The manor house at Owlpen has been very little altered since a few improvements were made by Thomas Daunt IV between 1719 and 1723. It preserves the rare features and textures of a Tudor manor house of its date and status, yet has adapted to 21st-century needs to create a family house that continues to be well loved and lived in today. We describe here the interiors to give some flavour of its main rooms.
THE HALL IS THE HEART of the Tudor manor house, evidently a rebuilding on the site of the earlier medieval Hall, which would have been open to the roof. It is dated probably shortly after 1542, when Thomas Daunt I inherited; he married Alice Throckmorton of Tortworth, and died in 1573.
The main entry is at the lower end of the Hall; the ‘summer’ beams of the compartment ceiling stop short at a huge transverse beam, marking the position of the old screens passage.
There is Arts and Crafts modelled plaster-work set in the walls: the plaster owl overdoor at the upper end of the Hall was modelled by Norman Jewson. The animals over the north door (to the penthouse) and the thistles in the east splay of the window are also by him. The plaster foliage in the west (right) splay is designed and modelled by Ernest Gimson, for whom Jewson worked as an ‘improver’ after 1907.
The classical timber arched doorcase (service end; east wall) is detailed in the estate accounts of Thomas Daunt IV. It was inserted in September 1722, by Henry Fryer, probably of Bristol, and represents the last phase of new work done on the house until the repairs of the twentieth century. It cost fifteen shillings; the accounts describe it as “a pair of Italian carv’d pillars” (Italian was a contemporary term for the composite order).
It was reduced in height when the concrete floor was laid by Jewson in 1926, making it stocky in proportion. A spring rose under the floor nearby.
On the north wall is a contemporary heraldic wallpainting depicting the coat of arms of Daunt (argent, a chevron sable between three Cornish choughs’ heads erased proper) quartering the canting arms of de Olepenne (the owls in the second and third quarters: sable, a chevron between three owls argent). The formalized mantling in spirals is vivid.
It celebrates the marriage of Margery de Olepenne, the last of the line which had held the Manor from the time of the earliest records in the eleventh century, to John Daunt, a clothier from Wotton-under-Edge, in about 1462.
The Little Parlour (1720)
THOMAS DAUNT IV took over the Owlpen estate in 1719. His estate account book shows that he inserted the door case, sash windows and paneling to form this elegant early Georgian interior, created within the shell of the massive walls of the old service wing at the lower end of the Hall, shortly after. The buffet recess to the right of the fireplace bears traces of original gilding and marbling in the shell head.
The reference of Henry Fryer, the carpenter, survives stating ‘he is a very good Workman and if you please to Imploy him he will do it to yr content and as wel and as Cheape as any man you can Imploy.’ He was paid £7 for the ‘wainscott’ aneling and work to the room. The sashes were 8s. each, but glazing at 24s. seems dear. The chimney-piece cost 10s.
The floor was raised by Norman Jewson in 1926, altering the classical proportions: the dado rail is now a few inches above the floor, and the doors cut off at the frieze rail. The room was repainted in shades of grey in 1976, a little lighter than it was in the eighteenth century, and the curtains hung. (Thomas Daunt was buying muslin and fustian for his window curtains in 1721.) This room represents the last phase of work on the house.
Oak Parlour (dated 1616)
THE DATESTONE outside on this wing is inscribed 1616 T.D. for Thomas Daunt II. He came into possession of the manor in 1608, only after having conducted 12 years of law suits as far as the Star Chamber for possession of his inheritance against his niece, Frances, who had usurped him during his absence on his estates in Munster.
Frances was the wife of Sir John Bridgeman, who later became chief justice of Chester. After the favourable verdict, disclosing “plots and practices”, the Bridgemans were ousted, and moved to Prinknash Park, now Abbey, near Gloucester.
This is the original lord’s Parlour set at the upper end of the Hall, at the time when the demand for privacy and family life had first led to the planning of such ‘withdrawing’ parlours and ‘apart-ments’ at the manorial level. The bay window has geometrical lead lattice lights. The panelling is in situ, in quartered oak, with naïve attempts at graining, an early example of such work, showing whorls and circles and ‘rib-cage’ designs.
It is seen to best effect around the fireplace. This would have been set by the corner of the room as originally divided, with a small ‘studdy’ at the north end; it has Daunt graffiti on the stone surround, the dates mid-seventeenth century. Jewson’s floor, in chestnut from the Uley saw mill, is laid with the wide butt ends reversed, tapering with the bole of the tree, dove-tail fashion, in the manner prescribed by Gimson: similar floors may be seen upstairs.
A ‘good’ (D. Verey) newel stair vice with some original timber baulk steps leads upstairs. The upper flight leads to a haunted garret. There is a squint window to the Hall (supposedly for ladies to view the goings-on after withdrawing).
The door frames (and beams) outside the Solar have distinctive pyramid and step chamfer stops.
A seventeenth-century child's shoe can be seen on the stairs. It is one of a hoard found by a fireplace during repairs. Such shoes were a token of good luck and fertility in folklore.
The Solar (dated 1616)
|THE SOLAR is the principal first floor chamber of the early seventeenth-century manor (also known as “the lodgings”) off the upper (west) end of the hall. The bay window has mullions well ‘out of plumb’. There are good views over the formal parterre garden, with early Georgian gate piers and yew parlour, and the estate, with the Stuart Court House and Uley Bury iron age hill-fort (between the yew trees) to the west, and the Grist Mill, dated 1728, to the east. The wide floor-boards—also tapering—are a thin casing, cross-boarding over the older floor. There is a fragment of a stylized lily wallpainting (just above the skirting-board by the dressing table).|
Queen Margaret's Room
THIS IS THE GREAT CHAMBER, or ‘Hall Chamber’ (above the Great Hall). It is known traditionally as “Queen Margaret’s Room” because it has been long associated with the visit of Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, during the Wars of the Roses. It is said to be haunted by her benign ghost, and numerous ‘sightings’ have been recorded.
The room did not exist in its present form on 3 May 3 1471, when the virago Queen was reputed to have visited on her way to defeat at the battle of Tewkesbury. A letter is recorded from The Prince of Wales requesting the Daunt family to help the Lancastrian cause and muster men for the battle. (The fifteenth-century stump bed, in which she allegedly slept, was here until 1927, when it was acquired by Mr Baron Ash for Packwood House, now owned by the National Trust, where it is shown in a pretended ‘Queen Margaret’s Room’.)
The double door frame with depressed arch has a fine panelled door with its original furniture (and unusual escutcheon), perhaps recycled from the old Great Hall service doorway. The cross-passage behind the room has a shouldered-arch doorway at the end. It is a ‘gentry’ feature of high status for this early period, when rooms normally led through from one to the next; a century or so later such passages would have been usual enough, and Owlpen had been eclipsed by newer and better neighbours. The fireplace (with more Daunt graffiti) has a ‘floating’ frieze and entablature.
Queen Margaret's Room is famous today for the set of late 17th-century painted cloths illustrating the life of Joseph and his brothers. It is said to be unique as a complete set of such cloths in the country. Please see separate webpage.