The centre of the house boasts the huge Great Hall with its balconies, arcades and grand staircase; on entry most visitors are overwhelmed by its Gothic splendor. Towering almost 70 feet, it is amongst the tallest country house ceilings and boasts an extraordinary hammer beam ceiling reminiscent of the Henry VIII Banqueting Hall at Hampton Court and the Great Hall at the Palace of Westminster.
The Great Hall features a stone and glass lantern which incorporates 125 ancestral shields, and coats of arms can be seen on small plaques around the walls. The importance of symmetry in the room’s design is denoted by a false door which is positioned simply to provide balance with the Library door opposite. The carved stone fire surround is over 14 ft. tall and home to fire dogs on either side which represent the Stourton sea dog and Mowbray lion – also seen in the estate crest. These are new having been recast using the originals, currently housed at the Mowbray estate in Scotland.
Newer additions to the Great Hall include The stunning torcheres on each side of the Great Stairs, purchased in London by Dr Rolph; and electricity wired into the beautiful gothic wall sconces which were formerly lit by gas. The four oak benches were commissioned by Dr. Rolph following the auction of chairs made from wood from the Spanish armada which were sold in 1965.
On special occasions a massive Persian style hand tied carpet is placed on the floor. One of four that Dr. Rolph designed and had made in Bucharest, Romania; one of only two countries in the world with looms large enough to make these carpets. Also, spot the elephant carved from one solid piece of Rosewood; it is from the Maharajah of Mysor’s Palace in India.
The Great Hall presented a mammoth restoration task when current owner, Dr Rolph, took on the estate in 1983. Extensive crumbling stonework was re-carved and re-fitted whilst stained glass was painstakingly repaired and replaced. Many of the 125 heraldic shields in the lantern had faded beyond recognition and were restored with help from the Heraldic Society and members of the Stourton family. The ‘angels’ and ‘frieze’ were carefully cleaned and then varnished specialist materials. Even the oak paneling on the walls receives continued annual cleaning and maintenance, having been restored to its former glory with an initial process that took over 12 months to complete.
Affects of the fire:
In 2005 fire severely damaged the fireplace and the light wells over the Great Stairs. The damaged wood and etched glass have now been replaced and there are also plans to rebuild the destroyed balcony.