer of petticoats. In later years the room was a kind of museum for rare furniture.
As expected, the servants' quarters were in the basement, but they were unusually well lit, because the hall floor is a good way above ground level. The old kitchens and wine cellars are linked to a bewildering maze of storage rooms by long winding passages and unexpected staircases. One room was built like a prison cell, complete with barred window, big door bolt and inspection grille.
From the north-east basement a flight of rough steps and an underground passage lead first to a well of ice-cold water and then to a subterranean reservoir called the Admiral's bath, after a naval chief in the Willoughby family who apparently used it for his daily plunge. At the other end of the basement, the old servant's hall includes a fantastic bell system, used at one time to summon service to any corner of the house.
Architecturally the exterior is more ornate and intriguing with its false Dutch gable ends, attractive stone strapwork motif, strange chimneys, niches and carvings - there are said to be over 200 statues around the building and still some of the niches are empty.
Text from Wollaton Hall leaflet (Nottingham City Council 1982), updated January 2005
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