Latrobe's Interiors at Hammerwood
- Reception Rooms

In comparison to the strictly symmetrical and rather austere south front facade on the exterior of the house, the interiors are light and sunny, with all the main reception rooms facing onto the softly rolling parkland to the south. Latrobe was clearly conscious that this would be a place of relaxation and entertainment, with space and light being of prime importance.

There is an exceptionally large (still derelict in 1992) dining-room, which would have been used for formal dining as well as sporting lunches; there is evidence that it was decorated in Adam pink with gold leaf picking out lines of decorative plaster, and a beautiful wine-red porphyry marble chimney-piece which still survives today. The magnificent drawing-room had splendid mirrored pilasters, which would have reflected the candlelight. The ornate plasterwork ceiling had lines and flowers picked out in gold leaf and deep red. This room is preceded by a small ante-room, where no doubt the ladies would have gathered after meals, leaving the gentlemen to linger on in the dining- room for more drinking and manly mirth. The library, whose bookcases are probably of Latrobe's design, with their classical mouldings of fruits and flowers, was once beautifully mock wood-grained and would have provided Sperling's guests with somewhere quieter if they wanted to retire from the social frivolities elsewhere in the house. All the main rooms were designed for easy access, with the long corridors (so often a rather dark feature of the English country house) gracefully accommodated under arcades of high, elegant arches, as if even the experience of traversing to another area of the house should be as pleasurable a one as sitting in a principal room.

Decorative Plasterwork

Some of the main reception rooms have applied decoration in the form of architectural motifs, as for example, in the mirrored pilasters of the Drawing- Room, or the Library bookcases mentioned above. A major part of the decorative work on the interiors at Hammerwood would, however, appear to have been devoted to the cornices and ceilings. Many of these have had to be painstakingly restored, using the traditional method of plaster-moulds, the casts from which are then carefully replaced in sit— by hand. Most typically Latrobe, perhaps, is the cornice on the Fleur-de-Lys Room ceiling, perhaps Hammerwood's decorative piŠce de r‚sistence: it consists of ancient Greek mutules and guttae, which, conventionally, adorned the exterior of temples. Latrobe, with characteristic playfulness, places them inside, as if to surprise and amuse his patron. The ceiling of this room, with its English rose and fleur-de-lys motif, was badly damaged in recent times. Its restoration in 1984 won a special award from Dulux paints. Other examples of fine plasterwork are included in the Drawing-Room, where the cornice is made up of rows of delicate rosettes to complement the more massive plasterwork of the ceiling which, it is evident, would have been highlighted in gold-leaf and piped with fine red lines.

Servants' Quarters

The main kitchen (now the Elgin Room) and the domestic offices and servants' quarters were obviously designed so as to be isolated from the main part of the house. They are in the darkest part of the building - northward facing - with comparatively few windows. The north-facing garden facade of the house is visibly recessed, so as to screen it from the view of anyone walking in the grounds - guests were not supposed to be even aware of domestic activity. In fact, this whole wing of the house had its own drive, with a high wall to obscure the main part of the house from the servants' and tradesmen's gaze. This radical division also occurs in the interior of the house, and upon crossing from the light-drenched south part of the house, to the more dingy northerly 'domestic' end, one is very much aware of the 'upstairs, downstairs' convention. The strict hierarchies among the domestic staff themselves is apparent in the distribution of their living space. At Hammerwood there were, among other smaller domestic rooms, the 'Housekeeper's Sitting-Room' (now the visitor's entrance-room) and a 'Butler's Pantry', in addition to two separate staircases (one for each sex) leading to the two storeys of servants' bedrooms above. Sadly these were demolished in the 1930s.

Latrobe's designs for the interiors of Hammerwood thus successfully combined the functional needs of his patron with aesthetic considerations by exploiting the exceptional, south-facing, hilltop site of the house and making full use of classical forms. This resulted in a house which, at least for Sperling and his guests, would have been both comfortable and beautiful to inhabit.

The Elgin Room

The kitchens were converted into a squash court in the 1930s and by the early 1982, like the rest of the house, these were derelict. At the same time, Charterhouse School in Godalming were converting their Lecture Theatre and most generously offered to Hammerwood the plaster cast of the Parthenon Frieze for which there was no room in the remodelled building.

The copy of the Elgin Marbles was made by the Brucciani firm in London. They had Lord Elgin's moulds, together with some others made at earlier and later stages, and the Brucciani castings provide the best record of the Frieze. Some parts of the original frieze are still in Athens whilst others are in the British Museum. Some of the marble slabs had been vandalised before Lord Elgin took them away, others have been lost completely and the condition of nearly all the remaining marbles has deteriorated since the making of Brucciani's moulds. It is not known how many complete copies were made but we are aware of only four others surviving.

Modern day visitors to Hammerwood enjoy the splendour of taking tea and scones beneath the images of the Greek Gods partaking of the Panathan‘ic procession. The Frieze depicts the celebrations which occurred every four years to celebrate the re-weaving of the cloth which covered the sacred statue of Athena. The Greek Deities are shown twice human size and they are seated, invisibly observing and enjoying the festive ceremonies, to which the inhabitants of the city of Athens are processing.

There is an interesting theory that within the symbolic arrangement of the Gods is encoded the definition of civilisation. Whatever the truth of this, the excellence of Phidias's stone carving around 420 BC leads the viewer to question whether art, civilisation or the human race have progressed.

Click to return to Hammerwood Resources page and for the illustrated tour of the house.