The Baron’s Hall is the older and smaller of two great halls at Penshurst Place in Kent. Completed in 1341, it uses chestnut for the roof because it is lighter but stronger than oak. The main timbers are still aloft there, some six hundred and sixty years later, gnarled and muscular, appearing to be supported by life-size carvings of what are thought to be representations of the manor’s peasants and workers at the time. For lovers of old buildings, the sight of these timbers merits a visit. So as not to miss out, take some binoculars! (The larger Buckingham hall, built in the 1430, is not open to the public.)
Penshurst has housed the Sidney family since it was granted to Sir William Sidney in 1552. His son, Sir Philip Sidney was the celebrated Elizabethan poet, soldier and courtier. The Sidney’s family crest was a porcupine, adopted from that used by the French King Louis XII. Small but mighty in self defence, it can be found in heraldry across Britain, including in Westminster Abbey and at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Penshurt’s splendid gardens, one of England’s oldest private gardens — documented as far back as 1346, have a fine statue of the Sidney porcupine, commissioned to celebrate the millennium.
The chestnut roof timbers of Penshurt Place’s Baron’s Hall. Note the life-size wooden figures appearing to support the collar beams and crown posts.
The porcupine statue, crest of the Sidney family, on a stone plinth decorated with pheons or broad arrows, from the coat of arms of the Sidney family