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 splendour. 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 some of the 125 ancestral shields, other 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 feet 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 were recreated for the fireplace using the originals, currently housed at the Mowbray estate in Scotland, as templates.
Recent additions to the Great Hall include the stunning torcheres on each side of the Great Stairs, purchased several years ago at auction in London, 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 at the auction 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. The room is partly divided by an elephant, richly carved from a single block of Rosewood; originally from the Maharajah of Mysor’s Palace in India.
The Great Hall presented a mammoth restoration task when Dr Rolph took on the estate in 1983. Extensive crumbling stonework had to be re-carved and re-fitted whilst the stained glass windows were painstakingly repaired and replaced. Many of the heraldic shields in the lantern had faded beyond recognition and were restored with support from the Heraldic Society and members of the Stourton family. The magnificent ‘angels’ and ‘frieze’ were carefully cleaned and then varnished using specialist materials. The oak panelling on the walls required extensive cleaning in order to restore to its former glory. This initial process took over 12 months to complete.and continues with an annual high-level cleaning and maintenance programme.
Affects of the fire:
In 2005 fire severely damaged the light wells above the fireplace and the Great Stairs, as well as the oak carved balcony on the North side of the stairs. These have all now been restored, including the Fleur de Lys and Yorkshire rose etched glass.