SOLID AS STONE
by Kathleen Bittner-Roth
Whether reading a historical romance or writing one, those resplendent stone manor houses (and castles) serve not only as a backdrop for the players, but the stone buildings often become characters unto themselves. A mood can instantly be conjured by the description of a dwelling.
Imagine your wounded hero riding up the long, tree-lined drive to his boyhood home, returning after years in absentia. As the stark grey fortress looms ahead, its cold stone walls filled with dark secrets, his past rises up to haunt him.
Or what of a heroine, contracted at birth to marry a brooding duke she detests. Sick with anguish, she arrives in the ducal carriage he’s provided, only to spy a stone manor house that, despite its grand size, bears warmth and invitation, its stone walls a soft, welcoming honey tone flanked by beds of colorful spring flowers. Who is this man to have created such a place, she wonders?
The history of building with stone in England is a story unto itself. The tradition goes back a thousand years. When the Normans conquered Britain in 1066, they constructed castles, monasteries and royal houses out of stone. Stone had not the fire risk of the old pier and beam buildings, and it could be carved to create artful ornamentation, the more intricate and extensive the carvings, the greater the standing. Soon, stone became a symbol of high status.
The grandest of stones was imported from France or carted across the countryside from quarries established as the finest in England. The way the stone was laid and the quality of the work was just as important as the stone itself and was directly related to the status of the owner.
After a time, stone homes became common as quarries sprang up in many towns and villages. A tour through a few stone quarries gave me a different slant when writing historical romance. I learned that in the Costwolds, for instance, it’s the rich, honey tones that prevail. I learned those gray stone manor houses were usually Barnack stone, dug from quarries in Northamptonshire. Yet another honey-toned stone is the Chilmark, found in Wiltshire.
Stone is still favored today in England, with Limestone, granite and sandstone being the three chief building stones. Did you know stone is found under about twenty-one feet of clay!
I doubt I could write a story without including some kind of a dwelling that fleshes out my characters in one way or another. What about you? Do you find the homes your heroes and heroines live play an integral part in the story you are writing or reading? I’d love to hear from you.