The Passages of Eidsvoll – From Private Dwelling to National Institution

Eidsvollsbygningen – Peder Andersen Balke

Built in 1770 for the owner of the Eidsvoll Verk (Ironworks) the Eidsvollsbygningen (Eidsvoll Manor) is a site of great importance to the history of Norway. Originally constructed by Carsten Anker, a Norwegian business man, the house played host to the creation and signing of the Norwegian Constitution.

Photo by Guri Dahl

Photo: Nayeem Hassan

Wallpaper influenced by French design.

The large timber house is located adjacent to the Andelva River, one hour north of Oslo Central Station by train. Its timber construction methods were similar to dwellings of its time and surroundings, however, it differed in ornamentation, and layout from other countryside dwellings in Norway. As explained by Norwegian art historian, writer, and conservationist,  Geir Thomas Risåsen, Eidsvoll Manor was a very modern dwelling for its time. It took influences from French and Danish architecture and design and was used as a status symbol to exemplify the importance of the owners within the Norwegian aristocracy.

 

Photo: Nayeem Hassan

The main hall where the Norwegian Constitution was signed.

The building had been constructed while Norway was under rule from Denmark but then directly felt the result of the Napoleonic war which resulted in the desire for Norwegian independence. In 1814, the signing of the Norwegian Constitution marked the building’s transformation from status symbol to a building of national importance and heritage.

 

 

Ose in Setesdal – Photo by Haakon Michael Harri, Norsk Folksmuseum early 1700s

Traditional interior from Ose in Setesdal – Olaf Isaachsen 1878

Timber panelling in the riksallen.

Having recently been renovated to exact specifications from 1814 the opulence of its owners is evident, however, seeing it in its 1814 state one can’t help but wonder why the ‘rikssalen’ has such a different feel to the rest of the house. Loosely translated ‘rikssalen’ means the hall, and in this case, the great hall. This is the room where they gathered to sign the constitution as has been portrayed in Oscar Wergeland’s painting titled, Riksforsamlingen på Eidsvoll 1814. This room, centred in the manor on the 2nd floor, is a focal point, yet its ornamentation resembles that of a traditional timber barn room. In fact the room appears as it does because Anker went bankrupt during its construction. It could be argued that the hall serves its purpose within the house and its appearance is fitting for its use, as a hallway.

Eidsvoll Riksraad 1814 – Oscar Wergeland

Geir Thomas Risåsen, who has written many books on Eidsvoll Manor, further explains the context of Eidsvoll and its role in 1814. The important stature of the building grew on the back of the friendship between Carsten Anker and Crown Prince Christian Frederik. Anker acted as Frederik’s confidant and therefore was trusted to host the event which led to the formation of King Frederiks Norway. Ankers wealth and connections allowed him many luxuries, including many servants.

Photo: Isobel Fraser

Doorways in the library

The house was also chosen because of its close proximity to Oslo, or Christiania as it was previously referred to, but also because there were no other suitable private dwellings large enough to host such a meeting in Norway at that time. There are two storeys above ground and a cellar which houses the servants quarters and utilitarian rooms which serve the rest of the dwelling. These hidden passageways were the lifeblood of the house, as author Atle Næss describes in an interview with Norwegian news outlet VG. The passages were all interconnected to the basement with narrow hidden stairs.

 

 

 

Hidden Doorways of Eidsvoll.(Eidsvollsbygningen Carsten Anker of Grunnlovens hus – Geir Thomas Risåsen)

Servants were selected for their loyalty, often children of Ankers ironworkers, for fear that if they misbehaved their father would lose his job, and therefore there was a sense of security within the building. Passageways lead to main rooms through doorways often camouflaged into the wall by wallpaper and allowed the servants to enter and exit rooms without being seen by the gentlemen and women of the house.

This invisibility was very important during the meetings prior to the signing of the constitution as many important elected officials visited and stayed in the manor and held private conversations in its many rooms.

Access routes through passageways to the many rooms of Eidsvoll Manor

The fascinating interconnectivity of space in Eidsvoll could be further examined, as Robin Evans describes in his article, “Figures, Doors and Passages” (1978).  The Eidsvoll Manor’s plans are based around a classical layout of rooms allowing for many alternative routes to be taken to enter and exit a room, therefore giving the servants many avenues to remain unseen. This structure may seem favourable compared to, as Robert Kerr describes, the ‘terminal room’ structure where rooms often only had one or two doors and most rooms would become a ‘thoroughfare’ inevitably leading to crossing paths between residents, visitors, and servants. Undoubtedly this structure of many rooms, with many routes to enter and exit played favourably when Crown Prince Frederiks called on Anker to host the delicate negotiations that would take place leading up to the formation of the constitution of Norway.

Doors camouflaged into the wallpaper.(Eidsvollsbygningen Carsten Anker of Grunnlovens hus – Geir Thomas Risåsen)

As mentioned before, the manor house distances itself from traditional Norwegian dwellings as it takes its influences from classical Europe. What is often found in Norway in the 1700s is a large multi-purpose communal space which acts as a living room, kitchen, and bedroom for a number of family members and an external gallery space to buffer the weather. This layout would not be fitting for an event of this magnitude and as such a compartmentalized classical layout with corridors where servants and patrons can pass freely to be unseen or have private conversation is much more desirable. The great hall, which in fact looks similar to the traditional timber dwellings found in the Norwegian countryside could be seen as a political service corridor to the opulent state rooms found surrounding it. The hall allowed Norway to pass from colony to a sovereign state.

 

Basement, First, and Second Floor Plans (Eidsvollsbygningen Carsten Anker of Grunnlovens hus – Geir Thomas Risåsen)

References:

Robin Evens, Translations from drawing to building. Pages 55-91

Atle Næss interview, Catherine Gonsholt Ighanian 7th March 2014(https://www.vg.no/rampelys/200-aarsjubileet/det-hemmelige-livet-i-veggene-paa-eidsvoll/a/10122173/)

Geir Thomas Risåsen, Eidsvollsbygningen Carsten Anker of Grunnlovens hus. 2005 N.W. DAMM & SONS AS

Geir Thomas Risåsen interview, October 2017.

With images from Isobel Fraser and Nayeem Hassan.