Dr Jonathan Foyle scales Britain's most iconic structures to reveal the buildings' secrets. Jonathan's journey takes him to Burghley House in Lincolnshire.
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I'm surrounded by all the carved stonework under the rainbow.
Up here on the roof of Burghley House in Lincolnshire.
This is the greatest monument of the Elizabethan renaissance,
an age when fantasy was the fashion.
This is climbing great buildings.
Throughout this series , I'll be scaling our most iconic structures
from the Normans to the present day.
I'll be revealing the building's secrets, and telling a story of how
British architecture and construction developed over 1,000 years.
The next step in my journey through the evolution
of British architecture, brings me to Burghley house in Lincolnshire.
Built for William Cecil, Lord Burghley,
who was the treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I, over 400 years ago,
it's the finest example of an Elizabethan house in the country.
Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558.
She ruled England with a clever series of political and social
compromises, led by a new generation of Protestant self-made elites.
Foremost among them was William Cecil, Lord Burghley,
who built Burghley House, the most eloquent testament to the age.
Burghley House is a prodigy house,
a name given to a group of enormous, courtier-built dwellings,
which were anticipated to accommodate Elizabeth
and all of her court while she made her way around the country.
She could scarcely afford to build herself.
It was the courtiers who created the greatest monuments of the Elizabethan age.
Burghley House, like many prodigy houses, was remarkable for its size,
but also for its more serious approach to a new form of architecture - classical.
That's what I'm going to be having a look at today on my climbs.
I'll clamber to the top to see Lord Burghley's glorious 16th century roof.
Hats off, I love it.
Lose my balance over the great central courtyard.
Wow, ya-ya, oi-oi.
And scale 112 feet up the tower
to get a look at the magnificent clock face.
That is a heck of a clock, isn't it?
But I won't be going it alone.
I'll be joined by one of Britain's top climbers, Lucy Creamer...
..a team of riggers and fearless cameraman, Ian Burton...
..in my quest to uncover the history of England's greatest Elizabethan house.
The first climb will take us up the north front,
so I can get a good look at its masonry and its roof.
The north front was added to the original house by Lord Burghley in around 1587.
So, what are you hoping to see up here, Dr Foyle?
We are going to have a look at the facade
that was remodelled the year before the Spanish Armada happened.
Right, we're making progress now, anyway.
Well, we're bouncing our way up.
Much as Queen Elizabeth did.
During the 16th century, the fashion for many Elizabethans
of taste and wealth was to build their homes in rich, red brick,.
But Lord Burghley had a finer source of building materials, closer to home.
So, I thought this was an Elizabethan building
and weren't they brick-built?
Yeah, brick building remains popular in the Tudor period and only gets
more popular, but this is near a seam of glorious golden limestone.
It's all Jurassic, 200 million years old.
Golden colour, you can cut it in any direction,
so it's called a free stone and you can sculpt it.
-So, it is, frankly,
the best building material Britain can offer, this stuff.
William Cecil inherited a smaller Burghley House in 1552.
Anticipating a visit from the Queen, who often travelled
with an entourage of several hundred people,
Lord Burghley set upon enlarging the house on a huge scale.
The third storey and front entrance were eventually added,
but on completion, William Cecil's builders
had left behind something rather odd.
Amazingly, from this position,
you see the way these windows are stepped.
Each one is higher than the next. The string course over the tops...
-Cranky, isn't it?
From here you can see much more clearly what has gone on,
the curved part and that storey, that's what's been added in 1587.
So it's a remodelling, an alteration.
This is actually all part of the first building
and for some reason this string course just...
-They've put it on a slope!
I like that. These Burghley masons
were adjusting, making it fit.
Hats off, I love it. Still here, isn't it?
450 years on, it's still standing, it is perfectly all right.
Despite having done a few of these climbs now,
I still haven't got used to being suspended in mid-air.
We're getting quite high now.
Oh, boy, we are aren't we? Nice solid stone underneath.
Don't look down. That's my philosophy.
William Cecil didn't just build Burghley House as a family home.
He wanted to make a political statement.
Prodigy houses were about one-upmanship, courtiers trying to outdo each other
to impress Elizabeth and Lord Burghley's finest example of this can be seen right at the top.
-There we go.
There we go. Wow! Look at that. That makes it all worthwhile.
That's got to be one of the great architectural views of Britain.
Spire, lions, pinnacles, amazing.
Turrets, the lot!
It's a glorious, like a giant outdoor sculpture gallery.
Incredibly impressive, and obviously meant for display,
probably from a distance, but also close up, no doubt about that.
Very finely cut. It looks like a lost city.
Something more exotic than the Elizabethan age itself.
It looks, with these columns, like the ruins of ancient Rome.
So for me to get to grips with it and understand it a bit better,
I think I better have a mosey around.
Up here on the roof at Burghley House,
we see the English renaissance really coming to life.
Toward the end of the 16th century, European influences started to emerge in English architecture.
The European renaissance was based on the thought and art of Ancient Greece and Rome.
Not having travelled across Europe to see renaissance buildings at first-hand,
many Englishmen built on a more or less traditional model,
adding Greek and Roman ornament where they saw fit.
On the roof of Burghley, you see the great chimneys,
cast as Doric columns, you see obelisks everywhere, round arches,
making this one of the most fantastical and imaginative examples of the English renaissance.
Back in the 16th century, this roof may not have only been
a place from which to admire the surrounding landscape,
it could also have been a setting in which to carry out affairs of state.
If Burghley had been able to prize people away from the dining hall
and bring them up to the roof space,
he might have taken them aside and lobby them in private.
We're left to wonder how the conversations held on this roof
might have influenced the politics of Elizabethan England.
The roof is without doubt a breathtaking sight, but when building it,
Lord Burghley didn't just have aesthetics to consider.
He also had practicalities it take into account.
There is about an acre and half of lead roofs at Burghley.
These date to the mid-1980s, when they replaced a lower, flatter roof that failed and let in water.
But there is about as much acreage again of a very different
kind of roof material, which lends itself to a steeper pitch.
That's Collyweston stone slate.
Collyweston stone slate is a local treasure.
It's not a true slate as such - it's a sandy limestone
that splits along its seams.
It's mined about five or six miles south-west of Burghley House.
To find out how the slate is made, I'm heading underground.
Laurie, how do you turn the log into slates?
I'll show you.
Basically, what you do is find the seam on the log
and basically, you will just tap it and tap it
and you can hear it ringing.
There again you should be able to clive that off.
-What you must do is...
-Hang on, "clive"?
-Clive, yeah. Split.
Right you don't split it you clive it?
Yeah, it's cliving.
All of a sudden it's going to open up, is it?
It should do. It should clive into four or five big slates.
There is no mechanical substitute for this.
No, not at all, Jonathan. I wish there was.
I'd love to have to have a go, if I might.
Course you can, Jonathan.
I think I can feel it coming off.
It becomes hollow, doesn't it, it starts to ring.
I think I've got it.
There you go, Jonathan, that'll make a shorter slate on the roof, that will.
Look at that, it's beautiful.
-It's really sparkly. That would make a slate?
-That would, Jonathan.
That would be dressed, all squared up and a nail hole in the top.
I'm pleased as punch! Look at that.
The roof of Burghley surrounds an impressive stately courtyard.
The house was originally designed as a stage on which to present Queen Elizabeth I during her visits,
so Lord Burghley left nothing to the imagination.
He used every piece of stonework, every ornament, to add grandeur and richness to the space.
In order to get a better look at William Cecil's architectural
masterpiece, I'm going to perilously venture across the courtyard
on something similar to a tightrope.
This looks incredibly bouncy.
It looks a bit baggy. Don't pull that tower down.
I think we're going to have fun on this.
-It's you and I both on this one?
-It is, yes.
No sudden moves, Luce.
So, what d'you reckon to this view?
You know, it's like architectural indigestion. You know?
It's... Wow, ya-ya, oi-oi!
-That didn't make the indigestion any better.
You don't know when to stop looking.
The inner courtyard is an excellent example of the English renaissance.
Here we have up-to-date features in Greek and Roman style,
combined with old Tudor influences.
Interesting, though, to see that in this courtyard
there are those one, two, three triumphal arches, so that when you come in
through what looks like an old fashioned gatehouse,
you see that big glazed top floor, the octagonal turret.
This is the stuff you'd see at Hampton Court 60 years before.
So maybe the opening gesture is about,
"Look how established we are". I don't know.
Then you come in here and look - the man's an ambassador
on the European stage and actually you could be in contemporary France.
What if he receives French ambassadors?
You know, people from Europe. Maybe Italy.
-Who then might walk in and think, "I see, very much up to the latest European..."
-Man of the world.
Exactly, isn't it? You're of an older order,
yet you are up to date. He's trying to cover everything here.
Or maybe he is speaking to different audiences.
He's an ambassador, after all. A diplomat.
William Cecil may have been treasurer to the Queen and a powerful statesman,
but he wanted to leave a subtle reminder that he came from more humble roots.
Look there at the lions on the top.
-Bearing the shield on top of them and more lions with wheat.
-Another wheat sheaf.
-What's the significance of the wheat?
Well, he comes from a farming family.
They're not true aristocracy, but they are quite a recent nobility.
His father was a more miner courtier.
-But he went on such an ascendant,
it's a reminder of the fact that his money comes from farming.
He's not got ill-gotten gains.
-It is nice that he acknowledged it, though.
Shall we go?
Right. Had enough up here, Dr Foyle?
Plenty, thank you, madam. I'm off.
I'm on my way, as well.
Eugh, wow! God, it feels so different when you're down here.
Of course, this is what he wants you to see, isn't it?
From your head height, those great towers loom over you.
William Cecil wanted people to know he was from a farming background,
but he was also intent on showing off his status
as a Lord and courtier to the Queen.
Rising grandly on the east side of the courtyard
and crowned with a colossal obelisk, is the clock tower.
I wanted to climb up it to get a closer and unique look
at that exquisite example of English renaissance architecture.
So, we're going to go up the clock tower, now Luce.
-Meet some characters on the way.
Adorning the clock tower are some historic figures that Lord Burghley wanted to associate himself with.
There are one, two, three, four characters. There is Aeneas.
The legendary ruler of Troy.
This is the great triumphal gateway, the sort of thing
you would have seen in Rome, which Europe was aware of at this point.
The Roman emperors, having conquered foreign lands,
built triumphal arches and this is one.
This is Cecil's front door. It's is a triumphal arch.
So how else do you convey triumph, other than picking on some of the greats from history?
So, Aeneas of Troy, there is Paris.
-Who have we got here? It's Charles V.
An early 16th century ruler of the biggest dominion in Europe.
So, Germany and Spain combined.
And that one is Suleiman the great,
-the early 16th century ruler of Turkey.
-They're a curious mix. Put them all in the same room it could be an interesting dinner party.
William Cecil didn't use just these figures to align himself with ancient history.
He employed the raw ingredients of Greek building,
which were later adopted and modified by the Romans,
to show he was well versed in classical architecture.
Many Elizabethans buildings show off the connoisseurship of the patron
by showing that he or he knows which order the classical columns go into.
In fact, they are called classical orders. They are ordered.
Now we are at level one.
So, right by Ian there, with the scrolling capitals.
-These little beauties,
it goes like that, that is the Ionic order.
On the ground floor is the simpler Doric order
which goes like this.
It's much simpler,
but have a look at how fat the Doric columns are
and then look at these Ionic ones.
And have a look at those - the next one up.
That belongs to the Corinthian order. That's the third one.
The Doric columns are quite fat, the Ionic ones are medium,
the Corinthian ones are skinnier.
The point is that Doric ones have to support quite a lot,
so they have to be stocky.
So they have these male attributes.
-The Ionic ones are medium ones.
The top ones are the more feminine order.
They have less supporting to do as they are being supported by the Doric ones.
So the tower is of the order were to show you understood the Roman way
of stacking the orders, the kind of thing you would understand if you
studied the coliseum, or major Roman buildings, they have this system.
-Right, shall we go?
-Let's do it.
Let's meet the clock.
-Luce, we've approached the Corinthian level.
It is like a ready reckoner of a lift shaft, isn't it?
Would you like Ionic level or the Corinthian level?
Bing! Next stop, the clock.
-That is a heck of a clock, isn't it?
It's amazing. It looks just as good as it looks from the ground.
Wow, this is amazing, I'm really impressed.
How come it's only got one hand?
Clocks of this age tend to have one hand.
I don't think we're yet at age with two hands on a clock.
What the alternative is a sundial.
All you see is one shadow making it waits around the clock.
So this is a much bigger, much better equivalent.
So, totally cutting edge for them, I think.
It's very impressive.
OK, Jonathan. Now for the best bit.
In my mind the best bit.
We have to crawl under these massive, awesome lions.
Right, let's get in there.
The clock tower may have been in at the height of cutting edge design during the 16th century,
but being a noble English Lord, William Cecil wanted to stake his claim
on the country's past and to remind people of England's rich history.
And a good example of that is here in the medieval-style Great Hall.
During the Elizabethan age, many people abandoned
large medieval halls and instead made single storey reception spaces.
Not here. This one measures over 60 feet high and in its time would
have been the setting for good old-fashioned feasts and dancing.
This room, I think, is fabulous.
I've known this room since I was quite young.
I've never got up close to it.
My next climb will give me a one in a lifetime chance
to get a unique view of this dramatic roof.
-He's on his way.
It's a glorious thing.
It seems incredibly complicated.
Why would they have gone to so much effort to make the roof the shape it is?
When you get to this room, one of the last to be built,
we're talking in the 1580s now, so it's 25 years
after the house began to be built and the Great Hall is constructed to look like a medieval hall.
So, this is a hammer beam construction.
-You see these beginning life in the early 14th century.
Hammer beam, yes. The horizontal beams are the hammer beams.
-So in the 14th century they pioneered a technique
of breaking the horizontal beams down into steps.
What they found was that they had this wonderfully complex looking arrangement.
So what all this adds up to is that it seems that Burghley,
25 years into building,
is looking back. He's getting nostalgic now.
He's fed up with high fashion, he's looking back to Olde England
and yearning for a lost age.
In 1598, just eight years after the Great Hall was completed,
Lord Burghley died.
For almost 100 years, the House was left practically untouched,
until Burghley's descendant, John Cecil, the 5th Earl of Exeter,
decided to remodel its interior, on a grand scale.
I'm in the south range to have a look at
the remarkable artwork on the walls and the ceilings.
This is the best place to see how the 5th Earl
left his mark on Burghley House.
Now a key feature of these prodigy houses
were suites of rooms like this.
Grand spaces, that were beyond the needs of a family,
and beyond the needs of just showing off,
but could be given over should a Monarch come and visit.
These rooms were all redecorated at the end of the 17th century
by the 5th Earl of Exeter.
They culminate in this beautiful room, the Heaven Room,
painted by the Italian, Antonio Verrio.
Inspired by his journeys through Europe, the 5th Earl employed Verrio
to paint intricate and beautiful images from ancient mythology.
John, the 5th Earl sounds an interesting character,
but what did his interests extend to?
He was a great man. A modern man, a modern thinking man.
He was known as the travelling Earl, because he went to Europe,
where he bought over 350 great paintings back to Burghley.
What kind of a man was Verrio?
Hmm. "Difficult", I think, would be the best word.
He was a fiery character.
There are lovely stories of him pursuing the servant girls here.
The best I think is the cook.
Who he was enamoured of.
She rejected him so he painted her on the ceiling
with six breasts as the Goddess of Plenty.
It wasn't just the cook who ended up on the ceiling of the Heaven Room.
Verrio also included other real people.
The Earl's children were painted as cherubs.
The Dean of Windsor was portrayed as Bacchus, the God of wine
and Verrio even included himself.
Verrio achieved some amazing interiors. They are beautiful.
Quite remarkable interiors. Probably the best painted rooms in England.
There are very few Tudor interiors left at Burghley.
There's the kitchen, the Great Hall, and then this, the Roman staircase
and this is the most avant garde of them.
Think of a Tudor staircase.
They tend to be oak things with an open well in the middle,
whereas this has a solid wall, big, generous stone steps,
the kind of thing you would find in maybe an Italian
or maybe a French palace and it's vaulted, too, again in stone.
With lots of expensively carved emblems.
Amongst them, the little castles and other devices
that you see in Lord Burghley's arms.
And they go up... And they go up...
and then up.
The Roman staircase winds its way expensively and ostentatiously
right the way up to the top of the building
and then through that small door you emerge on to the lead.
The point is that this was a thoroughfare,
a major route to bring guests up on to the top of the building
to take in Lord Burghley's estate - and what a spectacular view.
For the end of my journey through Burghley House, I'll abseil
down the west front to get a closer look at what was the
original grand entrance, intended to welcome Queen Elizabeth
when Cecil built it in 1577.
It houses the state rooms which include the bedroom,
designed to accommodate the Virgin Queen.
-My eyes just had to adjust themselves
to a much greater focal distance than I expected. Right.
It's a winner from any angle, isn't it?
Burghley looks great when you look at it, it's fabulous when you look from it,
when you're inside it!
It's a great irony that such a glorious house, containing 115 rooms
and which took 32 years to build, was never seen by the Queen.
She attempted a visit in 1565,
but was turned back during an outbreak of smallpox.
But proof of the expense and the attention to detail in this building
can be seen in every square inch of this house.
Look at these little guys.
It's amazing, the condition, isn't it?
-Every little grain of wheat on that sheaf.
The hair and these tiny lion's manes.
Gosh, you could pick them up, couldn't you?
Like children's toys. They're great.
But their teeth are still sharp!
I don't get how that happens. Stone's just so good.
Also bearing Lord Burghley's family crest are these striking golden gilded gates.
One of the 5th Earl's greatest additions to the house,
they were designed to catch the glow of the sun as it set in the west.
The 5th Earl of Exeter, commissioned Jean Tijou,
a French ironsmith who worked at Hampton Court and St Paul's cathedral,
and had a little foundry off Piccadilly, and some of the English accounts call him John Tissue,
who wanted him to be one of ours, but he made this gorgeous set
of gilded gates as the western entrance to Burghley house
and remember, it was Lord Burghley's original western entrance front
and the 5th Earl of Exeter wanted to commemorate that.
Not only that, but the family heraldry,
with the lions bearing a wheat sheaf as the central emblem.
These are a very gilded set of gates, compared with many of the period,
but, you know, who can deny a family like the Earls of Exeter
the way to show off like king Midas?
Because it's such rich farmland in this area.
Just wealth everywhere.
And to open these gates and divide the sheaf of wheat, you know,
it's like this metaphor of a harvest every time you enter the house.
It's still got something of an atmosphere of bounty today,
hasn't it? It's a treasure house.
Burghley House was designed not just as a family home in the country,
but a palace by proxy for one of Britain's most iconic
and distinguished monarchs, Elizabeth I.
It's sad, and maybe a bit ironic that she never made it here,
but nonetheless, it survives today
in astonishing condition, in what is, to my mind, the most
romantic overture of architecture of Elizabethan England.
Next time, how Sir Christopher Wren achieved the ultimate marriage
of science and religion to create one of Britain's
most iconic landmarks - St Paul's Cathedral.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Dr Jonathan Foyle, architectural historian and novice climber, scales Britain's most iconic structures, from the Normans to the present day, to reveal the buildings' secrets and tell the story of how our architecture and construction has developed over 1000 years.
The next step in Jonathan's journey takes him to Burghley House in Lincolnshire. Built to impress Queen Elizabeth I on her many trips around the country, it is the finest example of an Elizabethan house in Britain.
With unprecedented access to Burghley, Jonathan, aided by champion climber Lucy Creamer, climbs the building, to reveal the innovations of the Elizabethan builders and craftsmen. On his adventures, Jonathan scales up to the roof of Burghley to reveal a unique playground of hidden ornate sculpture where royalty and ambassadors were entertained. He also zips 80 feet across the central courtyard to decipher the scores of mysterious symbols that adorn the building, and scales over a hundred feet to come face-to-face with a one-handed clock. Finally, Jonathan reveals why, although the house was built to accommodate Elizabeth I and her court, she never even set eyes on it.