Guildford House Gallery furniture and staircase
Guildford House Gallery is home to some beautiful pieces of period furniture and a ornately carved oak and elm staircase.
The Court Cupboard
In the Garden Room there is a fine example of a cupboard of the type known as a Court Cupboard, probably dating from the early Seventeenth Century.
Court Cupboards were originally three open shelves, usually of oak, on which the silver or pewter, particularly drinking cups, was kept. At dinner each person would call for a drink of ale or wine and a servant would bring it to him. Later the cup would be cleaned and returned to the board where it had stood, hence the 'cup board'. The term was later extended to hall or parlour cupboards in which the space between the shelves was enclosed by doors.
The Guildford House example clearly belongs to this type. The bulbous 'cup and cover' supports at the corners are characteristic of court cupboards. The cupboard is elaborately carved with a simple acanthus motif in the frieze over the doors, which are also carved. Between the doors there is a carved arch springing from two pilasters, similar to the one, dated 1610, that is illustrated in the Dictionary of English Furniture.
The long case clock
There is a handsome long case clock in Guildford House Gallery's Inner Hall. It has a case made of oak veneered with walnut and is dated to 1690 - 1700.
The door with its neat moulded edge is fitted with a circular glass window or lenticle, popularly called a 'Bull's Eye' through which the swinging brass pendulum can be seen. In early clocks, as in this one, the Bull's Eye is of plain glass; in later ones the glass is green.
The hood is made of oak and dates to around 1780. It has a swan's neck pediment and delicate turned columns at each corner. The new hood was probably needed to take the additional half-circular moon movement above the dial.
Between the scrolls of the swan neck there would originally have been a little urn-shaped finial. The platform it stood on still exists. The plate above the moon movement is inscribed 'High Water at the New Passage'. This is a spot between Southwark and Blackfriars Bridges in the Port of London. Indication of when the moon was full would have helped ships with information about high tides.
The steel dial, with Roman and Arabic numerals, is original but the centre disc has been replaced. The brass spandrels on each corner are probably 18th century. The clock mechanism is thought to be original with an anchor escapement and locking device of about 1690-1700.
The keys to the case and the winding mechanism are original. The clock was given to Guildford House by Alderman Lawrence Powell.
One of the most important features of the house is its superbly carved staircase made of elm and oak, which rises from the ground floor to the top of the house.
The sturdy, simply moulded oak handrail is supported by square oak newel posts decorated with urns overflowing with carved fruits and flowers. On the base of each newel post is a Tudor Rose.
Magnificently carved and pierced panels of acanthus design fill the balustrade. They were popular at the time of the Restoration. All this very rich carving was smothered under many coats of paint. During conservation work it was laboriously stripped off, and the woodwork sealed and polished.
At first floor level, the staircase is separated from the landing by twisted balusters surmounted by an arcading which has been continued on one wall of the landing.
The staircase carving reached its climax in a wonderfully exuberant panel on the top floor. This is an unusual feature since, in the period when it was built, fine staircases usually gave way to less elaborate and utilitarian access to servants' quarters and nurseries. This may indicate that the staircase was brought from elsewhere, a theory supported by the variation in the way the floor and ceiling levels are incorporated round the stairwell.
The flight of stairs from basement to ground floor level is not part of the grand staircase. In the restoration of 1958/9, the opportunity was taken to replace the old and worn dark stairs with a new hardwood staircase.