Manor Houses: 10 Characteristics That Make Them Stand Apart From the Rest

Manor House

There are homes, and then there are homes. For instance, one may call their one-bedroom apartment ‘home’, but when it’s compared to a well-known mansion in the same town, it suddenly appears to be the very definition of ‘apartment’, through and through. You’re aunt and uncle have a very nice split-level that serves as their home, but as nice as it is, it doesn’t hold a candle to some of the massive houses that were just built in the new subdivision on the edge of town. Likewise, the small hut-like abodes in the local village seemed miniscule and dirty compared to the breathtaking manor that the village’s wealthiest resident lived in back in medieval times.

The differences in the examples above are quite obvious, due to the contrasting examples, but it should be pointed out that different forms of housing can be identified by specific characteristics which help them stand out from other forms. An apartment is a single living unit located in a building with other living units like it…that’s how we know it’s an apartment, and not a trailer. A trailer, on the other hand, can be towed, is parked on a small tract of land, and usually has the same number of rooms as a house, though they are smaller most of the time. Also, trailers are typically located in parks which are designated for trailer living, and there are normally many more trailers parked in the same location.

But what about a manor?

Isn’t it the same thing as a mansion? Or an estate? What, exactly, makes a manor a ‘manor’?

That’s what we’re here to find out today. In the article that follows we’ll take a look at manors and other homes that the manor may be confused with. We’ll define each one, and list ten characteristics that are specific to the manner only. This will help with knowing the difference, so you don’t find yourself referring to your in-laws’ large, fancy house, which is only a house, as a manor, resulting in personal embarrassment and social excommunication. It may not seem like a big deal to some, but we understand what can happen when you don’t mind your ‘manors’.

So, if you’ve ever wondered about this, you have finally found the answers you have been looking for. Settle in and get ready to finally clear the fogged up air that has been surrounding your brain for so long; today is the day that everything is made plain, for both your education and your convenience.

1. The Manor House…Defined

To clear things up right from the start, the ‘manor’ was not just the house, it was everything that sat on the property of the owner. The manor house is the main living area of the lord of the manor. The ‘manor’ was made up of several different parts: The manor itself, which was typically made up of several tracts of land used for farming purposes, the village, which is where the employees who worked the farmland lived, and the manor house was the third major component, according to ThoughtCo.

It should also be noted that the typical manner would also have orchards, woodlands, gardens, and ponds, lakes, or creeks. In a nutshell, the manor was something like a small town, with villagers even having their own businesses, such as bakeries, blacksmith shops, cobbler shops, etc. With that being said, the first thing that is exclusive to a specific house being designated as a ‘manor house’…it must be part of a manor as a whole.

2. They Were Built To Withstand Onslaught

Before the manor houses we see in period films or read about in books, manor houses were actually a group of several buildings. There was the lord’s living quarters, a separate building for village court sessions, a chapel or small church, and other buildings which served the lord and the villagers in their day-to-day lives.

But as time passed, the manor house changed. Instead of a group of buildings, it became one specific building, and it also got stronger. Moats were put around them, as were large fortified walls. The outer design seemed to resemble a castle more than a house, with towers strategically placed around it and attached to it, as well. The second thing that makes a manor house unique to other houses is the fact that it will likely resemble a castle, and it will be obvious that it was designed to stand firm in an attack.

3. Is It City…or Country?

It may be easy to confuse where the manor house is located due to the fact that there is a village on the manor. Because of this, many may be likely to say that the manor house is located in a town or city. This is a misconception. The fact of the matter is that the manor house is a country house all the way. Therefore, the third characteristic of a manor house is that it is a country house, and it served as the administrative hub of the actual manor. If you have a house that is standing alone on a large piece of property, and was built as a single family dwelling unit in the middle of a town or small city, you are likely talking about a mansion; the manor house will be located in a country, or rural, area.

4. It’s All About Origin

The fourth point that is exclusively descriptive of a manor house is this: The word ‘mansion’, meaning a massive, multi-roomed house with wings and many floors, is typically used in America to describe such a house. The word ‘manor’, or the term ‘manor house’ is most often used in the United Kingdom. If someone is telling you about the biggest mansion in the new town you have moved to, you are probably in the states, and the mansion is NOT a manor house. If the word ‘manor’ or the term ‘manor house’ is used, you’re likely in the UK, and the house being discussed is probably exactly what it is said to be.

5. How Strong Is Strong Enough?

As we mentioned earlier, the manor house of Middle Eastern Europe was typically fortified with a moat, walls, towers, and other structures which kept it safe from attack. In fact, those surrounding structures also said quite a bit about the manor they were built on. For instance, one could tell just how powerful the manor’s enemies were, and how peaceful life was for the manor as a whole, just by observing the protective structures which surrounded it. The more peace the country of the manor was experiencing, the less fortified the manor house. If the manor was at great risk of onslaught, the fortification structures would be larger, taller, and stronger. The more intimidating the level of fortification, the lesser the chance that the enemy would proceed with their threats.

6. Through the Years…

In its humble beginnings, the 11th century manor house was really nothing more than crude buildings constructed out of wood and stone, with no real plan other that to serve as shelter and storage facilities. But as time passed, so did the manor house, and the hall of the place would become a focal point, from an engineering perspective, with moats, ditches, and walls surrounding it. In fact, the French manor houses tended to be entirely focused on defense by the early 14th century. But by the 16th century the buildings began to take on more of a renaissance feel, resembling what we would call country houses more and more with each passing year. The halls in these newer houses were smaller and were less important than before, until finally they dwindled to the point that they were basically considered nothing more than an entryway.

7. The Apartments

In earlier days, when the main hall of the manor house was very large and grand, it was normally surround by apartments which went around the perimeter of the hall. These apartments were used for living space by agricultural workers, manor house hands, and other civic employees of the manor. But as time went by and the hall size lessened, the individual apartments faded as well.

8. The Fancier the Better

Fortification became less a means of defense over the years, and more about keeping up with the Andersons. By the time the mid-16th century set in full swing, in fact, manor houses that were newer began to adopt some of the structures of fortification on and around the manor, but the manor would be at peace, with no threat of attack. So, why have them built or added? Status symbols were just as important then as they are now, and since manor houses were becoming more residential and subdued, the look of them being fortified was really nothing more than a fad that made the residents look more important and well-off than they were. Depending on the year the house was built, the fortifications could have been functional or aesthetic.

9. Mansions and Chateaus?

The manor houses erected during and after the 16th century can be recognized easily. These structures tend to resemble French chateaus or Elizabethan mansions rather than fortified castles, as they did before. These were typically constructed of stone, and one of the telling features on the inside was the wall-cupboard. Wall-cupboards were shelves that were built set into the stonework which made up the house itself. These shelves were uses to store paperwork done by the manor court and other records. These were commonplace in manor houses, since court proceedings were held in the houses by court administrators.

10. More Than One Hall

We discussed the hall on the lower level before, but what about the upper hall? Yes, there were two, one hall downstairs and another up. What was the purpose of the upper hall of the manor house? First of all, this hall was meant for use exclusively by the seigneur and his guests, who were usually high ranking officers and other wealthy people.

This hall also saw some court proceedings. It was not only easy to get to from the inside, but was also accessible from outside by way of a spiral staircase on the outside of the house. Normally, it was situated directly over the lower hall, and it was done in much fancier and more elaborate décor than its lower brother. The seigneur and his family would have living quarters that were directly off this upper hall.

There you have it, and now you don’t have to wonder anymore. There are many characteristics which make a manor house stand out from other home types; in fact, there are more than we ever expected. The ones we listed above were the most dominating of them, and those characteristics seemed to frame the manor house, making it a picture all its own. Whatever the reason for your curiosity about these large, stately buildings and residences, you likely have much more to learn, and we encourage you to do so. Such rich residential history should never go to waste.

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