Reg Haskell Photography

Saltram House

   
Large country house remodelled from great house. C16 and C17 core is the remains of the former house of Sir John Bagg, but the predominant character of the house is the result of a phased remodelling of the house in the C18, much of this work designed by Robert Adam (1768-72 and 1779-82) and carried out on behalf of the Parkers, formerly of Boringdon House (qv); porch added and library enlarged by John Foulston 1818 and 1820.

MATERIALS: stucco with stucco detail including rusticated quoins to principal outer elevations, otherwise local rubble with granite dressings; dry slate mostly hipped roofs, the gables coped and with urns on acroteria, the S and E fronts behind stuccoed parapets with modillion cornices; rendered axial, end and lateral stacks. PLAN: large overall approximately square plan built around 2 courtyards, the principal stair hall possibly in the position of another courtyard.

EXTERIOR: 3 storeys and 2 storeys, the 3 principal elevations are symmetrical and articulated and have hornless sashes with glazing bars, many of which are C18 sashes with thick glazing bars. W elevation is 2:3:5:3:2 bays with the central and end bays broken forward and taller, the end bays as pedimented gables and with half-domed niches with Classical statues to ground floor. Central round-arched freestone doorway with triangular pediment. Flanking the 5-bay centre, the 2-storey bays have central Diocletian windows over Venetian windows, the central light of the one on the right now converted to a doorway. S elevation is 3:2:3:2:3 bays with pedimented central bays broken forward and the end bays canted. There is a granite plinth over a hidden cellar, part of which extends in front of the present line of the house, and there is a moulded 1st-floor sill string. Central bay has coat of arms to pediment over tripartite windows to 1st and 2nd floors and the tripartite doorway is fronted by a Doric porch with 2 pairs of fluted columns, by John Foulston of Plymouth. E elevation is 2:3:2 bays with the central bays broken forward and with a balustraded parapet, the end bays surmounted by triangular pediments with modillion cornices. The central bays have a plinth with balustrades under the windows and the central Venetian window has a central sash with fanlight head above a wooden bottom panel, so that with the lower part of the sash lifted and the panel opened, it can be used as a doorway, presumably a later modification. N elevation is irregular with a canted bay on the left, then a stair window for a large back stair, then a 2-storey service range with a single-storey wing projecting in front of a large lateral stack; right of this is a wide doorway and then the tall end of the W front. Inner courtyard has 4 good elevations: the elevation on the N side of the courtyard has an altered arrangement of mullioned windows to the ground floor and evidence of former mullioned windows to the 1st floor. To the E side is a 2-light mullioned window with hoodmould on the left, above a doorway with a 6-panel door with fielded panels, and on the right a round-arched stair window with fanlight head. To the S side is a tower on the left and a bowed stair window to the right. The W side is a symmetrical 3-window front with central doorway and C18 sashes with thick glazing bars. The other courtyard has the kitchen front to the north with 4 large early or mid C19 sashes rising into what was a 2-storey building; on the east is a 2-window range over a 3-bay round-arched loggia, and on the S is a 2-storey-plus-attic 6-window range with 1 blocked window opening. To the right hand end of this range, and of considerable interest, is a C16 or C17 tower with a balustraded parapet, the spaces between blocked when the tower was heightened to create a bell tower. Right of this (within the rear entrance passage) is a C16 granite moulded and carved 4-centred arched doorway.

INTERIOR: Saltram contains what is claimed to be the finest suite of reception rooms in Devon, the best rooms to the S and W fronts designed by Robert Adam and these demonstrate his development as a designer, from using the conventional Rococo, to the low-relief kind of Neo-Classical detail that became his hallmark and with which he broke new ground in interior design. The earlier rooms are towards the west and develop to the east and this development continues in the E range from south to north terminating in a room which is so Robert Adam that, were it not at Saltram, it might be taken to be a reproduction of his style. All the reception rooms have good plasterwork and their original chimneypieces, doors and window shutters. From the west, the rooms include the following principal features: room 2nd from left has wall panels; eared doorcases; a Doric entablature; Rococo ceiling plaster with a central panel containing an angel; a superb chimneypiece with herms, a broken pediment and a carved overmantel depicting a rural scene. The next room has a chimneypiece with Ionic columns and a carved frieze with an egg-and-dart cornice; a rococo ceiling with 4 cherubs playing musical instruments and a dado with egg-and-dart and other detail. The SE room has a very light relief rococo ceiling over a richly carved entablature with a modillion cornice; a marble chimneypiece with consoles over pilasters with carved fruit and dado similar to the previous room; at the N end of the room is a distyle-in-antae Corinthian colonnade with the ceiling beyond divided into panels. The very large room north of this and central to this range is Robert Adam at his most recognisable best: the room has a coved ceiling vault divided into 3 panels with ovals and concave diamonds and very light anthemion and other decoration all painted in pastel colours, the ceiling is set on a moulded and carved entablature and the walls have embossed wallpaper. The chimneypiece has marble columns and its original brass and iron grate. Opposite the chimneypiece is the Venetian window with fluted columns supporting the central arch, and there are pilastered doorcases. The room to the north of this range has a chimneypiece with tapered pilasters and a brass and iron grate, and the ceiling has a central circle containing 4 semi-circles and an inner circle. The room in the W range are more simply detailed but have good ceiling cornices and other C18 and early C19 features. There are 5 staircases, 4 of which are C18 with turned balusters. The principal staircase is part of one of the best spaces in the house. The wide open well has 2 landings plus a balconied landing, over a Greek key pattern, the full length of the room. The staircase has alternate twist and turned balusters, in groups of 3, over an open string and with a ramped mahogany handrail. The balcony is carried on a distyle-in-antis Doric colonnade with an entablature above each capital in the Roman manner. The lower doorcases have pediments, the others have moulded entablature, all are eared. The stair hall is lit by an oval lantern above a carved frieze and the ceiling below has a modillion cornice. The staircase next to the main staircase is a small open well, and the staircase near the NE corner is a larger open well. Upper floors and service rooms not inspected but all are likely to be of interest, particularly the 1st-floor rooms above the reception rooms. Saltram is a very important house: restrained and gracious on the outside and extravagant and complex on the inside. The early visible remnants are but a small part of what survives of the fabric of the C16 house and this makes the achievement of the C18 conversion to one of the most fashionable houses of its time even more remarkable.
(ref: NHLE)
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