What to look out for at Old Soar Manor

Of national importance in the development of the medieval dwellings, National Trust owned Old Soar Manor is a hidden gem.

As you explore the ground floor, you will see the undercrofts / cellars. Each has its own external doorway, but they aren't linked internally. When built, the rooms would have acted as store rooms, but today in one room, you can find out the story of Old Soar Manor and some of the people that lived here.

It may seem like a nuisance to us having to keep walking round to get to another room, but it was something that they were used to. It was also a security feature, as if someone was to break in, there was only one way out and they couldn't access anywhere else.

 

Stairway to heaven

Climb up the narrow, spiral staircase with its uneven tread, and you emerge into the Solar - the private quarters of the family.  This was their refuge from the hubbub of the world around them. The place where they could leave everyone behind them and not worry. The Lord of the Manor would have had a bed in here, with curtains around it for privacy. 
 
Off to the side, the chapel is probably newer than the solar, as it aligns east-south-east, rather than to the east. The decoration on the piscine suggests 14th-century rather than 13th-century. It also appears that the house was less in danger of attack, as there are no defensive features in the chapel, and the large window was glazed. 

 

The age of chivalry

Many consider the era of knights of the realm with a romanticised awe – reliving Hollywood’s idea of knights rescuing damsels in distress. However, life in the medieval period was a far cry from this fairy-tale, as Old Soar Manor reveals. 
 
At a time of the Feudal system, with robbers and thieves roaming the land, society was uneasy. Just look at how many arrow slits there are! Even the narrow doorways and staircase were designed to keep attackers out, or at least provide a good form of defence for the family inside. It wasn’t just fear of thieves and robbers though, as the Culpepper family who built the manor reputedly acquired their wealth from kidnap and forced marriages.
 
 

The battle of the Water Loo

If you wander from the Solar to the Garderobe, the medieval toilet, you will notice that the passage is narrow and not easy to get through. The Manor has an unusually large shaft beneath the garderobe, and some unfortunate individual would have to climb into the pit and empty out the toilet. 
 
The garderobe shaft was a defensive weakness - you'd have to have been desperate though
Looking down the large garderobe shaft to the ground
 
This large shaft provided a defensive weakness whereby someone could climb up (if they were desperate enough). To defend against attackers, the passage into the Solar is relatively narrow, and at an angle, and there are arrowloops. 
 
 

A little sanctuary

When you get outside, you can get a feel for why this place has survived so well throughout the centuries. There is virtually no passing traffic, it is relatively hidden from the lane and there are only a few houses nearby. Without the trappings of modern life on display in the house, it is an ideal way to think about what life was like.