Built In Art

Old Doorways

The door must always be the most important feature of the house

Wherever the building, be it great or small, and whatever its uses or the date of its erect ion, it must surely yield at least one example of a doorway. The variations in type are innumerable, yet there are but few that can elude classification, and assuredly there is no feature in a building which is better adapted to express the inception and development of any style or period of architecture. The door must always be the most important feature of the house, from the very nature of its function, even if it were not, as is generally the case, the keynote of the whole design. It is this part of a building that has first claim to adornment, and it is the one on which considerable attention is almost invariably bestowed.

roman doorway

However plain the house, and however small the cottage, the one is very poor building and the other a mean example of its class, which has not some embellishment for its doorway suitable to the rank of each, in its degree of architectural design. In all ages we find that the above contention holds good, and without looking so far back as the rock-cut dwellings, or those primitive huts where the door was practically the only feature, a quite moderate knowledge of the early styles of architecture, such as the Persian or Egyptian, will enable us to appreciate the extent to which the entrance was emphasized, while among the Greeks the vast porticos at the entrance were the chief beauties of the building. The Romans again were equally assiduous in accentuating the entrances to their buildings, and so through the succeeding ages we find in all coun┬Čtries and styles of architecture, Classic, Byzantine, Gothic, or Renaissance, that the paramount importance of the entrance is recognized above all other external features.

Indigo Jones Doorway
York water gate, embankment, london by Inigo Jones, 1626


It is with this latest style, i.e., the Renaissance as practiced in England since the time of Henry VIII, that the following pages and illustrations deal; and, in singling out this particular period for illustration, one has been chosen which includes some of the most beautiful examples of doorways to be found in this country, and one in which, certainly, no less attention has been paid to this prominent part of a building than in any preceding style. The door, more frequently than any other part, is chosen to display the use and purpose of the building ; as in those lofty entrances to the great mediaeval cathedrals where are numberless niches with carved figures of saints from which there can be no doubt as to the interior uses of the buildings. Again, the gloomy portals of a prison entrance cannot be mistaken, generally from the solidity and massive simplicity of the architecture


The doorway in its relation to the plan has been the subject of many changes during the various periods of the English Renaissance. In the earliest examples we find the entrance door proper on the further side of the court, round which at that time the house was built, and generally opposite to the entrance gateway, as at Compton Winyates and many of the Oxford and Cambridge Colleges.

The entrance door opened into the "screens," with the hall (then the general dining and living room) on the one side and the kitchen on the other : this door was not always in the centre of the inner front, but in the next development of the house plan more exad symmetry was required, as at Kirby Hall, Northants, where the doors are on the axial line. In the plan adopted after this the courtyard disappeared, though the gate house was sometimes retained as a separate building, as at Chastelton and Cranborne, but the same system of planning was adhered to, with the door in the centre of the facade leading to the screens.


Chastelton House doorway

In another type of plan, adopted at Chastleton House, above, the hall was in the centre of the building instead of on one side of the axial line, but as it was necessary to enter at the screens at the bottom end of the hall, the bay at the upper end of the terrace was designed to balance the porch, on entering which, and turning to the right, the screens were entered as required, and the symmetry of the design maintained.

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