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Pierced balustrades were first used in the early 17th century, when designs were generally geometric. Elaborate carving seems to have introduced around the 1630s, an example of which can be seen at Ham House, embellished with military trophies and cannon, with the newel posts supporting baskets of fruit and flowers. Similar finials, although usually with urns rather than baskets, became popular for the grandest staircases in the period from around 1650 to 1690. The Crakemarsh Hall Stair had such finials, now sadly lost, with the newel posts having carved panels incorporating a drop of fruit and foliage suspended from a bow. The carving in the balustrades takes the form of scrolls of acanthus foliage around central flowers, possibly sunflowers; snakes and a peacock are in evidence with more acanthus leaf carving to the handrail string. It is worth noting that the main stair at Tredegar House has recently been dated by dendrochronology, giving felling dates from 1666–1672, and though there are subtle differences, the Tredegar stair is remarkably similar to that of Crakemarsh Hall.
At Sudbury Hall the handrails have an unusual angular ramping, a feature also seen in the Crakemarsh Hall Stair, which is of note because of the proximity of Crakemarsh to Sudbury. So where did this stair come from? Panelled rooms, staircases and architectural features from this period are known to have been removed and refitted in other properties, with one possible candidate for this early architectural salvage being Ruperra Castle, which is the sister house to Tredegar. Ruperra had its original stair taken out and a new one inserted in the late 18th century, which fits in chronologically with the dates for Crakemarsh Hall’s construction.
The Crakemarsh Hall Stair is a rare survivor from a short list of existing staircases from the mid to late 17th century which have carved and pierced balustrades. It is the only and possibly the last ever stair of this type and age to come to market recently, the last being sold to the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
I wish to thank Linda Hall and Mark Baker for their expertise when compiling this description.
Architectural Heritage Ltd.