Below we take you on a tour of the private rooms, architecture and history of De Vere House.
The Front Door
|The emblems on the front door link the house to the De Vere family and their conflict|
during the Wars of the Roses. The oak door and its smaller Judas gate were both
installed in 1929, when the house was partially rebuilt and renovated. However, the
door lintel dates back to the 15th century. On both sides of the front door are oak
carved figures – these are huntsmen and would have carried a spear and a horn.
|They date back to the early 15th century and were almost certainly moved from |
elsewhere within the house when it was extended between 1485 and 1500. There is a panel in the Duke of Bedford’s Book of Hours which shows two huntsmen wearing the same attire and carrying a spear and horn. Above the door is a carved lintel showing
the heraldic symbols of the 13th earl of Oxford.
The star and boar emblems are common features on carved beams within Lavenham. The star was the emblem of the de Vere family and appears on their coat of arms. The boar was first associated with the de Vere family in the time of the 3rd earl of Oxford
(the feet on his tomb in Hatfield Broadoak are resting on a boar) and is a pun on the
family name: “verres” being the Latin word for a boar. The carvings above the door
lintel specifically relate to the 13th earl and (with the exception of the coats of arms on the church tower) are the only symbols connecting the earl with Lavenham.
The carving on the left is of a straw or wool jack, used to hold and strain wool as it was being washed. Washing wool in clean water was an important part of the
manufacturing process and Water Street derived its name from the culvert which the
de Vere family built to bring clean running water past the houses of the wool makers.
The carving of a wool jack is a pun on the 13th earl’s name (John or Jack) and also links
the earl to the wool trade.
The carving on the right is of a plait made of fish scales. The Baronies of Plaitz and of
Scales came to the 13th earl of Oxford through his mother, Elizabeth Howard. It was of particular significance to the earl, as his mother had been forced to bequeath the title
to Richard, duke of Gloucester (later Richard III), under duress and it was reinstated to
the 13th earl, following an appeal to Parliament by John in 1486.
The Entrance Hall
Immediately on entering the hall, you can see to the right the stone gothic archway, which was the entrance to the west hall. The ceiling beams are intricately carved and date back to the late 15th century. Beyond the gothic arch is the stone spiral staircase with its carved brick hand rail. The hand rail is a rare feature found only in two other houses in England, most famously at Oxburgh Hall. The 13th earl visited Oxburgh Hall in 1487, and it is quite likely that he or one of his retainers remembered the staircase and had it copied.
The staircase cuts through a large beam, which runs across the hall and continues into the dining room. This is part of the former front wall of the 14th century hall house, which was extended in the late 15th century. The carved ceiling beams also finish at this point, but photographs show that every internal beam was once intricately carved like this. When Randolph Hearst scoured the palaces and castes of the world for features to place in Hearst Caste in San Simeon, it was the ceiling beams of de Vere House he chose to be in his Grand Hall. He ran out of money before they could be installed and they have been bought back ready to return to their original home.
Before the division of the house into two and then later three dwellings in the 19th century, the hall would also have included the entrance to cross passages to the east wing. These passages have now been closed off, but the archways still remain opposite the staircase.
Opposite the staircase are portraits of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, and Sir Francis Vere (Sir Francis was one of the inspirations for the ghost Nearly Headless Nick in the Harry Potter stories and was the hero in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando as well as being the first non Royal to be honoured with a monument and sepulchre in Westminster Abbey). The far end of the hall was rebuilt in 1929, using beams taken from elsewhere in the house during its partial demolition. Along both sides are a collection of sketches from Chancellor’s Monuments showing the tombs of the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th and 15th earls of Oxford and Alice Sergeaux, the wife of the 11th earl.
The Dining Room
The dining room was renovated in 1929, and stepping from the drawing room to the dining room carries you forward over 400 years into the Edwardian period. In the centre of the dining room is a large stone fireplace (from the medieval period of the house) with a carving of the de Vere family motto “Vero nihil Verius” (the double pun on the de Vere name, which translates roughly as “nothing is truer than truth”).
On the walls are portraits of Aubrey, 20th earl of Oxford, Henry de Vere, 18th earl of Oxford, Sir Francis de Vere, Horace de Vere, 1st Baron of Tilbury, Robert, 19th earl of Oxford, Elizabeth 13th Countess of Oxford, Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford, Aubrey, 16th earl of Oxford, Sir Francis de Vere, Elizabeth de Vere, Countess of Essex (miniature), Edward de Vere 17th earl of Oxford (miniature), Diana, 20th countess of Oxford, and Diana, 1st duchess of St Albans.
The kitchen is a 20th century extension. Beneath the stud work on your right is the medieval boundary wall, which ran from the rear of the 14th century hall and formed part of a walled courtyard, including a well. The well is located in the back entrance to the kitchen and was filled in during the 19th century.
Above the kitchen range is a frieze of hand painted tiles by Johnathan Waites, including the 2nd earl of Oxford on his charger, the coats of arms of the families connected to the 13th earl of Oxford and the de Vere symbols (star, boar, whistle and chair). Jonathan painted the tiles in the bathrooms in 10 Downing Street and his work maintains the link between the De Vere family and their former home in Downing Street.
The Winter Dining Room
At the front of the house is the lower Hall Chamber, used during Winter as the Dining Room, entered through a gothic arch. The room contains an exhibition of artwork by Amanda Clement Robinson, a carved brick open fire place, a medieval wall painting with Elizabethan over painting, a modern wall hanging of the history of the de Vere family (commissioned to celebrate the 500th anniversary since the first performance of A Midsummer Nights Dream), the cross beam that formed the original front wall of the early 15th C hall house and painted beams from when part of this room was used as a shop in the Georgian period.
The Hall Chamber
|At the top of the spiral staircase, you can see a single beam that comes out of the wall|
at an angle of 45 degrees and continues into the attic. This beam is one of the roof
joists for the 14th century hall, which ran across the back of the house. Photographs of the hall taken before and during its demolition show that it had a magnificent vaulted
|The north bedroom, known as the Upper Hall Chamber, contains a fine example of |
carved beam-work. In the far corner, is the doorway to the garderobe, which had a
connecting pipe to the medieval culvert below. On the opposite wall are two pictures:
the first is a watercolour by William Rose RA, of de Vere House in 1936; the second is a painting on silk by Amanda Clement Robinson, also of de Vere House.
Finally, the attic rooms would have been used, at one time, as living-quarters for weavers. The construction of the rafters in the attic is of a particular design, which can only be found in two other houses in Lavenham, and, almost certainly, all three roofs were renovated by the same carpenter between 1510 and 1530. They represent the first front gables in Suffolk and also raised the height of de Vere House to above that of the rest of the street and the village.