Staircases – Tudor Tuesdays

February 23 2021 | Castle History

Staircases are the theme for #TudorTuesdays with Historic Houses.

Despite how common they are in the modern world, the origin of the humble staircase is actually a bit of mystery, although there are certainly early known examples—steps cut into mountains in China, for example, staircases used in Egyptian temples to take worshippers up closer to the sun god Ra, and great African and Middle Eastern palaces dating to 1500 BC, which is around the same time that people in Britain were putting the final touches to Stonehenge and beginning to live in protected, earth-built hill forts.

The first spiral staircases date back nearly 2,500 years to Ancient Greece but became more popular in Ancient Rome due to their space saving design. As Roman control—and therefore architecture—began to spread throughout Europe, and more crucially, was left behind after their withdrawal, spiral staircases were adopted into first Christian, and then defensive architecture, as seen in the original, medieval spiral staircase in the gatehouse at Hever.

Spiral staircases themselves were made by creating a template, measured out with pieces of string, covered in coloured powder, which, when plucked, would print a straight line onto a piece of stone for the mason to cut. Each step would then be made to the exact same measurements to create a uniform, spiral staircase when laid.

At Hever Castle, however, some of our steps are different depths, which perhaps gives the impression of poor, or hurried masonry, when in fact, this was a deliberate feature in many medieval castles. The idea was, that those who inhabited the castle would know where the uneven steps were, while anyone who chose to attack, would be thrown off, or tripped up by the sudden changes, giving the defenders an important—and maybe even crucial—advantage.

Later, as defensive castles gave way to grand palaces and opulent residences, spiral staircases made way for linear stairs, of which we also have two examples at Hever Castle. Next time you visit, be sure to count as you go and see for yourselves how many steps we have in total (and then treat yourself to a slice of cake in the restaurant, because you will certainly have earned it!).

If you enjoyed this item on staircases why not discover the previous #TudorTuesdays news items: