Blencowe Families’ Association Newsletter Vol. 22 No. 4 November 2007

Stairway to the top — Innovative thinking by our ancestors

Alternating tread stairway in Blencow Hall

When people started building homes that needed protection, the first step was to put the entrance on the second floor with a ladder leading down.  If the foe came, you could just lift the ladder and thwart most of the threat.  When people got tired of the ladders, they built stairways.  These were much easier on the occupants, but also much easier for the foe.  The stairway that accompanies this photo (an alternating tread stairway) seems to be quite advanced as the design wasn't patented as a new invention in the US until late in the 1900s.  That's what I call some rather forward thinking relatives.  If you look closely, you can see that the first step going up is for the right foot only.  Directly above it is the second step for the left foot only.  The third step is a right foot only one, and the 4th one is directly above and for the left foot only.

The two biggest advantages of this type of staircase are that they are very compact, and a person can easily face in the direction of travel even though they slope about as steeply as a ladder.

While I haven't found any books to describe this type of staircase in the time of the first Blencowe's, I can see that it has a number of alternate advantages.  By being extremely compact, it lends itself well to providing a layer of security.  The door at the bottom is shorter than normal causing the people entering to bend over.  When you get to the top, if the door isn't already open; where do you get the leverage to get it open?  It wouldn't matter if the door were vertical or horizontal; both would be tricky.  If you're on the way up, don't even think about turning around to go down the stairs as they are only 1 person wide, and you'll probably fall off!

While this may not be unique to the time, it is not well documented anywhere, and could easily be missed by a casual visitor.  Keep your eyes peeled, and think of the possibilities!

Allen Blincoe

A modern, easier to see example of an alternating tread ladder like stairway

updated: 9 July 2008