The essential feature of medieval manor houses was the great hall, the living and sleeping quarters of the lord's followers and servants, as well as his family. The fireplace was normally in the middle, the gentry often had a dais or table at one end (as in a college hall), and there was little privacy. Some defence was afforded by moats, which also supplied fish, or stockades, though the manor house must be distinguished from the castle, which was the preserve of the mighty. At Boothby Pagnell, Lincolnshire (c.1200), and Donington, Leicestershire (c.1280), the hall was on the first floor, for comfort and security. Lower Brockhampton (Herefordshire) had a moat, though more ornamental than formidable, and Stokesay in Shropshire had a great hall, to which towers were subsequently added: each of them acquired a free-standing half-timbered gatehouse in the Tudor period. Gradually, with greater attention to privacy, manor houses became less public and more comfortable, with windows, carpets, and more furniture. The old great hall was sometimes partitioned to make smaller rooms. A remarkably ornate late Tudor house is Little Morton Manor in Cheshire, which retained the great hall, but added a long gallery at the top for recreation or receptions. Other houses were rebuilt, or sometimes moved, to take them out of village mud or poultry. By the Stuart period the withdrawal from communal living had gathered pace. Though the stately homes had vast reception rooms and bedrooms for many guests, the average manor house catered for the immediate family and its servants. After the Restoration, the retreat from the public gaze accelerated, with walls erected, lodges built, drives constructed, roads diverted, and the parks planted and embellished. Milton Manor (Oxon.), built soon after the Restoration, is severely classical: the moat has given way to an elegant pond, the great hall has gone, and in the following century a library was added. At Ramsbury Manor in Wiltshire, built in the 1680s, the great hall has dwindled into an imposing entrance hall. We must not exaggerate the grandeur of manor houses. Many remained little more than farm-houses and others stayed in their villages. The manor house at Woolsthorpe in Lincolnshire, where Newton was born in 1642, was only 20 years old, and a very modest dwelling in the middle of the hamlet, hardly distinguishable from other good residences. Capability Brown, having made his fortune improving aristocratic parks, bought himself a small manor house at Fenstanton in 1768, near the church and in the town. The prestige of the gentry remained high, since they often owned the advowson and had a cousin or an uncle in the rectory as well. Their influence declined markedly in the 19th cent. as they lost their local powers to elected councils, but the position of the squire remained important in Victorian times and is still significant in some villages today.
J. A. Cannon
manor house, dwelling house of the feudal lord of a manor, occupied by him only on occasional visits if he held many manors. Although not built specifically for fortification as castles were, many manor houses were partly fortified; they were enclosed within walls or moats that sometimes included the farm buildings as well. The primary feature of the manor house was its great hall, to which subsidiary apartments were added as the lessening of feudal warfare permitted peaceful domestic life. By the beginning of the 16th cent., manor houses as well as smaller castles began to acquire the character and amenities of the residences of country gentlemen. This transformation produced the smaller Renaissance châteaux of France and the numerous country mansions of the Elizabethan and Jacobean styles in England.
See M. Holmes, ed., The Country House Described: An Index to the Country Houses of Great Britain and Ireland (1986).
O. Cook & and E. Smith (1983);