Arcadia in Dorset Part 3: Cranborne Manor House Gatehouse

Tudor and early-Stuart gatehouses were built close to the houses they served. They usually opened into a court in front of the house. It was later in the 17th C that they became unfashionable and in the 18th C open park-land with views was what people desired. The gatehouse echoed the old enclosed, fortified courtyard houses of previous centuries. The later medieval houses began to incorporate domestic requirements with defensive. The gatehouse served as a portal of control. The aspirational gentry were emerging for a number of centuries and they became a significant class in the Tudor period. Architecture was a way of demonstrating individuality, education and taste. However, with relative peace in England during the latter part of the 16th and early-17th C, the gatehouse served to be a building of display rather than defensive. It was a form of ceremonial entrance, whereby only those invited could enter.

Figure 2: Gatehouse entrance to Manor House

This gatehouse at Cranborne is of brick and the 2 lodges are set diagonally, demonstrating the unique flair of William Arnold and his patron Robert Cecil. The gatehouse lodges are 2-storey with outer stairway entrances to the first floor. There are also doorways to the ground floor. The lodges are only accessible from the inner courtyard. The chimneys are set to the side of the lodges, although the fireplaces are on the opposite wall (however, there have been alterations and it is not clear where the flues are set).

Figure 3: 18th C Engraving of Cranborne Manor House from Hutchins

In the engraving of the manor house in Hutchins (Volume III, p. 381) the gatehouse has two more chimneys set on top of the gateway. Such images are not always accurate, as they can be sketched and later finished in a studio (memory is not always reliable). However, the top of the gateway does seem to have an imbalanced gap where something else would have existed. Also, the fireplaces in the left lodge (which is the only one I entered) are placed on that side – where the flue goes today I am not sure. There is also a building up against the left lodge which is no longer present.

Figure 4: Gateway looking through to south loggia on front of Manor House

The gateway has 2 brick, stone-capped merlons, echoing the battlements of the manor house. There is a decorative dentil cornice beneath them and one further down. The gateway is a rounded-stone arch with keystone. There is an impressive wooden door with diamond-shaped motifs. The diagonal-set gatehouse lodges theme is also reflected in the brick chimneys of the manor house.

Figure 5: North side of Manor House – diagonal-set brick chimneys reflecting the gatehouse lodges

The gatehouse appears to have been designed for architectural uniqueness and impact. It reflects the intimacy and compactness of the manor house. Rather than designed for a bold impression on approach or with height to banquet out of, it is likely just a residence for porters, due to its limited interior. It is the contrasting brick work and diagonal setting of the lodges that gives it a unique identity. Did the diamond shapes have some sort of symbolic meaning to Robert Cecil? They don’t seem to appear on his coat of arms.

I find that Cranborne Manor House with its wonderful gardens, setting and architecture must have been a place where Cecil and King James could throw off the demands, rituals and routines of court life. I am reminded of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Once away in the Forest of Arden the rules change. The social structures are less tangible, bringing an equality amongst the individuals. Love, rather than power and control, is able to flourish and connect people more naturally. Perhaps that is the symbol of the diagonal lodges of the gatehouse – it shifts the idea of conventional structures to another reality.


Hutchins, John, The History And Antiquities of the County of Dorset, 3rdedn, 4 vols (London: John Bowyer Nichols, 1873), III