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Doorways inside Welsh Homes

Doorways are key elements of the home which partition houses and the spaces that structure our living areas both physically and ideologically.

Doorways are points of entry in the home.  The significance of doorways is reflected in the long-standing folk traditions associated with them throughout Britain: a new bride is traditionally lifted over the threshold of the house by her husband, while horseshoe charms are often nailed on or above the main entrance to the home for luck and to keep away malicious or mischievous spirits.  On a purely practical level, doorways provide admission to the house itself, thereby acting as a secure barrier between the interior and the exterior of the home that controls access to the individual rooms within it.  They control the physical atmosphere of the home by regulating air drafts and allowing rooms to be warmed or cooled more effectively, and are an important domestic fire control measure. 

Doors also act as barriers to unwelcome sights, scents and sounds in the home: they hide untidy rooms from view, contain cooking smells and dampen noise.  They also act as barriers to people in the home, securing or opening access to the different areas and rooms of the house depending on contemporary attitudes towards privacy and social class, and ideas about what sorts of people should be allowed access to particular rooms.

Doorways are practical features of the home as they control admission to different spaces in the house and provide secure barriers between rooms. They can also be highly decorative.  At Rhyd-y-gors in Carmarthenshire a gothic-style ogee archway visually enhances this internal doorway, in keeping with the broader, early nineteenth-century gothic design scheme of the whole interior.

The physical appearance and design of doors and doorways can be helpful when dating a property.  Like all interior decorations and adornment, the embellishment and treatment of interior doors can signify the contemporary ideas and attitudes of successive occupants of a home, and about the particular rooms and spaces to which they provide access.

Though doorways, hallways and staircases are often overlooked as spaces in the home, they are essential structures of our houses.  At Cymryd-isaf in Henryd, Caernarfonshire, a traditional post-and-panel partition separates different ground-floor rooms in a fifteenth-century Welsh hallhouse.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, doorways became key markers of social class.  Increasing segregation of family and servants in the great house was expressed and maintained by separate systems of circulation.  Wealthy homeowners with a staff of domestic servants required workers to come into the building via a separate servants’ entrance, which was concealed from the main entrance used by family members. 

Wealthy homes had doorways in the main part of the house which were often designed to impress.  This large and ornate interior doorway at Trawscoed Mansion, near Aberystwyth, is a door which connected some of the main rooms in the house. Its grand scale, the quality of the wood and elaborate carved decoration, were designed to demonstrate the affluence and style of the homeowners.
In most upper-class homes, the servants didn’t enter the house through the main door at the front of the house which was used by the family.  Instead, they entered through the service range at the rear of the house, or through a concealed side door.  Servants’ doors were less ornate than the front door used by the family which was reflected in the plainer hallways they opened into.  This example of a house at Trewyn in Crucorney is an example of this and shows a typical servants’ entrance with a plain doorway opening out into a stone-floored hallway.  A row of service bells which would have been used to summon staff to different parts of the house can be seen above the door.
This image is a view of a staircase and a small doorway in Penrhyn Old Hall in Llandudno which connects two rooms on different levels in the house.  With the door having been removed from the frame, a permanent passage has been created between the two separate rooms.  The door is plain and practical, and noticeably shorter than most doorways in modern homes.

In country estates, like Llanerchaeron near Aberaeron, architects such as John Nash designed the large service range at the rear of the property to be architecturally invisible to the family and guests using the main entrance, while town houses placed entrances in basements below street level.  Inside these homes, the green baize door was used to control the way employees moved around the house and visibly marked the difference and social distance between the working-class servants and their upper-class employees. Baize is a type of cloth that was affixed to doors using brass studs; it was designed to muffle noise and reduce disturbance for people on both sides of the divide.

Many internal doors in estate houses had locks, limiting access to the rooms beyond to those who held keys.  Servants’ quarters commonly had lockable doors, whose keys were held by the housekeeper.  This was another way of demarcating class barriers and controlling the differential movements of servants and families.  The valuable and portable contents of the house were also kept out of sight; the silverware and glass were commonly kept under lock and key in the butler’s pantry and plate-room, where they were better protected from mishandling and theft.  In the modern home very few internal doors still have, with the exception of bathrooms and toilets, a latch or lock that fastens from the inside.

Read more about doors and doorways in these Royal Commission books:  Inside Welsh Homes (2012), Rachael Barnwell & Richard Suggett with contributions by Helen Rowe and The Welsh Cottage (2010) by Eurwyn Wiliam.

25/06/2024

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