A rare look back at Hatfield House’s Grand Staircase, one of the finest of its type in existence, as it appeared in 1927

In a few weeks' time the Game Fair will take place at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire — something which prompted us to take a look back at one of the most extraordinary features of this great country house.

While the show itself takes place in the grounds of this beautiful old place, the interior of Hatfield House is just as noteworthy — take the main Marble Hall, for example:

Hatfield House. ©Country Life Picture Library

The East Gallery at Hatfield House. ©Country Life Picture Library

And here it is today — even the featured portrait is the same, though a couple of different chairs have been put out:

Just as interesting, however, is the incredible main Grand Staircase, which dates to 1611.

It’s a magnificent sight today, and remarkably little changed — we’ve decided to take a look back at how Country Life found it back in 1927.


The carving is of extremely high quality, and shows great versatility of design and handling. Italian Renaissance arabesque designs are the foundation of them, ribbons and drapery, human forms and baskets of fruit appearing among the scrollwork.

But we also get special subjects. Is it John Traclescant himself who holds his basket of flowers in one hand and his rake in the other, in the top panel of one of the posts on the landing (below, left)?

Hatfield House. ©Country Life Picture Library

Hatfield House. ©Country Life Picture Library

Below him, the main panel is entirely devoted to horticulture-spade, pickaxe and watering-pot are among the implements, while rose blooms stand up out of a tall wickerwork basket.

On another post (below left) we get a parrot swinging on a drapery swag, and a bird in a cage above it.

Hatfield House. ©Country Life Picture Library

Hatfield House. ©Country Life Picture Library

Although these panels are numerous, there is no repetition. Yet, rich as the whole thing is, there is nothing confused or overpowering about it. It is extremely stately; from the bottom it gives the effect of a rising avenue, with tall newel posts, treated as pedestals to heraldic lions or naked boys, repeated on the wall side, as is the highly enriched balustrading, where every other baluster is treated as a term.

Hatfield House. ©Country Life Picture Library

Hatfield House. ©Country Life Picture Library

The feeling of spaciousness is given partly by the width of the treads and partly by there never being more than about half a dozen of them before a quarter-landing is reached. At the top of the first flight is a double doggate with fleur-de-lys enrichment.

Altogether, there are five of these flights before the landing is reached, and everywhere, as we slowly ascend, the eye catches some pretty conceit in the carving of the newel posts, which, although beautifully modelled and finished, is sufficiently shallow to give it a light effect. The heraldic lion finials are much the same as those on the east gallery of the hall, and, in stone, on the roof parapet.

Hatfield House. ©Country Life Picture Library

Hatfield House. ©Country Life Picture Library