Apr
26
2013

Calendar houses

If you were fabulously wealthy and fashionable in the 16th and 17th centuries you might demonstrate your power and influence by building a grand house. Hundreds were built across England, serving the landed aspirations of a burgeoning nobility. But a handful had a design concept that was quite unique – these are the ‘calendar houses’, built according to numerological principles to represent the days, weeks or months of a year.

In 1604, Thomas Sackville, the 1st Earl of Dorset, built Knole House. It had 365 rooms, 52 staircases and 7 courtyards to represent the number of days and weeks in a year and the number of days in a week. It started an minor architectural trend where buildings were designed according to the number of days, weeks, months or seasons in a year. It was an idea that fascinated a noble class interested in horology, astronomy, mathematics and symbolism.

As The Country Seat puts it: “the principle of the calendar house is that the number of external doors, windows or panes of glass, chimneys, or staircases etc should total either 4 (the number seasons), 7 (days in a week), 12 (months in a year), or 365 (days in a year).”

Other examples went from the compact Scout Hall in Yorkshire, with 365 panes of glass (so much so that it could be described as having more glass than wall) and 52 doors to the monumental Boughton House in Northamptonshire with its 7 courtyards, 12 entrances, 52 chimney stacks and 365 windows

The phenomena was not confined to England. In Scotland, Cairness House in Aberdeenshire was built as a calendar house and also laid out to form the letters C and H as the initials of the mansion. It would be joined by Balfour Castle on the Isle of Shapinsay, where the calendar style produced a house boasting 365 panes of glass, 52 rooms, 12 exterior doors, and 7 turrets.

Over the Irish Sea, Muckross House has elements of the calendar style in a design that features 365 windows and 52 fireplaces.  

Odd examples of the design would appear every few decades and the trend did not completely die out in later years. In the 1880s, John Manners-Sutton built Avon Tyrrell house with 365 windows, 52 rooms, 12 chimneys, 4 wings and 7 external doors.

Interested in this curious architectural quirk? A full article, together with a longer list of examples of calendar houses, is provided on the excellent blog The Country Seat and was précised in Country Life magazine. The author also points out a delightful irony that Callendar House in Scotland is not, in fact, a calendar house.

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