Transcription: Description of the architecture of Michaelchurch Court
Transcription of a descriptive architectural survey of Michaelchurch Court carried out by JW Tonkin in 1985 for the present owners.
A puzzling house in many ways, but nevertheless a good example of a wealthy, Herefordshire house of the medieval period, much altered in the 17th century and again in the 19th.
The medieval stone house with walls about 3 feet 9 inches thick probably dates back to the 14th century and appears to have been of the standard plan of a hall with a parlour or solar wing at the south and a service end at the north. At that date the hall was normally open to the roof with heavy principals supported by archbraces, but in this case the original roof appears to have been replaced circa 1600. It seems as though a lot of money was spent on the house about that date with the result that most of the medieval work disappeared. The heavy-framed doorway in the north wall may well mean that there was originally an external kitchen just to the north of the present house.
The porch bears the date 1602 on the plaster work and the initials MLC and NP. The pattern on the south side is apparently the tree of life with big fruits on it and on the west side above the doorway is a face, quite probably that of the medieval Green man. The timber work below the plaster is of the post and panel type which is often found in the Black Mountains area and into Monmouthshire and Breconshire.
The passage beyond the doorway was presumably once a through passage, but is now blocked at the back. It is quite wide for a normal medieval entry passage, possibly having been influenced by the wider passages of the Black Mountains and Welsh long-houses in which the passage was used for cattle as well as people. The timber-framing on both sides has long carpenters' assembly marks of the type found circa 1570-1640.
The hall is about 32ft by 21ft, typical proportions for a medieval open hall and it has the usual big lateral stack on the west rear wall, about 10ft. long externally. This is probably part of the early 17th century work as are the five-light and two-light windows with their ovolo-moulded mullions in the front wall opposite. This renaissance moulding arrived in England in the later 16th century and seems to have reached Herefordshire about a generation later. The doorway at the south end of the front wall is almost certainly 19th century. The panelling in this room and in the parlour is a mixture of late 16th and early 17th century work, some of which was probably brought here by the Trafford family, but it is virtually impossible to tell which is in situ and which was brought in, for it was a movable commodity which was left in wills. The earlier is usually straight at the meeting of the horizontal and the upright members, the later has 45° joints.
The south cross-wing was the original parlour or solar wing, the family's private end of the house. The present dining room would have been the great parlour in the medieval days and in the 16th and 17th centuries. The fireplace on the south wall has a typical Renaissance overmantel of circa 1600 and alongside it is a window blocked when the additional wing was built in the 1860’s. As would be expected the cellar is beneath this room. Unfortunately the beams have been encased, but they were probably moulded.
Behind it in the wing would have been the little parlour converted in the 19th century to a servants' hall and lobbies, one of which led to the Victorian wing, and the other to added service rooms at the back of the house. In this latter lobby is a chamfered beam with a pyramid stop, quite probably from the medieval house. Also in this lobby on the southern wall is a blue and black overall patterned mural which is continued on the floor above and is on the timbers of the framing as well as on the wattle and daub panels. It is reminiscent of a similar mural at Upleadon in Bosbury parish and is typical of the period circa 1600.
At the other end of the house to the north of the cross passage is a stairwell with a service room beyond it. Again there is a beam with pyramidal stops, but the big fireplace with its chamfered jambs appears to be circa 1600 as does the plain chamfered three-light mullioned and transomed window lighting the stairs.
On the first floor the four beams in the rooms over the hall and again the beam in the room over the little parlour area have pyramid stops, but those in the room over the great parlour are cased. The fireplace in the two rooms in the parlour cross-wing both have bolection moulded lintels, a type in use circa 1700 during the reigns of William and Mary and Queen Anne.
In the cross-wing and in the chamber over the porch and the adjoining timber-framed chamber are friezes with the usual late 16th, early 17th century motifs of the portcullis and the Tudor rose. These are typical of the moulds which travelling plasterers of the time seem to have been using.
In the chamber over the service end, behind the timber-framed rooms, is a partition dividing it into two with the carpenters' assembly marks in the form of crescents, usually a mid or later 17th century type of mark.
The chamber over the porch and that adjoining it are vertically framed with close-set studs, a typical late Tudor display of wealth. The fireplace in the larger chamber has an ogee decoration in the lintel whilst the window in the north wall has ovulo-moulded mullions, a typical Gothic-Renaissance mixture of the period. Above the close-set studs is a decoration based on quarter-circles, a type of work found in wealthy houses right along the Marches, but more common from Shrewsbury northwards than in the southern part.
The heavy through-purlin roof of the six bays over the hall and service end block has been divided into attic rooms, the passage along the front being lit by the dormer windows. The roof is typical of the period circa 1600 as is that of the cross-wing which is identical in construction.
The wing to the south of the medieval cross-wing was added in the mid-Victorian times when the house belonged to the Trafford family. The architect was J.F. Bodley, then internationally famous, and a stone in the basement bears his name and a date 186?. The last figure could be 3 or 6. The drinking fountain at the end of the drive bears the Trafford initials CGT and the date 1877.
Thus here is a 14th century house with most of its shell still standing, substantially altered at the end of the Tudor period and again in the 1860's with minor alterations circa 1700.
J.W. Tonkin January 1985
Jim Tonkin is a recognised authority on vernacular architecture and Secretary of the Woolhope Club. This transcription is reproduced with his kind permission, and that of the owners of Michaelchurch Court for whom the study was done.