The pre-1310 house
1310 is the date most frequently associated with Markenfield Hall, but is that year really as far back as we can go? Research by the late Prof. Andor Gomme has shown that the earliest part of today’s house was built circa. 1230, its Undercroft consisted of the three surviving vaulted ground floor rooms. Its Great Hall was incorporated into the Chapel and Solar above. It was much smaller than medieval Markenfield, which can be seen in the size of the vaulting and the comparative scale of the rooms.
We will let Gomme take up the story “Looking closely at the building as it stands, we have been long puzzled by how unquestioningly our illustrious predecessors have accepted the two – or strictly speaking two and two fifths – surviving vaulted ground-floor rooms along the east side of the house as being of a piece with the Hall and Chapel and the main external walls.
“The vaults of the two complete rooms at the north-east corner of the house are un-moulded single-chamfered ribs of the simplest kind. We are aware that in undercrofts such simple architecture persisted long: there is one example in Chester which was apparently reconstructed, unchanged, in the 15th century. But by the 1270s in the ground floor at Little Wenham, unquestionably part of the build of that date, we find the same simplicity, but more refined and gentlemanly.”
“It may be argued that rooms evidently designed for utility or storage could well have been assigned to local masons steeped in an old-fashioned style – but not if we are thinking in terms of the brand-new house of an upwardly mobile magnate, designed and built afresh. And what this vault running along the east side of the house looks back to locally is surely that of the Chapter House of Ripon Cathedral, still Romanesque in profile but already with chamfered ribs: no exact date has been found but it can hardly be later than the very early 13th century. One moulded corbel-springer remains at Markenfield – a simplified version of those in the Chapter House.
“It is clear that by 1310 or thereabouts the undercroft of the whole of the main structure of the house had been vaulted, but of the vaults under the Hall and to the south and west of the East Block – only the scars of wall arches have survived. These are however enough to show that the vault profiles of de Merkenfield’s building were much flatter and broader than those we have just been looking at: a plan prepared by the Yorkshire Archæological Trust shows the different scale of the vault spans.”
A full copy of Gomme’s fascinating research, which was originally presented to the Society of Antiquaries, can be purchased online HERE.