One of my favourite rooms (possibly my absolute favourite, although there are some strong contenders!) is the library. Visitors also love seeing all of the books from floor to ceiling, and often wonder what knowledge and surprises are contained within the books.
One of the most frequent questions that people ask us is how we reach the books on the higher shelves in the library. For the Billiard Room, where the shelves are really high, historically they used really tall ladders to get the top shelves (which probably didn’t happen very often). Unfortunately none of these tall ladders survive at Nostell.
In the Library we know what they used to reach the high shelves as we still have the piece of furniture that they used!
And here it is…
It’s a set of Thomas Chippendale George III library metamorphic steps. The invoice dates them to the 4th of July, 1767. They cost the grand sum of £14.
Fully extended, the steps dimensions are 1840 x 1250 x 580 mm. This makes them big enough to reach the highest shelves in the Library (but not the super high shelves in the Billiard Room).
We’ve decided to open up the metamorphic steps and have them as our ‘open cabinet’ for a while, as we all like seeing such an impressive piece of furniture opened up as the Winn family who lived at Nostell would have had it.
Here are some photographs of us putting it together (complete with much scratching of heads and re-reading of the instructions!):
We lift the seat up and part of the steps fold out to provide some initial structure. Then it’s a case of fitting all of the parts together and slotting them in correctly!
The metamorphic steps are made out of polished mahogany, although the inside of the steps aren’t polished like the outside, as nobody would see them!
Carefully positioning the steps
Attaching the top support
The seat of the steps (which becomes the back when it is opened out) is padded with horse hair
Looking up the steps – it’s a long way!
Metamorphic library steps, with the Library’s false door of books in the background
And there we have it – a fully functioning set of metamorphic steps that the Winn family would have used to get books from the top shelves in the Library.
Fully opened set of Chippendale metamorphic steps in the Library of Nostell Priory. The painting next to the steps shows Lady Sabine and and Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet, standing in Nostell’s Library next to Chippendale’s library desk. It was painted by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, and dates to 1767. Sir Rowland commissioned the painting because he was enormously proud of the Library once it was finished, and wanted to show it off to his London friends, so hung it in their house in St. James Square.
Now, which book shall we look at first…?