THE LONG GALLERY
The Long Gallery, forming the upper floor of the west front, was completed by the close of the sixteenth century, although none of the present interior dates from this period. The bolection-moulded panelling dates from the late seventeenth century, as does the marble fireplace in the far bay. The bookcases were installed in the 1740s and the neo-Jacobean decorative plasterwork on the ceiling and frieze dates from the 1830s when the Clifford-Constable’s undertook a programme of extensive redecoration.
When Dame Margaret Constable was given leave to ‘walke at her pleasure’ in 1610, the Long Gallery would have been sparsely furnished, and probably remained as such throughout the seventeenth century. There would have been relatively little furniture apart from a few chairs and one or two chests and the floor would either have been bare oak boards or covered with matting. All this changed when, in the 1740s, Cuthbert Constable ordered the estate joiner, Thomas Higham, to cut away parts of the bolection-moulded panelling and construct thirteen large elm and mahogany bookcases to accommodate his considerable library. An inventory compiled in 1791, following the death of Cuthbert’s son William, records that the Gallery and adjoining closet contained not only sixty-five paintings, but also ‘Four Slabs [scagliola tables], Three horse shoe tables, One Mahogany table, Two chests of shelves, One sofa, One cabinet, Twenty four chairs, Six wheel chairs, One other cabinet, One large cabinet, One large mahogany table [and] Philosophical apparatus’. The ‘Philosophical apparatus’ refers to William’s collection of scientific instruments and it seems likely that during his lifetime the Long Gallery served as his laboratory. The ‘Two chests of shelves’ survive and stand either side of the entrance door, still functioning as storage for folios of maps, prints and drawings. Of the remaining items listed, only two of the six wheel chairs are known to survive, one chair remains in the Long Gallery, the other in the Great Hall. The main fireplace also dates from William’s time, an elaborate work in scagliola by Domenico Bartoli incorporating a central tablet with a scene of ancient ruins, and to either side the rather incongruous flower arrangements complete with clay garden pots.
In 1833 the Clifford-Constables began the restoration of the Long Gallery. The elaborate decorative plasterwork ceiling and frieze was installed, although it was not until 1854 when the firm of William Binks & Son of Hull was employed to paint the ceiling, that the frieze was ‘picked out in scarlet’. The room was sumptuously furnished with new curtain hangings, a new carpet, and richly carved and gilded furniture. The sphinx tables by Giuseppe Leonardi (fl.1781-1811) with tops of specimen marbles by Giacomo Raffaelli (1743-1836) were purchased by Sir Clifford and his wife Marianne when they were in Rome on their honeymoon tour. Virtually all the seat furniture dates from the nineteenth century - albeit in an earlier period style. William Constable had owned a number of ‘China’ vases, although most of the Chinese and Japanese vases in the Long Gallery were acquired in the nineteenth century, when they were fitted with ormolu mounts and displayed on gilded stands.
During the Victorian era the Long Gallery functioned very much as a social space. On 3 November 1837 ‘Sir Clifford and Lady Constable gave a grand ball-supper in the Long Gallery’ which went on into the early hours of the morning. Numerous evenings were spent with family and friends engaged in amateur theatricals, musical soirées and light-hearted games. In 1845 Sir Charles Chichester (1795-1847) recorded in his diary: ‘Last night we all acted Charades ... the word was infirm. We acted Inn ... Mr. Hogarth was the Landlord, Eliza Landlady, Marion Chambermaid, I the waiter ... then Firm was a bank, I [was the] banker, Talbot & Mr. Jay [the] clerks Monsr. Boujais & Madame Pilliett Nouvelles coming to get a bill cashed ... We then acted another - Selfish - but that was guessed as soon as they brought on the fish!’ So enamoured were they with their music-making and dramatics that they later converted two adjacent rooms (the present-day Museum) into a theatre complete with a fully-equipped stage.