Monday, 25 October 2010


Before the Norman invasion, castles and defensive buildings had been built in wood. Timber palisades were built around defensive buildings on the top of a motte, or mound of earth. Domestic buildings were often outside, below the motte, but if the place was attacked, everyone fled inside and hurled stones and arrows at the attackers.
Once the Normans started building in stone, castle architecture moved ahead in leaps and bounds. Stone curtain walls enclosed the bailey, sometimes called courtyard or ward, and protected the domestic buildings and formed a first line of defence for the castle. Any towers built into the curtain wall were called mural towers. Sometimes the curtain wall had a gatehouse tower that acted as the keep, or strongest building in the castle. There was always a postern gate in the curtain wall to allow for a night time escape from a difficult situation.
Tower keeps followed, and slowly domestic functions moved from the bailey into the tower keep. Strong, rectangular towers, usually higher than they were wide, with the hall, reached by an outside staircase, on one floor and the Great Chamber, or solar, providing the living accommodation for the lord and his family, on the next storey. Latrine shafts emptied into ditches, or deep pits like the one at Richmond in Yorkshire, said to be so deep it never had to be cleaned out. No convenient ditch or pit? Then some unlucky person had to remove the disgusting piles from the bottom of the latrine shaft.

There was always a chapel, but they sometimes remained in the bailey.
Hall-keeps appeared. Usually wider than they were high, they brought the Great chambers and the hall together on the same floor, with a latrine, or garderobe, not far away. Hall, Great Chamber, chapel, keep and storerooms now fitted into the one rectangular tower. Walls were often 14 feet thick, with slit windows on the lower levels. Larger windows appeared higher, well out of reach of scaling ladders. Storerooms needed to be vast and hold food to see the occupants through a siege. A well was a necessity. Now they were found on the inside, accessed through the storerooms.
The French called a hall-keep a donjon and the word corrupted into dungeon, often associated with prisoners.
Kitchens were often ignored. Cooking was done over open hearths and in timber kitchens outside in the bailey. Square keeps of this period, like Newcastle, often had a gallery running through the thickness of the walls at the upper storey level. Openings let in daylight, and provided a view of the countryside; a man could turn and look down on the activity in the hall below him.
Royal castles housed a garrison, always on the lower floor. If the lord was not in residence, then a skeleton staff remained: the castellan, or constable, the man in charge, his household, the chaplain, a few soldiers, a watchman and a porter.
The first pic shows the ditch surrounding the curtain wall at Harbottle, and the second looks north to Scotland from the meadows around the outer bailey on the west side of the castle.


Victoria Dixon said...

Thanks, Jen. If I ever return to writing in England, I'll have to return here. You gave some great details I did not know like donjon. :) This does bring back wonderful memories. I had one prof who tended to believe everything was obvious. She took us to a hill once, turned around and said: "Obviously, this was a castle." There was grass, a tree and a hill. Literally nothing else was left. LOL

Diane Scott Lewis said...

Jen, your research and pics are fascinating to me, as all British history is. I've visited twice, but would love months to wander around the country and see more of the history. I didn't know about "donjon", wonderful! No wonder your writing is so vivid with details.