The Tudor Finials

Part 1: Design and Planning

Since the late-seventeenth century the Tudor and Elizabethan ranges have been mostly forgotten, eclipsed by the creation of the Baroque Wing in 1689 they were left to crumble and put to utilitarian use as service wings. Their former grandeur was purposely hidden from sight behind garden walls and hedges and their grand rooms were put to new less grand uses such as kitchens, sculleries and servant rooms.

Though occupying an enviable south-facing garden position with views past the dovecote and through the ancient parkland up to Rook’s Castle hill, almost all of the older manor house had been relegated to service areas and languished, much unloved, for over 300 years until the current comprehensive restoration programme was begun.

The vision for the old manor is to bring it back to its Tudor glory days before the Baroque Wing was built and to compliment that new house through the strengths of the older one. Doing this entails repairs of all kinds but it is the exterior in particular that is currently enjoying the final stages of this new renaissance.

The roofscapes of Tudor manor houses were important areas where flourishes and decoration could be added to maximum effect, silhouetting rich architectural details which pointed to the sky in much the same way church buildings had been doing for hundreds of years. The roofscapes to the Tudor royal palaces of Nonsuch, Otford, Oatlands, Whitehall, Eltham, Placentia, Richmond and Hampton Court were all as spectacular as they were influential. Testament to the rarity of surviving Tudor roofscapes is that only the last one of these buildings still stands.  Like grand Tudor manors, each of these palaces had highly decorated silhouettes of chimneys, gables, battlements and finials. Halswell in that regard was no different, it survived but its roofscape suffered; its finials had been worn out by weather and had all completely fallen away, only the bases and stumps still remained.

These images were taken while the re-roofing was underway last year in preparation for the intellectual processes of deciding the most appropriate new finials and coming to agreement with Historic England.


All the original finial bases had survived untouched by anything beyond weather and age. However others, such as location number F8, is actually on a gabled dormer window only created in c. 1900 to match an earlier gabled dormer of c. 1536. In the case of that later finial base, it was never topped with a finial, but only because the others had already gone when it was built and Lord Wharton did not attempt to restore the whole scheme.

This creates an issue, do we replace the missing finials only where they existed, leaving the roofscape a bit lop-sided and the seemingly incomplete, or do we re-create the spirit of the original design by filling the empty spaces with new finials? The answer that we and Historic England have come to on this thorny issue is to restore the elevations to the intension of the c. 1536 phase, continued by the c. 1590 – c. 1610 phase. This entails creating finials on the c. 1900 gabled dormer to match the sixteenth century examples. The result will be finials to all finial bases and a whole silhouette that will be correct for a Tudor manor.

Roof plan with numbered finial base locations. (Click image for full pdf)

Most of the surviving bases are different in size, shape or ability to take weight. This is a clear indication of the original scheme: different finials for different locations, the highest having the largest bases to take the largest sculptures. Some are large square bases to support large masses; others are finer, others twisted. With no records of what existed at Halswell to draw upon the designs all need to be new. That again throws up issues, do we copy examples from other houses; do we create sculptures that signal the date of creation in the twenty-first century; do we take inspiration from the coats of arms of the builders at the time? Each of these decisions throws up problems of mimicry, history, interpretation, and frankly taste.

Unlike nineteenth-century restoration and re-creation, conservation or restoration today requires denoting when the changes you make were actually made. While no one suggests that each finial should be iconic of our time, like Anthony Gormley figures perched on each gable, similarly no one would suggest that we re-interpreted lost history by covering the finials with elements that denoted the sixteenth-century builders of the finial bases. One path is arguable too grating, the other too deceptive and confusing for future generations of building historians.

Between the owner, Historic England, the architect, the mason and the historically and artistically literate team at Halswell we came up with a scheme that denotes the current owner’s input and the time in which these were commissioned as well as fitting into the overall design of the old manor house.

On the east façade there are 7 finial bases, we have come up with a design using 3 different sculpture types. The first and most important is the central figure; it is the highest and has one of the largest bases, the other 6 flank this central figure. For this key finial we went back to the one remaining Halswell family heraldic beast sculpture that survives, though in a broken state. This is one of the four beasts that stood on top of 4 gate piers that Sir Charles Kemeys-Tynte removed in the 1750’s. It is a gryphon, the crest animal of the Halswell’s, so we believe it dates to before 1649 when that family name disappeared as a surname. The crest animal of the Tynte’s, who married into Halswell family and changed its name to Tynte in 1649, was a unicorn.  After the surname Kemeys was incorporated in the mid-eighteenth century this added a new family crest animal, which purely coincidentally, was also a gryphon.

Halswell House, c. 1710.

In the damaged but surviving sculpture this gryphon crest animal also holds on a shield the rest of the coat of arms of the Halswell family (azure, three bars wavy argent over all a bend gules). It was decided that the new finial for this base should be a replica of this surviving gryphon holding a shield, but with the shield to be left blank to indicate that this new sculpture is not from that earlier period. This would allow for the grand sculpture that the base dictated but without the need for a wild interpretation, instead using a model we know existed at the time, and one which may very well have been in this position, given the base fits the existing partial gryphon sculpture so well.

The gabled dormer windows either side of this new gryphon’s position consist of a pair of kneelers for matching finials and a central much higher finial on the gable top. For the flanking kneeler finials we chose ball-topped obelisks. This simple design is a reference to the classicism that was introduced into the house by at least the time of Sir Nicolas Halswell (1566-1633). A door he added to the courtyard, which is contemporary to most of the finial bases, is an oak door carved as a renaissance-inspired rusticated ashlar-stone design. The monument in St. Edward King and Martyr Church in Goathurst is also an early-seventeenth century classical fantasy speaking of the family’s interest in modern architectural detailing. Between these mannerist obelisks, rising from a twisted base, is a pomegranate. This form of bulbous-topped finial is common in general appearance at the time, but the use of the pomegranate rather than a stylised flame or orb is a particular emblem for the current owner and so speaks subtly of the date of its construction. The fruit also exists within the 1689 Baroque and 1753 Rococo plasterwork ceilings and wall decoration within the later Baroque wing of the house.

Tom Waugh's Sketches
Finial Sketches by mason Tom Waugh, numbered to match the bases upon which they will sit.
East Façade: The Halswell crest animal, the gryphon, on the central gable flanked by a matching pair of gabled dormer windows with small closed pomegranates on twisted bases themselves flanked by mannerist obelisks topped with balls.
South Façade: Larger open pomegranates with twisted bases on the pair of gable towers overlooking the Tudor Knot Garden.

The south façade of the house, an area that is currently being transformed back to its original design by the removal of twentieth-century additions, has finial bases with twisted columns. To these will be added larger, open pomegranates which will overlook a new Tudor Knot Garden below, itself inspired by designs for the lost gardens at All Soul’s College, Oxford where the Halswell’s held positions in the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries.

West Façade: The surviving bellcote with two new bell finials called The Twins.

The west façade of the east range, which is inside the courtyard, has three gable ends, only one of which has retained its original decoration. That is the large bellcote on top of the north gable. The two gables south of this will be topped with a pair of hollowed-out stylised bells, similar to other local examples of this type a few miles away at Cothelstone Manor.

The still existing bellcote has recently been stabilised as it was in danger of falling backwards through the roof. As significant as the structure is in its own right it is still missing one important earlier element. There are four bracket indentations and one hole at the top; these indicate that it was surmounted by a large weathervane which sat on four a wrought iron supports. Re-creating this was part of the finials application to Historic England and after the finials have been completed this will be added as the final gilded crest, this time that of the owner’s family, to signify the restoration of the house in the twentieth-first century.

The next update on the finials will be Part 2: Halswell Revisited: In Tom Waugh’s Studio.


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