Entering the House
On entering the house, the hallway is dominated by the oak staircase leading to an oak bedroom gallery which leads to the main upstairs rooms. Originally there was a partition separating the inner hall from an ante room to the library at the far end. The array of stags’ heads is a reminder that the estate was considered to be one of the finest in the country, in terms of the sport (hunting, shooting and fishing), it provided.
The Billiard Room
Off the hallway to the right is what used to be known as the billiard room. The plasterwork on the ceiling is particularly fine as are the pair of oak doors and carved architrave that lead into it The ground floor plan in the 1920 sale particulars designate this room as being the billiard room and photographs confirm that it was used for this purpose from at least the time of the Chichester family’s occupancy of the house. However, it is not clear that the Nightingales used the room for that purpose: more probably it was used as an additional lounge area.
The Dining Room
To the left of the hallway is the dining room. Its most attractive feature is the vaulted domed ceiling, whose plasterwork was probably installed in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century. It is uncertain as to what the various scenes depict. There is also a fine oak and marble mantelpiece. Since the school merger of 2005 the dining hall has been converted to serve as the main school library.
The Drawing Room
Returning to the main hallway along the central passage, one encounters the main drawing room door ahead. The drawing room was the main Nightingale addition to Embley as a result of the 1837-9 alterations. Its two bay windows offered a fine vista to the garden terraces and grounds outside. As later nineteenth-century photographs confirm, the internal furnishing is now much changed and simpler. Neither is the fireplace the Nightingale original (the latter is described as having had a red and yellow mantelpiece). The original yellowish-green carpet was once in the Victoria and Albert museum but is currently lost.
Returning outside the drawing room and across the hallway is William Nightingale’s library. The most notable feature of the library, is the ‘hidden’ door. This was covered and painted in the same style as the shelves either side of it, so as to conceal its true nature. Close inspection reveals Mr Nightingale’s impish sense of humour, for the ‘titles’ there include Leather on Woods, Tales of the Doorway, Oaths Not Binding and Optical Delusions.
The ‘hidden’ door leads into what was then known as the garden room, described by Florence in 1839 as “one of the prettiest in the house, both as to paper and to everything.” It is now the Principal’s study.